Are the Chinese Racist?

Racism. Noun: 1. The belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. 2. Discrimination or prejudice based on race.

I was casually listening to the radio in the car as the family returned from a swimming excursion. My uncle switches from a finance channel to RTHK, a popular Cantonese talk-radio channel (minus the calls in). The topic the commentator chose for that broadcast: race. He started by calling out the stereotypes by color. White, yellow, black. He listed the associations with each color, race. Black was described as “dirty, trash, lazy, etc.” What came next though is what intrigued me: the commentator talked about how no one should use the n-word or even “black” as a descriptor and instead should switch to “American African.” He put it out there as if he were informing the people of Hong Kong for the first time as to what is politically correct, neverminding the fact that he actually said nothing to counter his opening statements about the associations with black people. He said nothing of underlying prejudice or changing ingrained thoughts.

This got me thinking: are the Chinese racist? More racist than others? (Can a people be racist? Is racism a spectrum?) Does the Hong Kong public need to be prompted by liberal commentators to make a politically correct shift in title without even touching the underlying issue? Most Chinese that I meet do feel prejudice toward blacks (yes, I know, a somewhat blanketing statement. Obviously, not every Chinese person in China is racist). I was at lunch with my grandfather and a few of his friends when one of them started asking me about Middlebury. When I mentioned that Middlebury was in Vermont, one of them said, “that’s good there are probably not a lot of blacks there.” The reality is that most Chinese do not see many African American (or African) faces in the society around them. Even in the metropolis of Hong Kong, the occasional black tourist is still a rare sight. On the mainland? Chances are even slimmer. If would not be surprised if directly asked, many Chinese would be very open about their prejudice against blacks.

Filipinos are a more complex case of racism because of their massive presence in Hong Kong. Usually darker skinned, Filipinos hold a place in Hong Kong society as being the immigrant workers (as Mexicans are in California, for instance). In fact, I would argue that they keep Hong Kong afloat as maids, retail workers, and janitorial staff. What is so intriguing is that, in particular, Filipino maids are so closely integrated with Chinese households and yet still many Chinese think poorly of them. My two young Hong Kong cousins have a Filipino maid named Sally. Sally speaks English, Cantonese, and Filipino. She helps the kids with everything imagineable from homework to putting on shoes. And yet, the kids believe that there is a fundamental difference between them and her. They call Sally a worker when, if you ask me, she should be part of the family. Kids are born race-blind. Who teaches them race difference?

I could be entirely off-base here but, to me, there is a problem with race here in China. To tell the truth, I don’t know what can be done about this society. Even in today’s globalizing world, I don’t see much changing for the Chinese. As a start, I think the issue must be discussed openly in more than politically correct channels.

For me, I think I must investigate further race relations outside of America. It’s a whole new world and an intriguing one at that.


3 thoughts on “Are the Chinese Racist?”

  1. It has something to do with the Chinese invented everything from paper, noodles (pasta), gun powder, the concept of zero, etc.

  2. Would you say that there is institutionalized racism or a fear of the unknown in China? From what I understand as an American, there is litle tolerance of Africans and Black Americans who live or visit Beijing. If they happen to be a superstar they are the exception. I am a writer on U.S. foreign policy as well as on sports culture. Would appreciate your feedback.

  3. The way you pose the question makes me wonder if you see the irony in asking whether an entire race of people are racist.

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