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China Daily Website  

Racism comes out in the wash

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

Another example is the Chinese poster for the new Star Wars. The lead actor, who is black, mysteriously disappeared from the group image until he was reinserted as a result of protests.

Whoever made the initial decision could be thinking that Chinese moviegoers would not be drawn by an unknown black man, to put it mildly.

That is why symbols like the first black American president and Hollywood luminaries like Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman are so important in shaping public perception. They help shatter the stigma inherent in parts of the Chinese public.

Although China is also an ethnically diverse country, most of our minorities do not have distinct facial features. For some, only when you're given the name do you realize they are not Han. So, our level of racial sensitivity is not as high as in the United States.

I once debated the issue of "yellow-face" with a Chinese-American dramatist who is a kind of vigilante against the outmoded casting practice.

"Do you know why we Chinese are not offended by the yellow face?" I asked him. "Because for decades we had the habit of putting on a white face to play a Caucasian. We couldn't afford to hire white actors."

Just as early Hollywood portrayals of Asians tended to be caricatures, white or black characters on Chinese screens are rarely three-dimensional. They play on exaggerated stereotypes.

Again, ignorance is at the heart of the problem.

Until you have mingled with a fair number of regular people of other races, you tend to form premature opinions that are basically prejudices and, if you're a filmmaker, you might reinforce it by presenting crude replicas on the screen.

In 2011, CNN posted on its website an article listing "the most revolting food" in the world. Much of it was Asian food like the century egg, which is a traditional snack in China.

After causing a controversy, it apologized "reservedly for any offense the article has inadvertently caused".

Had it labeled the article "some of the revolting food in the eyes of most Westerners" and changed the tone from authoritative to humorous, it might have flown by without any controversy. Instead, it could have been helpful by alerting some Chinese not to serve these local favorites to foreign guests.

But I guess the editors had forgotten that CNN is a global news operation rather than an Atlanta local paper.

Likewise, Qiaobi forgot we are living in a global village. Its detergent may not be targeting Africans per se, but they are not selling to a landlocked market either.

So, they should have vetted the ad concept with cross-cultural experts, or at least with a few blacks, since they are the subject of the misplaced humor here.

Contact the writer at raymondzhou@chinadaily.com.cn

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