China and India's problem with black people

Blatant racism in China 'can leave you completely and utterly dumbfounded'

Ishaan Tharoor
Friday 27 May 2016 16:30 BST
Is this the most racist advert of 2016?

Just minutes before his birthday, Masonda Ketanda Olivier was beaten to death. The Congolese national was confronted by a mob of men late at night last Friday in New Delhi and killed. Police said the incident was a dispute over the hiring of an autorickshaw; Olivier's friend, an Ivorian national, said it was a clear hate crime, with racial epithets repeatedly invoked.

This week, irate African diplomats in the Indian capital pointed to Olivier's murder as evidence of wider discrimination and bigotry against black people who visit and live in India. Olivier, who reports indicate was about to turn 24, was teaching French.

"The Indian government is strongly enjoined to take urgent steps to guarantee the safety of Africans in India including appropriate programmes of public awareness that will address the problem of racism and Afro-phobia in India," Alem Tsehage, the Eritrean ambassador and the diplomat representing other African envoys in New Delhi, said in a statement. They also warned against new batches of African students enrolling in Indian universities.

A number of African diplomats chose to boycott a planned event celebrating the history of India-Africa ties on Thursday.

On the same day, on the other side of the Himalayas, an ad for a Chinese laundry detergent went viral.

It is shockingly racist: The video, which you can watch above, shows a fetching Chinese woman lure a paint-stained, lascivious African man toward her. She briefly toys with him before shoving a detergent capsule into his mouth and him into the machine. Out emerges a fresh-faced Chinese man, looking sparkling white and clean.

The backlash to the ad has been swift in English-language media circles, with the Shanghaist highlighting it as yet another display of blatant racism in China that "can leave you completely and utterly dumbfounded."

These two separate episodes, a murder in Delhi and a callous video in Chinese cyberspace, shouldn't be seen as isolated incidents. Rather, they are features of a prevailing theme: the inescapable racism and ignorance faced by Africans in both countries.

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India and China represent two of the world's most dynamic, booming economies. Their populations jointly comprise a third of humanity. The countries both consider themselves now finding their rightful place in the world after centuries in the shadow of an imperial West. Part of their economic rise has seen both nations build robust ties with countries in Africa.

For Beijing and New Delhi, the continent is an important arena not just for trade, but for the exercise of soft power and wider geopolitical goals.

Yet many Africans who have come in the tens of thousands to China and India as students and businessmen, petty merchants and backpackers, complain of persistent racism.

In February, a Tanzanian woman was stripped and beaten by a mob in Bangalore after a Sudanese man, in an entirely separate incident, was believed to have hit a local with his car.

Last year, an Indian publication put together a moving, sad video, below, of testimony from African students and professionals about their experience of daily discrimination. It also includes 2014 footage of a mob in a Delhi metro station attacking three black men with sticks, while chanting nationalist slogans.

"It's like I have a disease," says one student in the video.

In China, it's a similar picture. In a 2013 account, an African-American English teacher recounted his students complaining about their instructor: "I don't want to look at his black face all night," one said.

Africans, whether on university campuses or elsewhere, across the country have also been subject to attack and abuse. Growing merchant communities in certain cities, such as in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou, rub up against a wider population that is ethnically homogenous and largely unfamiliar with the diversity and history of black populations elsewhere.

The African community in Guangzhou has taken to the streets to protest unfair treatment on a number of occasions, including in 2009 after the death of a Nigerian man fleeing a police raid and in 2012 after another man died mysteriously in police custody.

A comedy group based in Shanghai produced a video regarding Chinese stereotypes about black people.

While India is home to a dizzyingly diverse, multiethnic and multilingual society, prejudice abounds. Africans experience the same crude cocktail of ignorance and bias toward "whiteness" as their counterparts in China. The Indian government has promised a swift and judicious investigation into Olivier's murder.

Meanwhile, there's an underlying irony to the Chinese detergent ad. As the Shanghaiist reports, it's a blatant copy of an older Italian commercial, which drew the opposite, albeit similarly awkward, conclusion: "Colored is better."

Copyright: Washington Post

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