This story made me think of those moments. In short: Lou Jing is a 20-year-old Shanghainese woman and the daughter of a Chinese mother and a black father. A contestant on an American Idol-esque show in China (Go! Oriental Angel), she met an ugly, ugly reaction from Chinese viewers commenting on websites dedicated to the show. I’ve never heard anything in my own community nearly as vitriolic as those online statements, but it isn’t difficult to imagine that they sprout from the same seed as the offhand racism in, say, calling a black woman “chocolate-colored” on national television. And, growing up, I did hear that kind of careless, demeaning remark frequently.
I’m not the only one perturbed, but I am one of the few interested in speaking from a somewhat even-handed perspective. Curiously, coverage of the story has often been structured around the juxtaposition of Lou Jing with Barack Obama, the implication being that racism, in all its “no coloreds allowed” ignominy, has vanished from the American public dialogue -- but plagues an ignorant Chinese populace still. Consider this headline, for instance.
This blog has addressed this issue -- the Orientalization of racism -- before. Of course, pretending that the United States has come no further than China (or South Korea) masks both deep-seated problems that do need to be addressed by the Chinese (and South Koreans), and the very real progress that the United States has made in the last handful of decades.
But we should be wary of any story that tells us how China’s true, bigoted character revealed itself in the furor surrounding Lou Jing. What that line reveals is an inability to conceptually divorce a nation from its fringe. What, for example, do the plethora of racist comments on this site tell us about the whole of American citizens?
It’s easy to be an offensive, racist idiot on the Internet. It’s harder to be one in real life, where Lou Jing and other commentators have argued that Shanghai is increasingly progressive and accepting of those who look different.
It’s important to address bigotry regardless of where we find it. But casting a snide gaze toward the disgusting comments posted online regarding Lou Jing is more than a bit hypocritical, especially with President Obama’s reception as ostensibly a symbol of our enlightened approach to race. And in a way, China, by portraying sympathetically a member of an ethnic minority on a major television show and addressing the racism directed towards her in public dialogue, is making the kind of progress Asian Americans continue to clamor for on this end of the Pacific.