Reported by Liku Zelleke
Just like in most countries in Asia, Chinese people also associate lighter skin color with beauty. People with dark skin, be it their own fellow countrymen or foreigners working or studying in China, often have to face racism that ranges in level from barely overt to outright violent.
A person who has had firsthand experience about how it really is in China is Ghanaian student Zahra Baitie, who wrote for The Atlantic about her one-year stay in China. The one word she used to describe the whole trip was it being one big “ordeal.”
Baitie says everywhere she went she was the topic of conversation among the Chinese people, and they even took photos of her because they thought she was strange.
One particular incident she writes about is how one woman asked, “Excuse me. If I may be so bold to ask, in your country do people consider black skin beautiful?”
When she responded, “Of course, they do and, to be honest, I wish I were darker,” the woman became “aghast” by her response and said, “I would never have thought that in my lifetime I would hear someone say all you’ve said. So you really don’t want to become lighter skinned? In China, we believe the whiter your complexion is the more beautiful you are and there are many ways to achieve this.”
The woman’s comments come from a general perception that exists in China where being black is associated with being poor, which in term stems from the country’s own culture where, for centuries, lighter-skinned people have looked down on darker-skinned people and relegated them to being peasant farmers.
But things can and have been known to escalate from simple perceptions or comments into violent reactions. In 2012 Georgetown’s basketball team was playing an exhibition game in China when a racial remark by one of the Chinese players resulted in an all-out brawl.
In 1998, a 300-people-strong mob broke into an African students’ dormitory at Nanjing University and destroyed their possessions for no other reason than that they were Africans. All the while, the Chinese were shouting “Down with the black devils!”