Updated: Feb 19
Dear Asian Youth,
I’ve spent quite a while criticizing and condemning systemic racism in the West. News articles and social media videos constantly remind me of all the racist hate crimes in the United States and Europe. But only recently did I finally understand the full extent of racism against Black people within the Chinese community.
In China, there seems to be an inherent prejudice against Black people, a prejudice that we don’t even recognize as problematic. It terrifies me. When I scrolled through the comment section of a video depicting police brutality against an innocent Black man, I did not see words of anger or sympathy like I’d expected. Instead, Chinese users were saying “I hope Black people would stop coming to China” or “good job to the cop for firing the bullets so fast and accurately”. I was appalled. I scrolled past hundreds of comments - hundreds of similar comments. No one was reflecting upon the very real and very horrible social injustice issue the video aimed to portray. Users were either making fun of the situation or defending the cop. I couldn’t believe it. When did racism against Black people become so normalized in China? Even more, why does no one seem to recognize the problem? Quoting Bonnie Girard from The Diplomat, “racist sentiment may seem prevalent simply because it is so blatantly and matter-of-factly expressed when and where it does exist.”
Racism against Black people in China is an issue deeply rooted in colorism. In East Asian countries specifically, a lighter skin tone is often more highly desired. All the skin-whitening products being advertised far and wide is a direct indication that “being lighter is better.” Hence, the normalization of colorism in China contributes heavily to racist beliefs against Black people. However, this issue does not just happen on smaller platforms, it occurs in mainstream Chinese media as well. China’s biggest news channel - China Central Television Channel (CCTV) - broadcasted a live skit during the 2018 Chinese New Year celebrations displaying Chinese actors in blackface mocking African cultures. With faces painted black, thick accents, and over-the-top costumes, actors danced and sung dramatically. The skit stereotyped the African continent as a place with uneducated people that lived with only wildlife animals. The skit also portrayed the idea that Africa holds zero opportunities and everyone there must move to foreign countries such as the United States or China in order to have a satisfactory life. It is truly shocking that this skit got a green pass to be shown on national television. Not only is it a seriously offensive case of cultural appropriation, it also displays Chinese organizers’ lack of awareness regarding race and respect. However, it doesn’t just end there. A 2016 Chinese detergent commercial faced backlash from foreign audiences due to its racist storyline. A Chinese girl starts to get intimate with a Black man as she feeds a detergent tablet into his mouth and forces him into the washing machine. Seconds later, the Black man became a glistening Chinese man with very fair skin and a white t-shirt. Though the company was presumably trying to advertise the detergent’s cleansing abilities, its execution was wrong in every possible manner. This commercial suggests that having a darker skin tone is undesired and that dark skin has to be cleansed lighter to be appreciated.
In China, Black people face scrutiny on a daily basis. I understand this from first-hand observations of my peers and strangers too. Chinese people stare at them in public, they point and whisper horrible comments. Public perception of Black people in general is that they are impoverished, uneducated, violent, and the long-running Chinese beauty standard of fair-skin above all only made matters worthwhile. They are seen as violent and unruly. In my decade of living in China, I can say that the atmosphere of "political correctness" in China has been almost non-existent in comparison to Western countries. It sounds terrible, but some people simply don’t care about racism (unless it is against themselves). They don’t seem to understand the true implications behind condoning hate and perpetuating negative stereotypes. Though Western nations may have more serious hate crimes against people of color, there is still an overwhelming awareness to combat racism. In China, however, there is a general lack of recognition about the issue at all. Mainstream media and the Chinese government can be blamed for not doing enough to educate the masses. If Chinese people keep taking in false information biased against Black people, racist sentiments will never fade away. As a Chinese individual, I am both ashamed and angered at this current predicament. We have allowed racism against Black people to become so common that the severity of the problem lessens and lessens. This needs to stop now.
If you live in China, I urge you to begin conversations discussing this problem. Combatting racism against Black people in China will undoubtedly be highly difficult, due to the overall lack of awareness about the problem itself. We need to change the Chinese public's image about Black people and promote empathy towards our fellow humans. 生来为人，生来平等; 肤色从来不分高低贵贱。We are all born humans, born equals; skin tone should never and will never determine a person’s worth.
Cover Photo Source: https://membic.org/racejustice