Here’s an interesting article about Africans in China: Chocolate City
While picking through clothes, Cote claimed that he had many Chinese friends here. To prove his point, he walked up, and pats the store-owner on his head. Or, he playfully kicks at the store-owner’s leg. He’ll loudly greet them, “Friend, how are you recently?” His “friends” don’t respond. Some pull out a cell phone and intentionally ignore him. Others impatiently wave at him, and say in a combination of Chinese and English: “if you’re not buying anything, then go… quickly GO!”
It seems friendship only exists between the Africans. When he runs into a fellow clothes dealer, Cote trades fists and claps with them, and quickly chats in their native tongue. Not many travel alone like Cote, most are in groups of twos or threes. They walk all of the malls from afternoon until the evening. They fold up the plastic bags full of clothes, and use a rented car to haul it away.
On one stall, Cote is told that the jeans he’s interested in are 20 RMB a pair. He fiercely throws the pants at the stall-owners head, angrily asking, “how it can be that expensive!?” He turns and goes. After the shocked stall-owner recovers, he stares at the back of the thick shoulders of the departing Cote. He opens his mouth, and then closes it, changing to a single phrase in Cantonese: “Crazy black guy!” (痴线黑佬)
Some people have been claiming that this article is racist since it depicts Africans in a negative light. I think it’s pretty equal in showing both the negativity of the Chinese who deal with the Africans as well. But I’m not going to talk about the article too much. It’s just a starting point.
The relationship between the Yellows and the Blacks is complicated. There was this one time when I got into a ‘confrontation’ with several black youths on the BART (the San Francisco Bay Area’s light rail system) train. I was tired after a long day in the accounting office and was just staring blankly out the window. The four black youths were loud, dancing around in the empty car and annoying the few empty passengers around. They tried to hit on this white college student, but she ignored them so they called her a bitch and moved on to the next victim. Eventually they got to me.
It all started with the usual racist stuff. You know, they asked me what ‘ching chong’ meant in Chinese. So I told them (stupidly) that ‘ching chong’ meant ‘I’m a fucking idiot’. Which of course leads to all four of these thugs to stand and sit uncomfortably close to me while they hated on me. Finally, they got to their stop so they spit at me before they left.
Now let’s go over to China. There was one foreign teacher who liked to ride his bike in the rural area around our university. He’s just doing his own thing, minding his own business and taking a break on the side of the road, when this group of high school Chinese kids ride by on their bike shouting things at him in Cantonese. Now this foreigner speaks Mandarin so he smiles and tries to talk to them. Instead of replying, the kids just shout ‘Fuck you! Fuck you!’ in English, laugh as if it was hilarious, and ride off on their bikes.
What can we learn from these experiences? Well, first of all, people are bigger jerks when they have their buddies with them. And… well, that’s pretty much it. We tend to remember the bad more than the good. Race relations are complicated because of cultural differences, but if the people in the interaction are of different economic, education, religious, or political backgrounds, there are even more complications. To blame it all on just ‘culture’ is just a cop out.
So before I end, I’ll mention some good interactions between the Yellows and Blacks to balance out the negative stories that I told above.
There was this one time when I was working at an event. There was this big black dude from Florida who was trying to sign up students for a Washington Mutual back account. In return, he would give them a free t-shirt. I helped him set up his table and he would talk in a heavy southern accent about how much he liked California and how he hoped to start his own business. He asked a lot about Chinese culture and wanted to know where he could get good Chinese food around the area so I gave him the location of my uncle’s soup joint in Oakland. After the event was over, we scavenged some left over pizza, I helped him lug his stuff over to the Washington Mutual van, and he gave me a free t-shirt.
Another time I went out to eat with a British-Black foreign teacher in Guangzhou and he ordered something off the menu by pointing. When the food came, he said they brought the wrong thing, but they showed me the menu and apparently he pointed at the item below what he wanted. Instead of getting angry at him, they scolded me for being a stupid Chinese who was incapable of giving good hospitality to the ‘foreign guest’ before bringing out a replacement dish.