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Racism comes out in the wash

Updated: 2016-06-06 13:44
By Raymond Zhou (China Daily)

For good or bad, blacks as a race are used for dramatization when appearing in Chinese imagery. We have not come to the colorblindness stage yet.

However, there is a historical correlation between dark skin and low social status. In the old days, physical laborers had to work out in the field. So, the more sun-tanned the skin, the less shelter and comfort one is presumed to have enjoyed.

Even today, in an age of fitness mania, the joke is still around when a young man in China has skin darker than the average.

Chen Xiaoqing, producer of the famed documentary series A Bite of China, is often jabbed by his friends with lines like "I thought I bumped into an African" or "It's so dark here I didn't know you were standing in the way."

If it's a woman with dark skin, friends and neighbors won't make fun of her. They would look at her with pity as if it's a mild deformity.

I've seen healthily tanned Chinese-American girls who came back to China to find their Chinese relatives responding in horror.

All women's cosmetics in China are designed to make them look fairer. I'll bet you a king's ransom that a suntan salon for women would be laughed off the block.

In China, it is more a class thing than a race thing.

Many Chinese have never come into contact with people of other races, especially blacks, and they may not know whether or how the issue of skin color could be addressed properly.

That said, I would not justify the simmering racial discrimination that exists among some of my compatriots.

Years ago, I heard a story of a Chinese language school that refused to hire English teachers who are blacks. They would rather get Russians who speak English with an accent than native English speakers who are more qualified in every other way.

The school authorities defended themselves by saying the parents insisted on a white-teachers-only policy.

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