Ob la di Ob la da, Life (Doesn’t) Go On

Black Austin Matters artwork on the street in Austin Texas

This happened to me when I was an English teacher in a small town in Japan.

Iizuka, Japan ~ 2008

We had a three day weekend with Monday off and on that Monday I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and go for a bike ride. I was biking toward the river bank across the street where there was a little bike path. Not wanting to break my pedaling, I glanced behind me to make sure no cars were coming. There was one a little bit away but I knew I could make it. So I picked up some speed and zoomed across the road.

Iizuka Onga-gawa – not the most scenic river but that’s not the worst of this story

Unfortunately it was a cop car. They followed me down to the river bank and flashed their lights for me to pull over. The ensuing conversation did not go well. From my limited Japanese I made out that they were accusing me of stealing the bike and thought I crossed to the riverbank because I saw them and was trying to get away. Although I was in workout clothes and had the key to my bike’s wheel lock, they didn’t buy my story about merely wanting to bike along the bike path just to pass the time.

They put me in the back of their car and drove me to the station. …Very, very, very slowly because one of the cops rode my bike alongside the car, making an interesting little parade for the other pedestrians.

I would have had a more scenic cop car ride in the neighboring town of Keisen

At the station they grilled me in fast Japanese that I couldn’t understand. Then they left me in the chair for the next four hours. In the late afternoon, someone brought out a telephone and on the other end of the line was (ostensibly) the sole cop in the entire prefecture who spoke English. He told me I shouldn’t have tried to run from the cops and I should have registered my bike but – they were going to let me go.

I was at fault for not registering the bike, since technically you are supposed to although not many people do. But I wasn’t doing anything wrong when they pulled me over.

I sat in that police station for FOUR hours to hear two sentences that I could have easily google translated and it felt deliberate. It was humbling and frustrating and made me feel extremely helpless.

America ~ Present Day

The events of the past several weeks have brought America’s racist problems to the fore (again) and it jogged this memory when I felt like I’d received disparate treatment because I was a foreigner. When I recall the impotence I felt from just that small, mundane experience – I can’t even fathom what it must feel like to be black in America.

Some people may say life goes on and yadda yadda yadda but for some people, life literally doesn’t go on anymore. And we can’t hold up our good thoughts and morals for a few weeks (paragraphs) and then just forget it. I want to do better than that.

Racism doesn't live in Austin Texas
Mural on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin by Capitol View Arts and the Austin Justice Coalition Photo by Jay Janner for the Austin American Statesman

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11 Replies to “Ob la di Ob la da, Life (Doesn’t) Go On”

  1. Oh my I am sorry that happened to you in Japan. I’ve had a few things happen (as a minority in Japan) over the last 20 years, but I know it is nothing in comparison to what happens to others and daily.

    1. I’m sorry you’ve experienced that too! It sucks 🙁 It’s hard to fathom what some people experience every day in their home country.

  2. Hey i just read your post it was awesome
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    1. Thanks for reading! I’ll check it out.

  3. Thanks for liking one of my poetic blog posts!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Darell! Hope you enjoy my blog too. 🙂

  4. it is good to know that more and more people are starting to wake up to the social reforms that ordinary people like you and i would like pushed forward. i applaud you for this contribution to a lofty advocacy. let’s continue pushing in our own small way.

    1. I agree. The oppressive system as a whole is made up of individual people who don’t identify as being “racist.” We need to shake the complacency!

  5. […] a counter to a previous entry about life in Japan, I’m reposting another scene from my time living in Fukuoka. This time, […]

  6. Having lived overseas for many years, I know what it’s like to feel marginalized and out of sync with the culture. Some people love you because you’re different and others hate you for the same reason.

    Racism and bigotry are inherently human but I’m choosing to believe the world is turning the corner and becoming kinder, gentler, and more accepting. Let’s hope I’m not being naive.

    1. You are so right – some people will embrace your differences and gravitate to you because you’re different and others will totally shun you for the same thing! Thanks for reading and commenting. 🙂

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