McGowan wins appeal against racist store owner, sort of

One of our most commented-upon posts deals with the story of Steve McGowan, a black man living in Japan who lost a lawsuit against a racist optician who told him to “get out!” of the store.

Fortunately, he eventually found some semblance of justice. The Kyoto District Court’s verdict was overturned by the Osaka High Court this week, and MacGowan received ¥350,000 in emotional damages for what the court described as “an outrageous act beyond common sense.”

However, the court refused to consider the comment as discrimination per se. Exactly why is unclear, but the resulting damages award, based solely on being told in a harsh voice to leave the store (race notwithstanding), is not even enough to cover McGowan’s legal expenses (according to Debito‘s account of the situation).

So… a victory, kind of, sort of, maybe. But at least the courts aren’t total assholes.

3 thoughts on “McGowan wins appeal against racist store owner, sort of”

  1. I am glad McGowan won the case on appeal. I think we all are.

    However, to go legal on you, I must take slight issue with your assertion of the original post:

    So the bottom line is, unless your Japanese is absolutely perfect, you’d better have some native witnesses around if you want to win in court. Or better yet, carry a tape recorder.

    McGowan’s Japanese is, from many accounts, severely lacking. He didn’t even know what the word “kokujin” (black person) meant. So I don’t think that the legal standard set by the Kyoto court was that your Japanese had to be “absolutely perfect.” Rather, the issue was ultimately one of evidence: McGowan’s Japanese was judged to be not good enough to accurately remember what he was told. (See the original case text noting that McGowan can’t write katakana or hiragana. )

    Additionally, although I won’t defend the defendant or the district court decision, remember that an individual’s freedom of thought is protected under the constitution, and that includes the freedom to be a racist, bigot, sexist, or whatever.

  2. Gotta agree on the Japanese language thing. The guy must have absolute crap Japanese if he’s a black foreigner and he doesn’t even know the word ‘kokujin. I recall reading an article that describes him calling up his girlfriend to ask her what ‘kokujin’ meant, and eventually concluding that it is the Japanese equivalent of ‘nigger’. I’m pretty sure that it just means “black person”…

    I don’t doubt that the shopkeeper was being racist, but how can a court condemn the shopkeeper when the accuser can’t even understand simple Japanese?

  3. Such an incident will only result in further restrictions on blacks males in Japan. Do I not see a trend like the the US. How did US black males get such a bad reputation especially among US retail stores?

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