“By Western standards? Absolutely. Oh God. It approaches a level of racism that I have rarely encountered elsewhere. And it’s blatantly so.
BUT, and this is important, it’s a racism that is incredibly naive and innocent. It’s one born more out of curiosity and a reaction to ‘the stranger’ than an informed one.
In the West, racism takes real effort – it’s a conscious decision. We have gone through civil right movements, positive discrimination, efforts on the part of the black community to keep pushing forward role models that defy the stupid concept of ‘the white man’s superiority’. We have been educated, from a very young age, on how bad racism is – and how bad people who are racist are.
The Chinese have had none of that. A majority of them have never seen a foreigner, white or black, except on TV.
DISCLAIMER: Before I go on. Yes, like in any country, there are people in China who are deliberately racist. And there are those who are not at all. It’s got 1.4 billion people. Here, I’m trying to examine the general population, not the extremes.
Now with that out of the way, let’s take a few examples. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, China’s leading toothpaste brand:
Heiren Yagao means: Black Person Toothpaste
This toothpaste is literally named Black Person. Heiren. Complete with a small and insulting picture.
Why? Because the guys who came up with it thought: ‘Wow, Black People have such nice and shiny white teeth. This is a great idea for a toothpaste brand!’
As I said – by Western standards, it’s absolutely racist. But it’s an uninformed and naive racism – it’s not one done with malice, or an understanding of the consequences it can have.
Ok, here’s a worse example: the infamous laundry ad.
Stop painting my house and come here…
She forces him into the washing machine
Lo and behold, the laundry detergent is so strong it has made him Asian!
This ad has been called “The most racist ad ever”. With reason. And it was broadcast throughout the nation.
But you have to wonder – if someone were to design an ad like this in the US or in Europe, it would be with a very negative intent, wanting to show the superiority of the white people. They would be aware of the message, and still go ahead with it.
From a Chinese perspective… it’s just viewed as a funny and light idea. They probably OK-ed it without a second thought. It shows naivete to a ridiculous extent.
Does that make it OK? Absolutely not. There needs to be education on this kind of thing, and sadly that’s just not a priority yet.
For the majority of people, there’s nothing wrong with it – simply because they don’t understand how it can be viewed as wrong. Sit down with them, ask them how they would feel if the ad was reversed with a yellow/white situation, and they get it immediately. But before that? Nope. Doesn’t even cross their mind.
I’ll close on one last example to illustrate my point. A friend of mine from Beijing was Nigerian, and spoke an absolutely flawless Chinese. He ended up on a translator gig for an American looking to source products from a factory in the countryside.
They go there, and meet the owner of the factory – a fairly successful guy, but who had never actually left his home province. Keep in mind, my friend is speaking fluent Chinese when he greets them, complete with an impeccable Beijing accent.
The owner walks over, takes the guys arm, looks at the skin… and scratches. Trying to see if he can get the color to come off.
Until there’s real education about racism in China, expect the very worst. Not out of spite, not out of a superiority complex, but just because they don’t know any better.”