Have you ever seen an American movie? Do you watch the NBA…?
One of the events that my wife and/or I have to take place in constantly while living in China is the weekly trip to the grocery. This year, we had the pleasure of having our home be placed in the dorm for the Foreign Teachers (FTs). Within the same building is a good friend that I made. He is a single man who I shared an office with, ate Lanzhou noodles & McDonald’s breakfast with, and rode buses with. He’s a great brother. Did I mention? He’s black.
Yes. A black man in China, as you can imagine, is like going out in public in America and walking into…I want to say a movie star, but I’ve never done that. (Ha) Since I hail from the “melting pot,” one of the shocks I go through at least a little every time upon return to the States is the fact that people don’t look or stare at me. It’s selfish, really, but people are people and those from different countries/cultures aren’t gazed at like they’ve been misplaced. The epitome of staring and gaping mouths occurs when I travel with my friend. Chinese usually take a glance, double-check, and then move on to the close-up all the while talking about him (out loud because we laowai [foreigners] probably don’t understand, which isn’t the worst assumption). Some muster up the courage or ridiculousness, possible side effects of curiosity, to touch his dreadlocked hair.
You ever have times as a foreigner where you ponder what you could say in the native tongue of the nationals surrounding you? Oh…I think you now know where I’m going with this. The questions at the beginning are just two of the many questions that come to my stereotyping mind while looking at the Chinese staring at my black friend. The most common one is “你在看什么？” (translated “What are you looking at?”)
What one may not know is that China, the population we think we know from watching the news, doesn’t melt in a pot so much. With Han Chinese being the majority of people, there are over fifty unique minorities. These aren’t composed of another country’s people such as Italian or French like we would find in the US. No. They’re ones such as the Tanglang, Uyghur, Hani, etc. Ever heard of these? No? You may have a double-take at them though if they show up since they may not look like what you have seen in documentaries of China.
Since a majority of the country is Han along with its minorities, how many foreigners do you think a national would see? Correct! Not too many. Chinese who do not look so much or long at foreigners must be used to laowai. (Though this is yet to be confirmed.) Could it be a FT at school, a co-worker or a client who’s a foreigner? Not sure. What I do know is sports, media, movies, and such play huge roles in presenting a picture of black people to the Chinese. These mediums of information either quench or intensify their curiosity.
It’s hard to imagine. It’s harder to understand. Therefore, it’s taken quite a bit of time for my mind and heart to open up to the continual looks. But I’m coming around. How would you react?