Why does China get carte blanche for its insensitivity?

By Onat Kibaroğlu Source:Global Times Published: 2016-6-1 18:13:01

Illustration: Chen Xia/GT

You've probably read about and watched it by now: the social media is boiling up about the "racist" detergent ad. If you haven't, here's how it goes: a Chinese lady is busy with laundry when a paint-streaked young black man leans on the door and whistles suggestively. She calls him over and as he gets close, she pops a packet of Qiaobi detergent into his mouth and pushes him down into the washing machine. A few seconds later, out pops a clean, pale-skinned Chinese man, apparently much more to her delight. The message is that the man has completely scrubbed off his dirt, which includes his black skin.

I will not discuss whether this advertisement is racist or not. There are thousands of forums and WeChat groups that have done that excessively so far. Many of my own African friends claimed it was not racist but just funny. Many Westerners have claimed that it is indeed blatantly discriminatory. Everyone of them makes legitimate points and is entitled to their own opinion.

Nor will I discuss whether Chinese people are racist or not, which is where most of the arguments I've seen have ended up at: apparently Chinese are racist, not only against blacks but also any other dark skinned people including their own Southerners. Such a claim can be no less racist than the ad itself, as it completely generalizes and blames a whole nation of more than a billion people.

I seek to challenge the defense mechanism I've recently noticed on such issues. Within so many of the comments I've read and during many discussions with peers regarding the issue, the same explanation came up over and over again: "Chinese have no awareness of racism and can therefore be expected to be insensitive about it."

Quite honestly, I am getting quite exhausted about this overly-accommodating rationalization of insensitivity. The ad may or may not be racist, but I can tell that it offended quite a bunch of African people and anyone else who have strong opinions about discrimination around the world. To claim that Chinese are only new to modernization and are still unaware of this insensitivity is nothing short of foolish naivety.

Sit in any bar in Shanghai and you'll have an NBA game aired on the TV. Go and challenge your Chinese colleagues, test them whether they know about celebrities in Hollywood and I guarantee you'll get correct answers. Ask them about the recent Black Lives Matter movement, they might not be experts but I'm sure they'll know racism is an issue in the US. We live in a world where everyone is at least aware of almost everything: the days of Marco Polo traveling for years to reach the Middle Kingdom are way behind. Today, information travels faster than the speed of light.

Neither the producer of this advertisement nor anyone else who is trying to downplay the message it gives must not resort to claiming China's societal modernization is still at its infancy and can be spared being blamed. Regardless of whether the advertisement is racist or not, the full responsibility of offending a huge bunch of people for no good reason must be taken.

The Chinese cannot simply alternate between being viewed as unaware little children who do foolish mistakes when it comes to such sensitive issues and a complex society with a legacy of superior knowledge on everything about life. As responsible world citizens, which Chinese apparently aspire to be, they must accord themselves with the mainstream sensitivities most people around the globe have.

Being a homogeneous society and having lack of racial conflicts cannot be an open check to insensitivity toward societal injustices. In that sense, any country without slavery luggage can be expected to be insensitive. There is nothing subtle about such issues. If the Chinese are considered offensive by others, then they simply are offensive.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.

Posted in: TwoCents, Metro Shanghai

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