Monday, July 2, 2007

Race/Racism in America/China

Allen, a new reader, left a comment on a post from way back (ok, so it wasn't that long ago, it just seems like it!) in April. He raises some thought-provoking points, so I thought I'd share, since "old readers" (there's gotta be a better way to say that!) are unlikely to check back in comments from months ago.

"And in America, because of her appearance, she is seen as Chinese and perpetually foreign (after all, she can't even grow up to be President ..."

I just found your blog through google search. I have read a lot of them and thoroughly enjoyed them. I can relate to many of the things you have written about raising bi-cultural kids. I am Chinese from Fujian, China, and educated in Xiamen University in the 80's (that's how I
stumbled upon your blogs when googling with keywords 'Xiamen Blogs by Americans'). I left Xiamen in 1989 for the U.S. and have never had a chance to visit XiaDa since. I have been to China many times, though. Since my wife and I are both Chinese, our kids are naturally - you guess it right - Chinese-looking. Our kids speak Chinese at home and we have a Chinese nanny
who doesn't speak English. That helps with their Chinese. Just like you, I want my kids to feel comfortable being American as well as Chinese. As far as I can tell(from other older Chinese kids born and raised in America), it's very hard for Chinese-looking kids to feel American even though they are born in America and speak unaccented English. No matter how hard they try, they will still be viewed as Chinese. My 8-year old daughter was very heart broken one day when two of her best friends at school decided not to let her sit with them and told her that "We have lighter skin. You have darker skin." Race issue will never be over.

BTW, on another post, you wrote that your Chinese students didn't think "China has a race issue since its people are homogeneous." Nothing can be farther away from the truth. Chinese have always been one of the most racist people in the history. Ask any of your Fujian, Guangdon, or other Southern students to tell you the literal meaning of the word 'foreigner' in
their dialect. It has a derogatory racist connoation. Maybe the English equivalent is "uncivilized barbarians"? Can you imagine anyone in America label another group as barbarians? Well, maybe except for the Southern rednecks. Those guys can even make a living poking fun at themselves. You should ask your students what they think if they are married to an African or black Indian? Chinese in general are fine with Caucasians but are not at all the case with black folks. We can only hope one day people would actually look at each other by the content of one's
character instead of the skin color.

If this were an exam, I'd just write "Discuss."


Anonymous said...

On an adoption blog, a father wrote about how his 3 yr old Chinese daughter and he were in the grocery store, and a little boy pointed at his daughter and said "she's Chinese". Apparently his daughter was astonished that he knew she was Chinese, and didn't understand how he knew this. I wonder what age kids are when they start to recognize physical features as significant.

Alternately - at church yesterday, my 5 yr old daughter saw an Asian family walk by, and whispered to me very excitedly "mom! I just saw some Chinese people!" She definitely knows what Chinese people look like, and she is very happy about the fact that she is Chinese. I would hope that she would never have a single moment in her life when anyone said anything derogatory to her about the fact that she is Asian, but realistically I know that I am asking the impossible.

Elizabeth J.

Wendy said...

I don't think anyone could find a place on the planet where some form of racism has not reared its ugly head, and unfortunately, racism is not the only "ism" out there--our daughters will face racism and sexism as well.
I think that due to the homogeneous society, there will definitely be racism, not a special exclusion from it; everyone they encounter is different. Not only that, lighter versus darker skin within the country, ethnic minority versus Han, it exists. If you have time, maybe you can give that exam--I know it can be given anywhere!

Anonymous said...

As a Jewish woman, I am perhaps a bit sensitized to the "isms." It amazes me that in Texas there are many people who still think of Jews as exotic and perhaps a bit fear-inducing. However, to tie in with the topic, I am more comfortable where some prejudice is acknowledged than where it is hidden. Your class is an example of hidden prejudice. Rather than recognize that some folks may not have overcome their ingrained or learned biases, your students take the politically correct road of stating it does not exist. In such situations, bias or prejudice actions might be denied until something huge and horrendous happens. Thus, my reason for finding the hidden prejudice more of a concern than an open bias. In an open bias, usually the person holding such a bias can be reached one-on-one, even if it doesn't change their attitude towards all of the class, group, etc.


Flower Mound, TX

Anonymous said...

Have many black parents been
allowed by China to adopt?
Would they be denied because of
their race? Mary

Allen said...

Malinda, thanks for bringing my previous comment up for discussion. I have always wanted to discuss the race issue so that I can learn something and help my kids cope with it as they grow up in America. Thanks for providing a safe forum for discussion. I hope your readers would provide some insightful suggestions on helping bicultural kids overcome racial prejudices anywhere in the world.

