Yasuke, Anime, and the Power of Self Definition

My oldest son turned 13 last week, and I was hunting for something to get him (besides the smartphone my wife and I will be bankrolling). And then, earlier this month, there it was: a new online store selling clothing connected to a new anime series on Netflix, Yasuke.

The series is about a Black samurai in Japan, and it’s loosely based on a real person in the late 1500s. My son is Korean and Black, and he likes anime, so I figured this character might serve as an interesting touchstone as he crosses cultures and forms his identity. But what I really loved about the Netflix shop for the show is that the clothing is designed by Hypland, a streetwear brand created by an anime-loving Black entrepreneur named Jordan Bentley.

When I designed the curriculum for The Black Experience in America: The Course (overview available for download free here), my big-picture goal was self determination; I wanted to equip my sons, and anyone else who engaged with the material, with resources to push past the trite definitions society often hands us — of what it means to be Black, American, patriotic. One of the early lessons in The Course is called Secret Identities, and it explores how we might find wholeness in a culture that can feel like it’s trying to slice us up into demographics.

On Saturday afternoon, the day after his birthday, my son and I watched the first episode of Yasuke. He’s into it so far, and he loves the Hypland shirt. Most important, I think he gets the message: it’s possible to contain multitudes. The original Yasuke did. So does Jordan Bentley. And as the Black experience in America shows us all, so can we.

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