Kochiyama illustration proves we need to open our eyes to history


William Flannery


In today’s age we like keeping history in a tight, clean bottle. We have a strict way of looking at things, everything has to be in the confines of what’s exceptable. This includes Civil Rights movements: if you ask anyone about these strives for equality, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will definitely come to mind, and he is revered for his peaceful approaches to racial unity.

However, when “Google4Doodle” celebrates Yuri Kochiyama’s 95 birthday, two years after her death, the bottle is broken and a wave of controversy erupts. Why? Because she is associated with the radical ideals of the Civil Rights movement,  therefore Google is supporting radicalism and extremism.

This is clearly an overreaction. We shouldn’t shun parts of history because they are displeasing to us, as ignorance can affect our future decisions and we have to accept that things aren’t ever picture perfect, no matter how much we want it to be.

Firstly, Kochiyama was a civil rights activist. She devoted her life to human equality after spending two years in a Japanese-internment camp and being exposed to racism. She organized campaigns to free imprisoned activists, harbored fellow protesters, and had a friendship with the equally controversial, yet also revered Malcolm X.

This is most likely where the disfavoring responses stem from, as Malcolm X was known to be radical in his ideas, with his infamous quote “by any means necessary.” But Kochiyama, while on agreement with using further means than peace, is partially responsible for Malcolm X’s decline from the Nation of Islam. She would be there at his death, when he was fatally shot by Nation of Islam members, and she would continue her fight for human rights, persuading the government to pay reparations to interned Japanese Americans.

She was courageous in her actions and controversial in her beliefs, but the latter is what traps the modern minds, engulfing it with the fear of radicalism. It’s natural to oppose what is contentious, what stirs the serene, stable order of our lives.

But life is never stable, there will always be uproar and vexation – the essence of the civil rights movement. Yes, Martin Luther King Jr. is who we have revered since elementary school, and his actions rightly deserve our praise, but we can’t just brush aside what people like Kochiyama and Malcolm X did. We don’t have to idolize them, we just have to acknowledge them.

So what Doodle4Google did was celebrate the birthday, nothing more, of a woman that made her mark in history. Yes, it was a tendentious mark, but nevertheless, we can’t open the floodgates on anything that doesn’t conform to our pristine vision of the past.

What we learn about the civil rights movement does reflect the suffering that segregation caused, but it’s lead by a gilded hero who embodies good and little else. Why are we afraid of the opposite spectrum of civil rights? Is it not important to know the reach and influence of this movement?

I understand why people are angered by the illustration, but I don’t think it’s justified. Unlike the radicals you are thinking of, such as Hitler, these people fought for the betterment of humanity, not the detriment of it. We can’t let preconceived notions cloud our perceptions, and we can’t censor history because it makes us uncomfortable.

In some ways, it’s good that we are perturbed, like revelations of humanity’s range to strive for a better world or that there are parts of our knowledge that have been wrongfully obscured.

Maybe there should be a drawing for Malcolm X himself, as the reaction to Koychiyama’s memoriam shows how deluded we are of our own history. We need to be exposed to all aspects of the past, or otherwise applying it to our tumultuous present will be impossible. Hopefully, this was one overreaction from a society that has been living through a tight lens, and we will learn to be accepting of all parts of our history.


Illustration Credit: Jessie Snyder / The Foothill Dragon Press

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