Racism and Reverse Racism

I just finished my one-on-one discussion, which is usually my favorite part of class here. Today was particularly interesting. I had the privilege of chatting with Mr. Xiè  (as in "xie xie" aka "thanks"). We talked about a lot of things, but I have a ridiculous number of words to memorize tonight, so I'm not sure how much I'll write now... let's see.

Rather quickly, the conversation came to where I was going to look for a job next year. This gave me an opportunity to summarize for him the little narrative that I've been forming in my head for the past six months or so. The narrative ends with me deciding to live in the USA, and it starts with my mom and dad both making that same decision. Both my parents are immigrants, I told him, and because of their influence I came to see learning about foreign languages and cultures as very important. With this in mind, when I started my university studies, I started studying Chinese. Initially I thought learning Chinese would give me the opportunity to communicate with a billion people if I wanted to go to China. After a few years of studying it, I realized that if I ever wanted to reach anything near fluency, I would have to go to China. So now I'm here in China, and even though I like it here in Beijing, I've realized that besides studying Chinese, I don't have any reason to leave the USA for China. If I have another reason to be in China, then I should study Chinese, but studying Chinese isn't a good reason in and of itself. China's great, just not better than America.

"Of course it's not! America is 'paradise' (he said in English). I don't like China, either," he replied, to my surprise. 

"What don't you like about China?" I asked. He went on to list freedom of speech, a clean environment, and a democratic election system as things that China lacked and the USA has. He'd move to the USA, he said, but his English is really bad. He says that some ABC (American Born Chinese) students here at PiB have told him that Americans are prejudiced and look down on them. "If they look down on these Asians who speak perfect English, they'll definitely discriminate against me," he said.

"Maybe you should come to California. At my university, 45% of the students are Asians, more than whites. White people are the ones who have to fear being discriminated against."

"Chinese people won't look down on white people. Chinese people really like white people," was his reply. I took this opportunity to ask him about a phenomenon that several of my ABC friends here at PiB have mentioned to me. If a bunch of Chinese-Americans are walking around together in Beijing, people are rude to them. If there's a group of white Americans or a mixed group walking around, everybody's extremely polite and kind. Some possible reasons for this that we discussed are:

● Chinese people expect people who look Chinese to speak Chinese. If their Mandarin isn't fluent, then they are disappointed, and assume that the person is maybe from some other part of China or other Asian country, or maybe just stupid.

● Conversely, Chinese people don't expect white people to speak Mandarin, so even my very bad (chà) Mandarin surpasses their expectations and impresses them.

● Chinese people associate white people with the USA, and they respect the USA for being powerful and rich. This respect for some reason extends to any white person they see, but not to really rich Chinese individuals. They also think Americans have a really great sense of humor, are good looking, and really laid back and speak very openly about everything.

● The government has been encouraging people to give a good impression to foreigners during the olympics, but Chinese people assume they can be their regular-old rude selves to people who look Chinese.

We talked about a lot more, but I'm going to get back to studying now.