What is it like to be black in China?

Leroy Adams writes in Inkstone:

The most alarming thing about racism in China is that it is overt, largely unchecked and accusations are often met with an apathetic “we’re sorry.”

That’s unlike racism in America, which is covert, gets challenged and, if the perpetrator owns a business, she or he faces a public backlash and economic ruin.

In China, this is not a concern because big businesses are often state-owned or protected, ensuring a shield from public criticism and loss of business.

For instance, the Chinese criticism of the CCTV gala or, even more recently, the government’s decision to abolish presidential term limits, was largely silenced on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

Any criticism was either blocked or resulted in the shutdown of the account. It seems the Chinese response is to silence critics instead of analyzing concerns.

China, being the Asian powerhouse that it is, has the opportunity to be a trailblazer in helping to reshape the narrative of African and Black people. Africa and China are partners. None is superior to the other.

So what is it like to be black in America? Here’s one perspective, written around the same time as the first essay:

Almost every black person in America has experienced the sting of disrespect on the basis of being black. A large but undetermined number of black people feel acutely disrespected in their everyday lives, discrimination they see as both subtle and explicit. Black folk know everyday racism – that becomes powerfully underscored by highly publicized racial incidents like the incident at Starbucks, the recent spate of police killings of black men, or the calling of police on a black female student while napping in a common area of a Yale dormitory.

In the face of these realities, black people everywhere take note and manage themselves in a largely white-dominated society, learning and sharing the peculiar rules of a white-dominated society in which expressions of white racism are becoming increasingly explicit.

While American society purports to be open and egalitarian, or “equal opportunity”, such everyday outcomes leave black people deeply doubtful. Moreover, black people are generally convinced that they must work twice as hard to get half as far in life.

Unfortunately these are similar essays.

So what is it like to be a black teacher in China?

This is a personal narrative from 2009, and this one from 2016.

I’m sure there are some other more positive descriptions, though.

I met a few British black educators in my limited China travels. No claims by me that this was representative sample!

Anyway, they echoed the first article’s “overt versus covert” message: Chinese parents overtly preferred white British teachers, they said, while British parents were covert.

Even worse, this is an expose about Kenyans recruited to China with the false promise of teaching jobs.

Most victims describe being taken to a house in Shenzhen, a city one hour by train from Guangzhou and gateway to Hong Kong. The house is run by two Kenyan women, only identified as Florence and Flora, who use it is a reception centre for the victims. That is where they are accommodated and given some orientation before being handed over to Chinese recruitment agents.

First comes the shock that there is no job immediately available, and the realisation that a one-month business visitor visa does not allow one to take up employment, and in any case will soon expire.

They also discover at that point that while there are indeed thousands of jobs for English language teachers at all levels from kindergarten to university, Chinese immigration law provides that such jobs can only be offered to persons from “native English-speaking countries”. That is mostly the UK and it’s former “white” colonies, and the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The only African country on the list is South Africa, courtesy of its relatively recent history as a white outpost on the continent.

No problem, says the agent. The recruit is told that the education certificates are of no use because a brand new set will be provided identifying him or her as an American, with requisite diplomas from US schools.

The recruit is then taken through a fortnight of drilling that includes not just learning the basics of teaching English, but also sounding like an African American.

If lucky at the end of the drill a job might indeed be available, usually in some rural outpost, but at a fraction of the salary promised. The recruit will not be a direct employee of the school, but will be paid through the Chinese placement agent who will take the bulk of the pay and pass on only a pittance.

I heard similar similar stories from Kenyan educators over drinks in a Nairobi rooftop bar.


I would guess that some Chinese schools already do a great job of welcoming teachers of all races. I wonder which ones.

This article offers 5 tips for teachers of color abroad.

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