Over the past few weeks, media in the West has been quietly a-buzz over a story in China that has sparked a heated racial debate, particularly on Chinese websites and forum boards. A young Shanghainese woman, by the name of Lou Jing was recently a contestant on an “American Idol”-style show called (and I can’t believe this is the official translation, but it underscores how different race relations are in different parts of the world) “Go! Oriental Angel”. Shocking for some of the show’s viewers, Lou Jing’s mother is Shanghainese while her father (whom she has never met) was African-American.
Apparently, Lou Jing performed on the show “Go! Oriental Angel”, and was only eliminated before the Top 12. Yet, throughout her appearances on the show, the show’s hosts referred to Lou Jing as “Chocolate Girl” and “Black Pearl”, sensationalizing her race. This sparked online curiousity and debate over Lou Jing’s background, forcing Lou Jing’s mother to appear on-stage in a segment to address Lou Jing’s childhood and her absentee father. Meanwhile, online comments ranged from supportive of Lou Jing to intensely derogatory, with some of the worst forum comments condemning Lou Jing’s mother for miscegenation and likening Lou Jing to a bastard child born of bestiality. One comment read:
Sure enough, the blacks started to “Dyeing” China Black.
Cannot believe of right now part of the Chinese people adore the blacks also! No wonder the Chinese in foreign countries sucks!
And a third:
Bastard + wild species how is that Chinese?
The online hullaboo was fueled by an online post written by someone claiming to be Lou Jing, claiming that Lou Jing was born of an extramarital affair between her mother and her father.
In an interview Lou Jing did with NetEase, and later translated into English by the folks at China Hush, Lou Jing denied writing the original post, and addresses some of the race debate sparked by her appearance on the show. What is truly surprising about Lou Jing’s relationship with her identity as a bi-racial woman is how she seems to have so little of a relationship with her identity as bi-racial. When asked about potential racial discrimination Lou Jing faced growing up in a place where more than 90% of people are Han Chinese, Lou Jing responded:
There is no inconvenience as a child. Now it is quite inconvenient, particularly after participated in this competition. I do not recall any childhood memory of inconvenience. As the old saying says “When god closes the door on you, at the same time he opens another window for you.” Normally, when I go out occasionally other people would say something, most of them with good intentions. But there are people with not so good intentions, they would insult me. But just a few words, I listen to them and let it pass. I think, it’s just annoying, as long as people around me all are very good to me and that is enough.
Yet, Lou Jing is clearly aware of her appearance differing from her peers, but she seems to find nothing wrong about being racialized throughout her childhood and during her stint on “Go! Oriental Angel”, when hosts and judges routinely used racialized nicknames. In fact, in her interview, Lou Jing remarks that one childhood nickname, “Little Black”, was used only by her closest friends. She perceived nothing racial about it:
Netease: Another nickname is “Little Black”?
Lou Jing: Yes, this is coming from skin color, only my close friends call me this, normally no one else calls me that.
Netease: Isn’t calling you this “racial”?
Lou Jing: Not racial, because we are close, normally middle school and high school classmates that are close to me and sit around me in class call me that. But they are weird, when they heard other people calling me that, they would say “Who told you to call her that? This is our exclusive name for her.” It’s like that.
Netease: Were you angry?
Lou Jing: First time I was then I got use to it. Because when we were little, classmates were very close, also when we were little, we had good intentions. Other people gave me nickname I also gave them nicknames.
Overall, I’ve been loathe to talk about this story, mainly because I feel the attention being drawn to Lou Jing’s tale in the West is fueled, in large part, by fascination of racism elsewhere in the world. It’s as if America is shocked to discover that race problems occur throughout the world (or more specifically, that China contains people who aren’t Han Chinese and that these people have trouble ‘fitting in’), yet delight in the discovery of racism abroad as if to soften the fact that racism occurs domestically. After all, when’s the last time that the only Black kid in a school of Whites got front-page coverage on CNN? Yet, with all of the coverage that has been aired on Lou Jing, I feel an undercurrent of glee in labelling China as racist — as if the statement were being made “hey, Yellow people hate Black people, too!”
Secondly, I’m somewhat disgusted to see that even here, in this story of a bi-racial half-Black half-Chinese woman in Asia, who has triggered a necessary (if uneasy) debate on race relations in China, we still have the tired stereotype of the absentee Black father. I mean, whatever happened to good examples of Black fatherhood?
That being said, it is kind of weird to see how different race is in China; although there are echoes of the same issues that are raised here in America. People are quick to categorize Lou Jing as either Black or Chinese, but have difficulty seeing her as biracial. Meanwhile, all Lou Jing wants to do is to emphasize her “Shanghai”-ness while pooh-pooh-ing some of the racism she has faced because she has confused “racism” with “malignment”.
But, I do want to say this: biracial, Black or Asian, Lou Jing certainly doesn’t deserve to be touted up as some kind of a martyr to racial equality and understanding in China. No one could withstand that pressure, least of all a girl who still seems to be just beginning to discover her unique racial identity and heritage. Instead, how about we just have a global race relations discussion, not limited to one country? How about we, as a global community, recognize that we are colourstruck and go from there?
I just received an email from a student named Doris Zhang, a senior at Pitzer College. Doris is looking for some help with her Gender/Feminist Studies senior project. Doris has identified a disturbing lack of representation of APIA women in media for the tattoo community, and hopes to rectify the situation by developing her own tattoo magazine specifically focused on Asian American women with tattoos.
Here is the text of the email:
I’m a senior at Pitzer College and was wondering if you could help me out a bit with a favor. For my Gender/Feminist Studies senior project, I’d like to interview and photograph self-identified tattooed Asian American women. My intention is to create my own ‘tattoo magazine’ – think “Tattoos For Women”, but with an Asian American focus. I don’t see a lot of Asian American women being represented in the media, let alone in tattoo magazines and in the tattoo community. In addition, I think it would be so interesting to see how gender and race (amongst other factors) intersect to shape the artistic and expressive choices of Asian American women.