One of the readers here wondered "what age kids are when they start to recognize physical features as significant." We have seen kids as young as 3 years old who can actually opine on the racial difference of people around them. One sunny Sunday afternoon when our kids were at ages 4 and 2, we took them to our community playground where two other boys (Caucasian) about their ages were playing. The older boy called out to his little brother, "Don't go over there! He is a Chinese boy!" Upon hearing that, our 4-year old daughter immediately said to her brother, "Let's go home. They don't want us here." Both my wife and I were very surprised at what we had just heard (no, not the boy's statement, but our daughter's). How could a 4-year old pick up the racial overtone uttered by a small boy? On the way back home, we pretended we didn't understand what had just happened and asked our daughter why she was upset. She told us in unambiguous sentences. "He could have said ‘There is a boy over there.’ Why did he have to say ‘He is a CHINESE boy’?" Yes, she did emphasize the word Chinese. It is said that kids are cruel. But on the bright side, they are truthful, too.

To illustrate another point which I brought up earlier, let’s travel back to summer 1987 in Fuzhou. I was walking down the street with an American friend who had lived in China for many years. His command of Chinese Mandarin is as good as a native Chinese speaker. But hey, he didn't speak Fuzhou hua, which I spoke. As in many places in China, some passers-by stared at this tall American dude while making some comments about him in Fuzhou hua. Out of curiosity, our big-nosed friend asked me in Mandarin what those Fuzhou folks were saying about him in Fuzhou hua. For a few seconds, I didn't know what to tell him. Should I tell him "Ah, wai guo ren (Look! A foreigner!)"? Well, if I did, I would have been a lousy translator. The term for foreigner that those passers-by used in Fuzhou hua is such a derogatory that I don't think there is even a Mandarin equivalent. It literarily means "the opposite race," which entails we are good and they are bad. We are smart and they are dumb. Come to think of it, many Westerners (at least in some American movies) understand the derogative connotation of the Cantonese word foreigner. You see, racial prejudice isn’t skin deep. It has a very long historical root which sometimes has been engrained in its linguistic repertoire. So what did I tell my friend? I know you were curious. I said, “Ah, wai guo ren! But I haven’t heard such a term for so long. Very interesting.”

In my humble opinion, we need to face the race issue honestly and sincerely. As one reader has lamented, we should not be asking for the impossible because that would be unrealistic. However, we at least need to understand it so that we can be better equipped to help our bicultural kids navigate through the first 18 years of their life. Once they grow up, it won’t be such a big deal anymore. Americans usually shy away from discussing anything remotely related to the race issue. They can talk about anything but race. You can go to a church. Some friendly folks would even invite you to join their small group. Alright, I am in. So what do we study this month? How about marriage and family? Sounds serious. Let’s see what God has to say about family, different roles of husband and wife, etc. Now in this study, you can expect people to openly share about their sex life and what each one thinks is good and considerate sex. I am not making this up. One study material prepared by a reputable evangelical Christian organization here in heartland America even has a chapter on positions. Those of you who think Christians are dull should seek out your local church. Then come another month another study topic is introduced. Ah, we are going to talk about how to share the Good News with people all over the world. How wonderful! Naturally the topic of different people groups and how they are different and yet all loved by God comes up. Some of the questions are cultural differences and racial prejudices and how Christians could overcome them. All of a sudden, silence falls on the group. Let me see if I can make sense out of this – we can talk about sex (the real stuff, not abstinence of it) openly in a small group of a church but not the knowledge pertaining to cultural differences and racial prejudices when we are called to minister to different people groups. Granted, I should not expect mono-cultural individuals to pay attention to the race issue as much as I would want it. After all, their kids will probably never experience it.

For those of us who are bicultural, I believe we should try to pass on the best of both cultures to our kids. One day they would be very grateful that we did. As for us, on the one hand, we have been working hard to instill the good work ethic and academic excellence on our kids, which is typical of Chinese culture. On the other hand, we have also been working hard to raise well-rounded kids with emphases on leadership, athletic participation, and public speaking skills, which are key traits of high achievers in American culture but are somewhat missing in Chinese culture. I think every parent should make light and even make fun of any racial prejudice that is against them. The best way to overcome racial prejudice is to work hard and be successful in life. That way, other people’s prejudice won’t even inconvenience you.

Isn’t it true that we all have fallen short of the glory of God? Even when we perceive ourselves to be superior to others, we are still imperfect when compared with the perfect Creator. Bill Gates has it right in his Harvard graduation speech. How shall we judge ourselves? We shall judge ourselves not on the professional accomplishments alone, but also
“…on how well you treated people a world away who have nothing in common with you but their humanity.”

