December 23, 2009
I know I spend a lot of posts writing about the ongoing racism and stereotypes that Asians face in the United States. That's my passion, and it's important to me. But I'm also aware that racism exists all over the world. At its worst, that's why genocide still goes on, after all. And, I'm sad to say, racism is rife in Asia, even (especially?) in Japan, the country of my birth and family roots. It's a tribal instinct to separate people by ethnicity, and we just have to constantly work at rising above those instincts in the 21st century, when we live in a much smaller and much more intertwined world.
My mother, who was born in Japan and moved to the U.S. in the mid-1960s with my two brothers and I when my father (himself Japanese but born in Hawai'i) was transferred stateside for his federal government job, is about as old-fashioned as they come. She's been in the U.S. for over 40 years, but she's still FOBish ("Fresh Off the Boat") in a lot of her values, even today. When I called my parents to announce that my first wife -- who was European American -- and I were going to get a divorce, her first comment wasn't anything sympathetic. She said bluntly, "See? I told you you should marry Japanese."
Thanks mom, for the support.
So I was saddened but not exactly surprised to follow the controversy in China over Lou Jing, the Shanghai-born college student who's shown in the video above, singing on "Go! Oriental Angel," China's version of "American Idol." Lou (pronounced "LOH") is mixed-race. Her mother is Chinese and her father, whom she's never met, was African American. She's a beautiful young woman, and a talented singer (her favorite performer is Beyonce). That's a picture of Lou with her mother on the TV show, above.
But she's such an unusual sight in China that the TV show labeled her "Black Pearl" and "Chocolate Girl," and the media picked up on her inclusion in the show and made her a national racial sideshow. In a cultural switch from the "You speak such good English" line that Asian Americans get in the U.S., she's grown up hearing people ask how she can speak such good Chinese. "Because I'm Chinese" is her answer, of course.
Following her appearances on the TV show, the Chinese blogosphere became filled with hateful comments aimed at both mother and daughter, venting outrage that her mother would have sex with a black man and calling Lou all manner of names and telling her to leave China (she will if she gets her wish for post-graduate study in the U.S.).
There are a lot of different ethnic groups in China, and they don't all get along, as witnessed by the recent violence between ethnic Uighurs and Han in western China
. But the majority of Chinese -- 90% -- are descended from the Han race. Although some Chinese are tolerant, many apparently are not.
CNN has a good video report
with accompanying text about the racial issues that Lou Jing has sparked in China. Here's a video of Lou performing on "Go! Oriental Angel":