Does color matter?

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/25 18:23:07

Black people talk about their experiences living in China

An African man walks along a street in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province. Photo: CFP

 Earlier this month five American policemen were gunned down during a "Black Lives Matter" protest in Baton Rouse, Louisiana. The protest which has become an international movement, was a demonstration about police shooting apparently unarmed or innocent black people.

The incident shocked the US and the world and highlighted the fact that racism is still part of the world in the 21st Century.

In China, racism has been touched upon recently when a blatantly racist television commercial for a detergent was withdrawn after protests.

Nowadays, with more black people coming to the once conservative and closed-off China to live and work, are they encountering racism and in what forms?

The Global Times talked to five Africans and African Americans and one Brit working and studying in China about their experiences here.

Wallace Norwood, English teacher (six years in Hangzhou), the US:

When I first moved here, six years ago, I was surprised to discover that most people thought that I was from Africa. Then I found that there are more African people in China than African Americans. Having spent all six years living and gainfully employed in Hangzhou, I have been able to visit other parts of China.

For the most part, the Chinese reaction is one of indifference but I have, on occasion, been bombarded with friendly and non-threatening curiosity. I have, been directly told that an employer was looking for a white candidate.  This really has had little impact on my outlook as China is a huge place with an ever-growing market.  There are enough opportunities to go around. 

I have also learned that some people in China are not the most verbally graceful people or polite, even in public. They can be downright rude. But this could be said about many other groups of people.

I can say with all fairness though, that everyone's experience, regardless of color or national origin is different. Living in China requires an in-depth ability to adapt as well as a high tolerance of things that are different from Western norms.

Personally, it would be terribly difficult for me to imagine life without a deep appreciation of world culture. China has definitely given me a favorable impression of this area's history and tradition and has awarded me a wider cultural insight.

Lavender Nakatiko, university student, (two years in Ningbo), Uganda:

The shooting in the US made me really sad because I think it means that black people haven't yet been accepted in America despite having been there for very many years. It's like they are being treated like animals.

In China, of course there are a few things making me uncomfortable here and there. The staring, touching my hair, taking pictures without permission ... but I take this because many Chinese haven't interacted with black people before and I choose not to be angered by it. Most of the time, I think that white and black are treated the same in China.

One of the few instances where we are treated differently is in teaching English, because locals believe that blacks don't speak English. In comparison to other places I've been, Chinese have more significant racial attitudes. They don't even try to hide it in public. They have a lot to say in Chinese when they see a black person. However, they assume most foreigners don't understand Chinese, which is not true. But also, I meet many Chinese people who are actually welcoming and kind.

I think the lives of black people are fairly okay in China. The best way to make it better is for black people to actually try and learn Chinese so they can easily interact with locals. This has really helped me at least.

George Odongo Ahere, graduate student, (four years in Nanjing), Kenya:

I find the current state of America is very sad especially that racism still exists in society today. Killing someone because of their skin is similar to doing the same for one's appearance like height or hair color. But despite this I believe change is coming.

In China, occasionally people take pictures of us and compare their skin and hair to mine. However, I am not that bothered with this. I believe from my experience that most Chinese are just curious about us - but they seem to fear us too. I think the difference between the local people's attitude toward the white and black is huge. Chinese tend to love white people compared to us. The Chinese are very friendly and open to white people. This affects us in getting opportunities here because you end up being the second option if not the last.

Black people in China have to work twice as hard as anyone else to prove themselves. This is because of the picture the media has painted of us. China is still new to us. Currently things are not that bad but there is a lot of room for improvement.

Donata Miller, working in Zhuhai, (one exchange year in China previously) the UK:

When I heard the news about the US, I wasn't surprised about police violence because I grew up in South London and am of Jamaican heritage. From early on I learned that many of my community's men were in prison and were more likely to be picked on by the police (for sure!).

The Black Lives Matter Movement is important to me and talking about race has been the main focus of my volunteer work so far. During my exchange year in China, I could feel that local people were shocked to see me. I experienced too many pictures and hair touching.

I was so happy to come back to London after my exchange year so that I could be ignored. I also feel that black people are seen as less desired or respected in general. For example, my black friends are not able to get a taxi easily. And my race is always considered African. People feel as though they have authority to speak on your life experiences and nationality.

There exists a Western superiority (including British and other European countries) in China. For example, as teachers they only want people with Western passports despite the fact that English is the first language for many African countries.

I have seen many black people in China, more than I ever thought were here when I first came.  In my opinion Chinese are worse than other races in terms of racial consciousness. Many are ignorant of addressing race, including those shocking things like the laundry detergent ad and Darlie toothpaste. However, there are still challenges for black people in nearly every country, not just China.

Ella Appiah, university student, (two years in Ningbo), Ghana:

The news from America is very disturbing because the reality that I could be a victim saddens me. During my two years in China, there have been some situations where I have felt very uncomfortable.

Finally I realized that it is because there are many local people lacking knowledge about the differences in race.

For instance, when looking for a job, they would prefer a white person to a black person. It's obvious that black people are treated with disgust in some parts and it's an unfair treatment.

However, considering my experiences in China, it's very different to other countries. Elsewhere you can feel at home, no one takes pictures of you like an alien and no one pays extra attention to you. Despite this, I believe the time will come when we will be treated equally if our voices can be heard.


Hola(anonymous), university student, (two years in China), Nigeria:

In my opinion the shooting in the US is just crazy, heartbreaking and inhumane. We have to love each other as we love ourselves. I really don't want to go into the fact that the incident which occurred was just racism.

How many white guys could stand the terror, hardship and violence being done to black Americans? I am sure 99 percent of them wouldn't say "Yes." Until we see ourselves as one, until we see that the cause of all the problems -divisions, hatred and war going on right now in the world - are due to indifference.

Coming to China was one of the best decisions I have made. I can remember my first year in China was pretty hard but I had to adapt to life as a black person studying and living in China. I can remember vividly, how I was pointed out and people took my picture without asking permission.

I was once on a bus and a Chinese mum (not a girl) was sitting next to me. It was pretty humid and hot so I was wearing shorts. She took out her iPhone and took a picture of my legs and her legs and sent the picture to her friend on WeChat. She also posted the picture on her WeChat moments account. I felt quite offended, but welcome to China!

What I have noticed so far is that, the Chinese aren't racist but they are ignorant. I've gotten used to the fact that they point at me, take pictures without asking me. But, trust me, it's fun when they take pictures of you. You feel like a celebrity.

I love who I am, I love being black, I love the fact I am African and I wouldn't change that even if I had the opportunity to do so.

Additionally, I think China is far better than some other countries in terms of racism. I used to be in Malaysia, and you guys are pretty cool compared to Malaysia when it comes to racist attitudes.

All I can say is that China's problem isn't racism but just ignorance, which I hope will get better. Overall I think black people are all doing fine and maximizing their opportunities here in China. We are standing together as one and that's all matters.

The article was written by Zhang Qin

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, City Panorama

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