Anonymous said...

Two adoption links,

Wei said...

I would concur that Chinese do discriminate against other racial groups. However, I do think that there are core differences between the racism in the US and that in traditional China.

I am Taiwanese Chinese, so I cannot comment on racism in mainland China specifically.

Chinese, in general, do look down upon groups of people that they see as culturally inferior to them- illustrated by the term "uncivilized barbarian". This attitude of discriminate against other groups is wrong and need to change.

Discriminations based solely on skin color, in my opinion, are almost uniquely America. The deep hatred and overt discrimination shown by small percentage of white Americans toward blacks, Asian or homosexuals are beyond belief.

Majority of the white Americans are decent, open and honest; and majority of the Americans are not racist.

Majority of the Chinese, I believe, are decent, open and honest too.

Confucius taught us Chinese to improve one's virtue through self-reflection. However, self criticism by some Chinese of any thing Chinese, following western point of views, are truly disheartening.

mimifrancoise said...

I believe that racism/sexism is alive an well in EVERY country. However, each country has its own bias. And, most likely, each region of a country has a different bias against those who are not like them. It is them vs. us! Some of these biases are hidden and some are blatant. I also believe that the majority of people will not harm those who are not like them. There are always those fanatics who have so much hate that they will stop at nothing to do harm. Of course we always hear in the news about those.
The uggly hidden biases do psychological/emotional harm if we let them. It is up to us as parents/granparents to give our children a good sense of pride of their heritage (global) and individual pride (good education, knowledge,sense of work well done, and other values) which will improve their self image.
I remember when Malinda was about 10 years old, a friend from school (Lisa H.) came over to play. A few weeks later that friend's mother called the house to ask something and I answered the phone (I have a French accent). Next day Malinda came home and told me tearfully that Lisa could not come to play at our house anymore. When I asked why she said that, the mother had told Lisa that she was not allowed to go to the house of "damn foreigners". I told her that we really had to feel sorry for people like these because they were so ignorant they judge us before they even knew us,that they would miss out by not knowing what nice, fun, good people we are. It was their loss, not Malinda's. It must have been a helpful answer because Malinda turned out great!
I have more thoughts on the subject but will get off my soap box now. ;o)

Allen said...

>>I have more thoughts on the subject but will get off my soap box now.

Please do share more. You definitely have some insights on this issue as a foreigner. I trust you will do well helping your granddaughters. I think the bias against Chinese in America has gotten a lot less after the dotcom boom in the 90's due to the fact that many technical hot shots in IT companies were of Chinese descent, such as Jerry Yang (Yahoo), Charles Wang (Computer Associate, the 2nd largest software firm in the world), now Steve Chen (YouTube), and many others in less well-known companies. An American friend once told me that many Americans have this have this good stereotype of Chinese now as being "brainy IT genius."

mimifrancoise said...

Allen, I don't know if this is the place to post the many times I have had to experience negative vibes from "Americans" who feel superior because they do not think they have an accent. So I will only describe one instance that really made me angry.
Until I retired, I worked in East Texas where the regional accent is as thick and slow as molasses in January. Almost everyday I would hear "I just love your accent" After hearing this comment for a thousand times I started to tell them "I love your accent too" and they would look so shocked that I thought they had an accent. Anyway, here is the one that made me angry. I was chatting with an old man (who not only had a strong East TX accent but very poor grammar)in the waiting room of the cancer center where I worked. As I was leaving to go back to my office he was pleased to tell me "I enjoyed talking to you and I didn't have any trouble understanding to your broken English". I always made an effort to use good grammar and insisted that my children did too. Well that man's statement really irritated me (to put it mildly). I took a big breath and smiling I told him that I spoke better English than 90% of Americans...and then slowly walked away. What I really wanted to say was "You idiot, uneducated moron, you do not even know which word to use to tell me you undertood me in spite of my foreign accent".
Not all instances of bias have been negative, some were really funny. Enough for today.

Anonymous said...

I think americans are much more acceptable of other races as compared to chinese. Being a european I personally from my trips to both places that americans whether white, brown or black are very tolerant. Chinese (and especially the ones from Hong Kong) literally act like slaves towards white people and treat others like crap. Honestly this is very hypocritical.

M. Dujon Johnson said...

google my name 'M. Dujon Johnson' or go to Amazon, borders or barnes and noble googling my name as well. In some case it is 'Dujon Johnson.' There you may find a book that is very interesting it is titled "Race and Racism in the Chinas: Chinese racial attitudes toward Africans and African-Americans."

Anonymous said...


AsianRacism said...

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