Black in China

Black in China, Tourists, Chinese

AFTER BEING THRUST INTO A FRENZIED WORLD of TEFL preparation, Chinese courses, and lesson planning, I counted down to the only vacation day during teacher training. Our ‘vacation’ turned out to be a field trip for the students in our Oral English camp. However, we were offered the incredible opportunity to tour the city of Zhuhai for my favorite price—> free.

Our first stop was the Goddess of Zhuhai. As I stood snapping photos of the statue, I can’t remember how long it took me to realize that all the people standing near me were not taking photos of the statue. They were taking pictures of me. As soon as I consented to taking one picture, the floodgates opened and I spent the rest of my time taking pictures with Chinese tourists. Some squealed with excitement. Some screamed in fear.

DUE IN LARGE PART TO MEDIA INFLUENCES, Chinese people tend to be more familiar with white foreigners. In fact, it is widely understood that many Chinese prefer white, blonde, blue-eyed foreigners.  One friend, a white-male who has now lived in Shenzhen for five years, tried to ease me into the racial climate. “It’s not like America where racism is largely extinct. Chinese people are racist. At my school, parents complained that a Black foreign teacher couldn’t teach their children real English.”

His comments sent chills down my spine not because of the Black teacher’s experience, but because he confidently asserted that racism was largely extinct in the United States. When I think about the recent cases of blatant racism involving Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and John Crawford my heart is torn asunder. When we claim that racism no longer exists, we fail to recognize the lived experience of American minorities.

THIS IS A PERFECT PLACE TO CLARIFY A COMMON MISCONCEPTION. Racism describes actions. Prejudice describes feelings. If we stick to the definition of racism as a majority group’s ability to exert its power to systematically disadvantage a minority group—the word racist simply doesn’t apply to many of the individuals you would encounter in the ethnically homogenous China. Their unfounded beliefs about Blacks are quickly relinquished once they actually interact with a Black person. This is in stark contrast to America where racism is interwoven in the history of our Black in China, Chinese, Touristsnation, and is therefore much more difficult to combat.

While I wouldn’t call Chinese people racists, many definitely have staunch racial prejudices. For this reason, being Black in China is no walk in the park. I am one of two foreign teachers assigned to my elementary school. During our faculty picture day, they placed the blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreign teacher next to the Headmaster. The photographer, then turned to me and said “Maybe you stand over there,” gesturing to a position further down the row.

I LIVE MY LIFE WITH COMPASSION by recognizing where others are in their own journey towards understanding. As I read Yu Hua’s China in Ten Words, I can’t hold back the admiration I have for a country that is now a competitive world power when just less than 40 years ago its people were banned from reading most books during the Cultural Revolution. The same way Yu Hua described his hunger to read when he was finally able to get his hands on foreign literature is the same way many Chinese people are hungry to learn from someone new.

Yes, it’s pretty annoying when people snap pictures of me when I’m struggling to use chopsticks to eat my meal. It’s also really annoying when people run their hands through my hair without warning. Yet, I understand that their actions are fueled by curiosity—not hate. On the other hand, I am not tragically colored nor will I expend energy trying to be the consummate Black foreigner. Instead, I will focus on being the truest and highest version of myself. If that changes the opinions of some Chinese people for the better then so be it.

I could barely scratch the surface of this issue in one post, but I’m looking forward to a great discussion. Let me know what you think!

 

17 thoughts on “Black in China

  1. Wow! I really like what you said about just trying to be the highest and best version of yourself in living with the reactions of Chinese people to you. I do think that those you come into contact with will learn a lot. On the other hand, I do realize that being a poster child can be intimidating and, perhaps, aggravating.

    It is so very difficult to understand why the United States still cannot come to terms with its past. I think that because there’s been no national form of reconciliation and reparations, things will continue in this way. I think that things are coming to a head, and I’m not sure how it will turn out, but I do hope it is true that the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.

    I really appreciated your mention of John Crawford. Very few people seem to know about this tragic event. And Levar Jones in South Carolina, though thankfully he is still alive.

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  2. You’ll prove the doubters wrong. Great post about the racial tones you have encountered in China. You have to remember that if one doesn’t spend much time around people, one tends to be more ignorant and sometimes fearful.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Great job Deaweh this is a well written piece, I think that as humans we all fear the unknown. It is your job as an educator to educate those you come in contact with about what they do not know. By doing this you allow people to become knowledgeable and give them the opportunity to formulate an opinion based on fact not fear of the unknown.

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  4. I’ve never been to China. Though a mentor of mine has been, and has described a similar experience of being a black face in that country. I have been to Africa though. Twice. Kenya and Ethiopia. There is a heavy Chinese presence in those places and across east and north Africa especially. Having had that experience in Africa personally, I don’t know if I can append that ignorance “defense” to the average Chinese citizen. (for lack of a better word–i recognize this was not an apologists’ litterings). I think that the legacy of racism is global, necessarily for it to function well being attached wholly to the Western economy, and so, by osmosis, to the world economy. This may translate, in the case, to the average Chinese person, as prejudice (only because no Chinese state has served as master over the destiny of black lives in the west–though they same is increasingly untrue of black lives in Africa), but the underlying fear therein i would suggests comes from the recognition that the world (of non-brown, or preferred-brown folks) are wholly vested in socially and financially at some point in the subjugation of black faces.

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    • My family is from Liberia, so I know all too well about the Chinese influences throughout Africa. You bring up some really good points that are also reflected in Presswood’s article on being Black in China (http://www.tealeafnation.com/2013/07/chinese-raciality-and-black-reality-in-china/) Another great read!!

      Yet, one thing that really surprised me is just how great the socioeconomic disparity is in China. Although this is a communist country, it is very common that you will walk down the street and meet a person who has been to more states in America than you have. It’ll take you a few more steps for you to meet someone who barely has enough to buy a train ticket to visit Beijing. Ignorance is in no way a defense for the average Chinese person. Ignorance is a weed that can only be uprooted knowledge and a wholllleee lot of patience.

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  5. Hi Deaweh! I just wanted to let you know that you are incredible, and I love you dearly, not to mention I completely understand what you have and are going through! The girls and I struggled with it during our year in China, but we learned so much and had a blast all the while. Just know that your very presence is serving as a piece of enlightenment for many of your students and other people you interact with who have never left and may never have the opportunity to leave China. Take it all in. Relish in your time there and continue to exchange knowledge and culture. Love you bunches! – Sean

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  6. You hit it on the nail – this is definitely true. I’m living in China now and sometimes I just want to take the next flight out of here and head back to the states because the constant touching and stares do indeed get annoying. Funny, I never gave an asian person a second look in the states; maybe if they were the only one, i would have? I don’t know

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    • I definitely had a week where I checked for flights home more than once! I also think the stares and unwarranted attention is because we are verrryyy different from the people you typically see in China.

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      • That’s true…they’re not used to seeing people of a darker skin…it seems taboo here to be so…i like to walk in the sun but i notice many people pull out umbrellas and worry about the sun darkening their skins…funny thing is, in America most of the Asians and White people I know are constantly tanning…crazy how different parts of the world do things.

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  7. Pingback: African-American Studies in China | Murmurs of a Millennial

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