Luo Jing (middle; also pictured right) speaks on Dragon TV's Go! Oriental Angel show. Bi Yueping
A half-Chinese, half-black young woman is making a lot of Chinese netizens mad. She didn't do anything. She just looks different.
One of the most popular comments is titled: "Wrong parents; wrong skin color; wrong to be in a television show".
Lou Jing, a student in the Shanghai Drama Academy, is participating in Go! Oriental Angel on Shanghai-based Dragon TV. It's designed to discover potential stars. I cannot receive the channel in my home. After watching a few clips online, I could easily tell that Lou is not a good singer but she looks stunning. I'm not surprised she has been nicknamed "China's Halle Berry". But what really strikes me is her easy-going personality. She exudes a healthy dose of joie de vivre.
I'm not in a position to judge whether she deserves to be among the top five Shanghai finalists. But she definitely does not deserve the cruel lashing by the huge online populace.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with her skin color. Yes, in terms of her skin tone, she probably looks more like her African-American father than her Shanghainese mother. So what?
Of course, it's a big deal in a homogenous country like China. But China has 56 ethnicities, some of whom look quite different from the majority Han. Even Han is an amalgam of many smaller clans, tribes and ethnicities, who over the millenniums inter-married and blended into one another.
But this kind of historical knowledge obviously falls on deaf ears to those who harbor racial bigotry. There are two factors at work here: Lou Jing is not a pure-blood Chinese, and anyone who marries a foreigner is deemed a "traitor" of his or her race. More relevant, Lou's father is black.
Much of China's simmering intolerance is color-based. It is not an exaggeration to say many of my countrymen have a subconscious adulation of races paler than us. The flip side: We tend to be biased against those darker skinned. It's outright racism, but on closer examination it's not totally race based. Many of us even look down on fellow Chinese who have darker skin, especially women. Beauty products that claim to whiten the skin always fetch a premium. And children are constantly praised for having fair skin.
I see it as an offshoot of class discrimination. For thousands of years, those who worked outdoors were of the lower social status. Scorched by the sun, they invariably had darker skin while officials and scholars were sheltered from the sunlight by sedan chairs and fancy abodes. I don't know whether this will change in the future as outdoor aficionados pioneer a new lifestyle with suntan as a badge of honor. It's not going to change overnight, though.
I got my fair skin from my mother and my daughters got it from me. During my college years, I hated it and desperately wanted a tan. My friends, who were spending a small fortune on whitening products, joked: "You are just like those rich kids who want to bring down all the landlords and establish a classless society. You don't know how lucky you are!"
Some may accuse me of blurring the line between a dark-skinned Asian and a black. I'm not. The kind of discrimination Lou Jing must have suffered is beyond what most dark-skinned Chinese can imagine. I really admire her attitude and maturity in dealing with all the not-so-subtle probing and censure. During interviews, she shows she is very positive and not at all bitter about her fate.
The funniest twist in her story is a formal statement made in her name but later denied by her. The show's organizer confirmed it was fabricated by a third party. Here's how it goes: 1. My father is an American, not an African; 2. I am a pure Shanghainese; 3. I should not have to take responsibility for my parents' mistake. I'm innocent! 4. I strongly protest some people's racial attitude. I should not be the target of attacks because of my skin color. I reserve the right to seek legal action.
Whoever drafted these four points might have done it out of good intentions, but the statement left a pungent aftertaste of deeper and subtler bigotry. First, the writer assumes that an American is innately superior to an African; second, it's superior to be a Shanghai native in China, an attitude carried by quite a few Shanghainese as a matter of fact; third, what her parents did was wrong even though the daughter should not be blamed for it.
Actually we outsiders do not know much about Lou Jing's parents other than that her mother had an extramarital affair with an African-American who later left them. Lou and her mother have never spelt it out, but it could be a number of scenarios, ranging from a one-night stand to Romeo-and-Juliet-style passion that did not withstand the scorn of reality. We simply do not have enough information to pass judgment.
Yet, many simply love to be a self-appointed moral arbiter. They don't seem to understand that whatever happened between Lou's parents, her mother brought her up and brought her up well. From what is reported, Lou has been a good daughter and a good student, and the mother and daughter are close. It takes a lot of courage for Mama Lou to let her daughter pursue such a high-profile career. Now, in this hailstorm of denunciation, she has been hiding from work and the repercussions will linger for some time.
As a single parent, she has done her best. One of her admirers is Hung Huang, who defends her in her blog: "She has encountered a bunch of hypocrites who talk about moral principles and insult a mother who is out to protect her daughter. Where is your moral principle?"
The magazine publisher and talk show host goes on to argue that, "We Han people are given to severe racial discrimination. It is the evil within us".
Harsh, isn't it? But a browse of forums for young people confirms it. Sure, there are also sensible voices online. One says: "Americans, who we accuse of racism, elected a black president. We are supposed to have grown up on the teachings of equality, yet we cannot accept a half-black TV contestant."
While aesthetics is a personal choice, it is high time we introduced some sensitivity training on races and ethnicities if we are going to latch on to the orbit of globalization. People should realize that if you have a right to discriminate against another race you have automatically given others the right to discriminate against you. And what's the rationale for filling in the post of an English-language teacher with a Caucasian who can barely speak English instead of an African-American who qualifies on all counts?
Each individual should be judged on his or her own merits. Likewise, as a contestant Lou Jing should rise or fall by her talent, not her skin color.
Guess what her response is to the above-mentioned fake statement? This time it's for real because she appears on camera. Asked about American vs. African, she replies: "Isn't it stupid to say it now that China is America's biggest creditor."
Asked whether she agrees with the "I'm a Shanghainese" point, she answers: "I'm a native Chinese." About her parents' "mistake", she says: "I'm grateful they gave birth to me. The mistake is in the writer who made up this statement." She also plays down racial discrimination, adding "it's this kind of press report that ignited it".
Lou Jing has won my vote.
(China Daily 09/18/2009 page18)