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Chinese is the new "Black" (in South Africa)

July 7, 2008

By now, many of you out there will have heard the news from about a week or so ago: Chinese South Africans now qualify as legally “black.” That’s right. To allow Chinese people to benefit from anti-apartheid laws that are currently in effect to help restore balance for black, Indian, and “coloured” (mixed) South Africans, the South African government decided to define Chinese as “black.”

Couldn’t they have just added “Chinese” to the list, you may ask? Probably. But they didn’t. Instead – Chinese South Africans are black South Africans (incidentally, Japanese people are still “white”).

Let’s say that one more time: Chinese South Africans are now black South Africans.

Obviously, I have a million tongue-in-cheek responses to this news (and so did a number of other people). I could talk about how I now connect on an even deeper level to Barack Obama and am proud to have somebody that so directly represents me running for president. I can talk about how it may now be easier for me to get people to listen to some of the hip hop I write/record. I could ask philosophical questions: so, does China now count as an “African” country? Or, are black folks now Asian?

It would probably be pretty amusing, I’m sure. However, this news actually struck me in a different way – it made me think to myself: what if Chinese people really WERE universally considered black (by themselves and all those outside looking in, including black people)? And that’s what I want to speak to (especially in light of some recent comments/discussion regarding my interracial dating posts).

Let’s start this out from the Chinese perspective (since that’s the closest to what I’ve got).

First of all, imagine the sudden squashing of so much racism and stereotypes between Chinese and black people. And, since Chinese stereotypes tend to be extended to all other Asian people – for them, too. All those stand-up routines by black comedians imitating Asian shop-keepers? Done. “Norbit” and other pre-dominantly black movies that get their licks in on Asian stereotypes? Finished.

And for the Asians – no longer would Asian parents across the world forbid their children to marry black men/women. No longer would they hold up their own horrid racial hierarchies with black people at or near the bottom. Imagine the joy in seeing a wrinkled Chinese grandmother exhorting her grandchildren to “find a good black man/woman to marry.”

Suddenly, China would have a lot less interest in flooding African countries with health-risk chemicals and products. Instead of trying to take advantage of these countries as a stepping-stone in their own attempt at rising as an economic power, the Chinese government would be in a position to pass on their skills and lessons learned as a poverty-stricken nation on the rise. Suddenly – we may see somebody with a little bit of money and power actually start CARING about helping the African continent – not for greed and influence, but to bring up their ethnic family.

If Chinese were considered black, the NAACP would actually care when wrongdoing affected Asian folks. And Chinese (and, again, by proxy other Asian) Americans would get a sudden huge lift in strength regarding civil rights. No longer would people talk about how Asian-Americans have no power or power movement -as they would become part of the strongest movement in America.

Suddenly, there would be one BILLION more black people for the world to contend with – how that would make a lot of national leaders piss themselves . . .

Suddenly, ancient “black” civilizations would be responsible for an overwhelming portion of later western success and educational history. Black people would have not only been the first people, in general, but the first to write their history, as well.

Alternatives to Euro-centric education wouldn’t be at the cost of either African OR Chinese history. Liberal white folks the world over would be appropriating the best of “traditional” black philosophy and religion (Zen Buddhism, Taoism, etc.).

“Pan-Asian” cuisine would be a hell of a selection. And Chinese New Year would be a hell of a party.

So many changes would sweep this world. And so many of them positive.

Because I think one of the biggest problems facing civil rights movements of today is humanity’s inherent lack of appreciation and acknowledgment of the “other side.” Obviously, that is highlighted between black and white, but it’s the separation between various oppressed peoples that hurts the most. Asian from Arab. Latin@ from black. Native American from Pacific Islander. Immigrants from citizens. And everything in between.

People tend to focus on their own experiences and problems – and either ignore or discount those of other people. Asian folks don’t do the work to understand how the black experience differs from their own and how their own prejudices roll over into – and contribute negatively towards – that experience. Black folks don’t take a step back to realize that their mistrust of foreigners increases their obstacles to equality. EVERYBODY ignores or forgets about Native Americans (unless taking a jaunt down stereotyped lanes of idealistic “memory”).

How can people expect to be taken seriously when fighting for their own rights while they ignorantly trample others in the meantime? How can I admire and/or fight for somebody not of my own race if they don’t take the time to honor my own? How can men of color expect to end their struggle for understanding while they push their own women down?

It makes no sense, logically. And yet we all do it – all the time. Because we are naturally self-centered, and it takes so much to be able to break that down.

So imagine if one huge barrier got knocked down with Chinese and black becoming one? What would be the repercussions? I see it as race-barrier dominoes falling against each other, slowing picking up speed until there truly was just ONE movement – for everybody to have a shot on an even playing field. Period. No qualifiers needed.

And I know this sounds frighteningly similar to the idea of “color-blindness,” but it is absolutely NOT. I am dreaming of a situation in which everyone is equally interested in knowing the other side and respecting it. If Chinese were black, Chinese would actually care about African history – black people would want to learn about Chinese culture. Fully investigating the differences in experience and point of view and coming to grips with that. Not IGNORING race or other differences, but truly caring enough to go there (perhaps, painfully) to get some insight.

And the only way I see that ever truly happening is if something like this really occurred: if Chinese became the new black. Can’t really happen, I know, but isn’t it such a wonderful idea? So here’s to South Africa and their strange experiment and the dreams that may come as a result:

I may not be half-black (or Latin@, Native American, Arab, or otherwise), but that should never stop me from doing everything in my power to learn what it would mean if that was, indeed, the case. And I hope it doesn’t stop any of you. So – wherever you’re at – and whoever you are – raise up your fist with me and pledge to actually ask somebody else about their experiences without trying to talk about your own (on this blog, sure, but also in real life). Because that’s when knowledge becomes power.

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