Best columns: International
Just don’t black up your white kid
The Sydney Morning Herald
Why is it so hard for some white Australians to grasp that blackface is a problem? said Karl Quinn. This country has seen a steady stream of blackface scandals, from the TV comedy troupe who painted their faces in 2009 to imitate the Jackson 5 to the top women’s basketball player who this February blacked up as rapper Kanye West for a costume party. Then last week, a white Aussie mother dressed her son as Australian rules football player Nic Naitanui, complete with black skin and dreads, for a town parade and gleefully posted the photos on Facebook. “So many politically correct extremists these days,” she wrote, “I was a little worried about painting him.” Her subtext, obviously, was “if you find it offensive, you’ve got a problem.” Well, plenty of people did find it offensive, including Naitanui, who invoked the “painful historical significance” of blackface but added that he would love to meet the child and “grow together.” There’s a troubling trend in Australia these days to adopt the libertarian maxim that “offense is never given, only taken.” Yet to choose not to take offense is “a position that’s available only to those who are already empowered.” Australians, a nation of natives and immigrants, should know this by now.
Saving our trash-strewn beaches
Japanese coastlines are becoming heaped with trash, said the Yomiuri Shimbun. Some half a million tons of rubbish—most of it plastic—washes ashore each year, and even though we spend tens of millions of dollars on beach cleanups, only a fraction gets collected. Marine trash isn’t just an eyesore. It often “damages fishing nets and becomes mixed in with marine products, lowering their commercial value.” Even worse is the junk that we don’t see: the microplastics. These particles, 5 millimeters or smaller, are created when soda bottles and other plastics are broken into small fragments by “ultraviolet rays from sunlight or abrasive wave action.” The particles absorb toxic chemicals and are then ingested by fish and shellfish, bringing the toxins into our own food chain. Last year, Tokyo University scientists found microplastics in the stomachs of 80 percent of anchovies studied. And the problem will only get worse. At least 8 million tons of plastic ends up in the ocean every year, and since “China and countries in Southeast Asia are among the main sources of this garbage,” a disproportionate amount washes over to Japan. We must head off this wave of trash before it gets into the water, and that will take “international cooperation to combat marine litter.”