If you are a tattooed Asian American woman and are interested in being interviewed for this project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I think this is a great project and wish Doris the best of luck in it! I hope to post about the magazine when it is released.
Yesterday, I posted about how Toby Keith, country crooner, made a racial faux pas in Norway immediately following the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony. Today, the New York Daily News picked up on the blogosphere buzz about Keith, and wrote an article describing the controversy.
In it, they obtain quotes from representatives of the Asian American Justice Center, who said:
“Toby Keith embarrassed himself and his country, denigrated the Nobel Peace Prize and offended Asians and Asian Americans by using a crude, racist hand gesture,” a spokesman for the Asian American Justice Center tells TMZ.
A spokesperson from the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA), mis-cited as the Media Action Network for Asians in the article, also said:
“By doing this, he is telling Asian fans, ‘You don’t matter, you’re not on my radar,'” chimes in a representative from the Media Action Network for Asians.
Well, to be fair, I’m not really pissed at Keith because I’ve been let-down by one of my country singin’ idols. In fact, I really don’t care if I’m on Keith’s radar. I would just prefer if folks didn’t think they could get away with derogatory, schoolyard racism aimed at folks like myself, without at the very least being called out on it.
The NY Daily News also contacted Keith’s spokespeople for a quote. Keith has yet to issue an apology for his behaviour, but his publicist did have this to say:
“No one at the concert thought Toby was out of line,” his camp said. “Everyone was impressed with his rapping skills and that’s it . . . all of the artists liked each other, hung out, and it was a very friendly, genuine, and supportive atmosphere.”
Ri-i-ight. Because it’s only racist if the impromptu concert went something like this:
Wyclef Jean: Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! The first black president got a Nobel!
Toby Keith: I’m cool because I’m on stage with musicians people actually respect! Never mind that people can’t name a single song I’ve ever sung — I’m hard to the core!
Will Smith: Turn the mic up, everybody! Let’s get jiggy! I would freestyle, but I’m too old (and too famous) for that mess anymore, so let’s just throw on some Rapper’s Delight. And anyways, these Norwegians are just excited that I’m even here instead of home with Jada! (rapping) … Well, I am Will Smith and I’d like to say hello. To the black —
Toby Keith: Haha! He said Black! He must mean him! (points at Will Smith)
Will Smith: — to the white —
Toby Keith: Hey, I’m White! (points a self) Shoot! This is easier than identifying numbers on Sesame Street! What’s next Will?
Will Smith: — the red and the brown —
Toby Keith: Shucks, that’s harder. Well, if I wave my hand around, I’m bound to point to someone who’s red or brown somewhere on the planet, right? (waves hand in a circle)
Will Smith: — the purple —
Toby Keith: Derrr…?
Will Smith: — and yellow!
Toby Keith: Hahaha! Yellow means Asian and Asian people have funny eyes. (does the “chinky eye”)
Will Smith: But first I gotta bang bang the boogie to the boogie…
Toby Keith: Whew, now I’m back in familiar territory. What was with the purple thing? Bang! Bang! Bang! (does the finger gun)
Will Smith: Say up jump the…. wait, wait, hold up.
DJ grinds the music to a halt.
Toby Keith: What, Will? I was just getting my jiggy on!
Will Smith: Did you just do the “chinky eye”? You know that is profoundly racist and derogatory to people of Asian descent? In fact, I am so offended by what you just did that I can’t even perform anymore. You have taken the joy out of President Obama’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, and for that, I cannot forgive you. You, sir, are a racist, Mr. Keith, and I cannot bear to share the stage with you any further.
Will Smith drops the mic and stalks off.
Toby Keith: Wha’ happened?!?
Wyclef Jean: For shame, Toby. For shame.
Yeah, of course that’s not going to happen. But just because nobody called Keith on his racism then and there, doesn’t make Toby Keith’s behaviour inoffensive. In other words, just because people who didn’t have the privilege to be in Norway only now got to see the video footage doesn’t render their (or my) argument that Keith’s behaviour was racist inadmissible.
And more importantly — how many drugs do you have to be doing to think that the reason Keith wasn’t called out on his racism in the heat of the moment was because people were too impressed by Keith’s rapping skills. I mean, do I really even need to make a joke about that, or can I just let that statement stand on it’s own?
In the aftermath of Obama receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Will Smith, Wyclef Jean and Toby Keith were performing at a concert in Oslo, Norway when Toby Keith apparently pulled his eyes back in the “chinky eye” to mimic Asian features. The context: Will Smith was performing verses of Sugar Hill’s “Rapper’s Delight” when he reached the following lyric:
See I am the [garbled] Will and I like to say hello
To the black, to the white, the red and the brown,
The purple and yellow
But first I gotta bang bang the boogie to the boogie
Say up jump the boogie to the bang bang boogie
Let’s rock, you don’t stop
Rock the rhythym that will make your body rock
While performing this part of the lyric, both Will Smith and Toby Keith pointed at Smith for “black” and Keith for “white”. Then, Keith proceeds to do some gesticulating with his hand for “the red and the brown”, and than points to the corner of his eyes for “yellow”. Afterwards, he points his index finger (in the shape of a gun) for “bang bang” — indicating that he’s miming out these well-known lyrics for Smith.
The relevant part of the video can be found below, starting at about 1:20 on the video counter.
As Gawker points out, it’s possible Keith just had an ill-timed itch in his eye. Or it’s possible he was making the “chinky eye” and got caught on video. If so, shame on you, Toby Keith; and not just for wearing a jean jacket and a cowboy hat to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.