Race, Culture, and the Politics of Being Black in China

A China in Africa Podcast

Being black in China is not easy, but it’s not as bad as many would have you think, according to our two guests this week, who are both black immigrants currently living in Beijing. Sure, people stare a lot and there are often some inappropriate questions about hair and skin color, but more often than not, says Black Lives in China creator Nicole Bonnah, those awkward questions come from a good place: curiosity.

Nicole, originally from the United Kingdom, is a Beijing-based journalist who is embarking on an ambitious documentary film project about daily life for black immigrants living across China. One of the people Nicole interviewed for the film was Tiffany Johnson, an African-American educator also based in Beijing.



A Minority in the Middle Kingdom: My Experience Being Black in China

In the 1996 China edition of the Lonely Planet guidebook, a text box aside comment from a street interview provided some interesting conversation fodder: “…there is no racism in China because there are no black people,” a Chinese woman was reported...

Tiffany says China’s largely homogeneous culture and inexperience in dealing with diversity does lead to some awkward encounters, but she adds that it would be incorrect to label this “racism.” Compared to the United States, where race is a filter for almost everything in society, the Chinese are largely ignorant about issues of race. So when Chinese people say things that would otherwise be off-limits in Africa or the West, Tiffany and Nicole argue that because the intent isn’t the same as it would be if those same words were said in New York, London, or Johannesburg, the impact is also different.

Nicole and Tiffany join Eric and Cobus to talk about what it’s like to be black in China.