BY DAISY XU AND SIYU CHEN
As awareness on Black Lives Matter grows in China, we decided to speak to members of China’s growing Black community about identity, discrimination and solidarity. We seldom see the faces of Black foreigners living in China in the media, and we wanted to provide space where they could talk about their experiences in depth.
This piece was originally published in the form of an independent multimedia project. We are graduates of the International Multimedia Journalism M.A. program joint program between Beijing Foreign Studies University and the University of Bolton. This project was the capstone project for our last term.
In recent years, fury over systemic racial profiling in policing helped set in motion the Black Lives Matter movement not only in the US but worldwide. Meanwhile, Covid-19 has exposed life and death level racial inequalities across the globe with racial minorities in the US, UK, and elsewhere disproportionately impacted and dying at higher rates.
While there’s a reckoning over racism around the globe, China is just beginning its own mainstream debate. In April 2020, China faced global scrutiny when pictures and videos emerged on social media channels of Africans sleeping rough on the streets of Guangzhou, a southern province home to China’s biggest African community. In many cases, Africans were being forcibly evicted from their homes and barred from hotels and restaurants. They were also being forcibly tested for coronavirus. None of this happened on any targeted scale to other groups of foreigners.
The event sparked a diplomatic spat with several African countries and fierce debate on Chinese social media, where there have long been negative viewpoints about an increasing Black population after the release of a draft law that could enable more foreigners to gain permanent residency in China. While there is a common perception that more Black people are living in China, there are no clear figures reflecting this, as many people such as students and business people tend to come and go.
Black people living in China battle against pervasive negative sentiments of anti-Blackness both floating on Chinese social media and in real life. As Dr. Keisha A. Brown, Assistant Professor of History at Tennessee State University has pointed out, anti-Blackness is not unique to China and could be traced back to European global imperialism and colonialism in the 1500s.
However, as Dr. Brown wrote in her article about the history of Black Americans in China, there was an increase in friendly diplomatic ties with African countries in the early PRC period.
In this video, seven Black residents of China discuss some difficult experiences, and the ways they became active members in the Black community in China to empower others and strengthen connections:
In 2018, the Chinese government pledged another $60 billion into African nations, enlarging the One Belt One Road initiative. In 2020 August, post-COVID-19, China’s foreign direct investment (FDI) flow increased by 18.7%, according to the Ministry of Commerce. Organizations such as the Jack Ma Foundation also aim to help transform Africa’s economy and empower local businesses. China’s contact with the world will only increase and more foreigners, including the Blacks, will be attracted to come to China. With the growth of the Black population in China, will currently tense Sino-Black relations get better or worse?
“It’s a hard question,” Dr. Brown laughed, “I hope it gets better, and I think it can get better if we have some sort of communal dialogue.” In Beijing and nationwide across China, there are in fact, many community members actively engaged in empowering the Black community and promoting non-Blacks, and their efforts are gaining momentum. Africa Week in Beijing brings people together and includes art, businesses, food, and panel discussions to open up conversations about Africa and China; BlackLivity China is an online platform dedicated to “documenting 360° of Black experiences both in China and in relation to China” and “elevating the voices of Africans and members of the African diaspora on China”. Meanwhile, a WeChat public account showcasing many African students’ talents, Phronesis Media has garnered 7,000 followers and is hoping to reach 10,000.
Olivia Nadine and James Sserwadda are the cofounders of BlackEXPO, a physical market in Beijing that showcases Black businesses to enable them to reach a larger audience than their own organic networks. “Coronavirus reminded us that we need to be versatile. So we’re expanding into an e-commerce platform so that we can reach not only the diaspora that’s based in China but also the diaspora spread out around the world,” said Nadine.
More education could also contribute to peaceful coexistence. “I’m not sure how many institutions in China have African-American Studies and Africana Studies at the undergraduate level,” said Dr. Brown, “how can we get students started in thinking about these questions before they move on to professional development and careers?”
For Delisa McPherson, an international high school teacher, who was also featured in the video above, diversity curriculum could start even earlier at international middle and high schools in China. Some “Chinese public schools will probably look at that and try as much as possible within their (public schools) to mimic (the curriculum),” she said. “We then could see a big change and shift in ideas.”
About the authors
Daisy Xu, born and raised in China, grew up loving to hear stories and tell stories. Her curiosity led her to pursue studies in humanities at the University of Virginia in the U.S. in 2013. During this transformational time, she was exposed to issues of gender, race, religion, etc. both in the classroom and beyond. Her interest in multicultural communications also deepened during an unforgettable study abroad trip to Morocco. After obtaining double degrees in Media Studies and African-American and African Studies, Daisy worked at an education consulting company in Beijing, coaching students to tell their individual stories as well as figuring out the true passion in her life. After two years, she decided to continue practicing storytelling in media, and she enrolled in an International Multimedia Journalism M.A. program in Beijing. She now knows how to use photography, videography, text, and data visualization to report on feature news stories that focus on societal issues, and she is working hard to become a bilingual journalist telling China’s stories to the world.
Siyu Chen is an entrepreneur currently studying International Multimedia Journalism. She was born and raised in Chengdu.