China is a country plagued by racism.
What is it like to be Black in China?
To be Black or African in China is to be labeled unintelligent, dangerous, unattractive, or to see an empty seat next to you on a crowded subway.
To deny any acts of neo-colonialism in its dealings with African countries, China has, in recent years, repeatedly said it views them as partners, not recipients of charity.
But this is not consistent with the way China treats African and Black people.
The CCTV gala, an annual variety show, showed us that China views Africa as a helpless place in desperate need of China’s altruism.
During the Spring Festival broadcast, which draws 800 million viewers, a Chinese woman parades on stage in blackface wearing a prosthetic butt and chest.
Here’s what happened:
Was I surprised by this tone-deaf, racist representation of African people? No. This is nothing new in China.
In Guangzhou, dubbed the “Chocolate City” because of its large African population, Africans consistently report cases of police harassment, random passport checks and assumptions of criminal activity.
Again, I ask you: why should I be shocked by a television program that offers a degrading representation of African people?
Just last year, WeChat, China’s largest social media platform, had to issue an apology because its app translated the words “black foreigner” in Chinese were as the N-word in English.
See where I’m going with this?
Such events are not surprising to Black people. To be honest, most of us dust off our shoulders and strive ahead because we've learned to rise above ignorance.
China did not invent racism. China is not the first to duplicate it.
But China is an interesting case, because it would have you believe that it doesn't have to deal with some of the social issues that plague Western societies.
Sexism? Doesn’t exist here.
Classism? That's a Western thing.
Homophobia? Not in China.
Racism? Stop being so sensitive, we’re just unaware.
China claims to be devoid of issues that other countries are plagued by.
But I think the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates said it best: “One cannot, at once, claim to be superhuman and then plead mortal error.”
In other words, China can’t claim to be above racist and discriminatory behavior, but then apologize for telling passengers on Air China to avoid places in London where Black people live.
The most alarming thing about racism in China is that it is overt, largely unchecked and accusations are often met with an apathetic “we’re sorry.”
That’s unlike racism in America, which is covert, gets challenged and, if the perpetrator owns a business, she or he faces a public backlash and economic ruin.
In China, this is not a concern because big businesses are often state-owned or protected, ensuring a shield from public criticism and loss of business.
For instance, the Chinese criticism of the CCTV gala or, even more recently, the government’s decision to abolish presidential term limits, was largely silenced on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
Any criticism was either blocked or resulted in the shutdown of the account. It seems the Chinese response is to silence critics instead of analyzing concerns.
China, being the Asian powerhouse that it is, has the opportunity to be a trailblazer in helping to reshape the narrative of African and Black people. Africa and China are partners. None is superior to the other.
China relies on Africa for resources to support its large population, just as much as African countries rely on China.
Black people studying in China offer diverse perspectives in the classroom and engage in academic and community programs that elevate local Chinese communities.
Africans and Blacks create businesses that employ Chinese people, further contributing to this robust economy. This is a mutually beneficial partnership.
China can, and should, disseminate this message – a message of equality and mutual benefit.