*Please click the YouTube link to preview clips of the CNY Celebration.
As an expat living and teaching in Shanghai, I came into this new cultural experience with an open mind. As the Chinese New Year approached, the city literally lit up, as the local restaurants, shops, schools and tourist attractions were bedazzled with traditional Chinese New Year decor. Even as an “outsider” I found myself excited to celebrate the Chinese New Year. I knew at bare minimum I could expect to see what I like to call the “F’s” of celebration: family, fireworks, food, and fun; which were all evident as I toured about the city. Magic filled the air as the Chinese locals and Expats alike approached one another quoting sayings like “Xin Nian hao” (happy new year), and other verbal exchanges wishing good fortune in the new year. On New Years Day some Chinese families watch different television programs that feature speeches, comedic sketches/ routines, performances and general celebrations. This year’s CNY celebration was one to remember, to say the least!
On a very popular Chinese Network, a Chinese woman was featured wearing African style garments, with her face covered in dark brown make-up, while wearing a skirt that made her buttocks appear to be larger. The “so called” purpose of this comedic sketch was to highlight and celebrate Chinese-African ties.
The execution of this performance was in poor fashion. It was distasteful and extremely offensive, and it made me cringe as I watched in shock. Immediately I took offense to the actress’ exaggerated physical presentation and dark make-up, but what puzzled me even more was the African and/or African-American performers that were also featured in the presentation. I was confused as to why they would take part in something that so closely reflects blackface-a form of theatrical make-up used predominantly by non-black performers to represent a black person. The practice contributed to the spread of racial stereotypes such as the happy-go-lucky darky on the plantation, or the dandified coon (wikipedia). During the 19th century, blackface was performed, adding an element of racial comedy to plays that is culturally insensitive and down right ignorant! Really? It’s 2018, and this made it to television. I am genuinely confused, why didn’t anyone put a stop to this?
I wonder what the make-up artist was thinking as she applied her foundation. I wonder what the women whom shared a dressing room with her were thinking as they watched her get dressed into her exaggerated buttocks costume. I wonder if they felt celebrated or voiceless in this matter, or maybe they didn’t take offense to this at all? As I stated earlier, I came into this experience with an open mind, but this will take some time for me to cope with.
I do understand that many Chinese people don’t have much experience with African-Americans, since the African-American community here is very small, but just because something is small doesn’t deem it to be inadequate. 5 minutes of research on Bing, yahoo, google etc would have communicated to the reader that “blackface” is offensive. This is the same country that refused to allow entry to Super Model Gigi Hadid because of an Instagram video that shows her “imitating a Buddha by squinting her eyes”.
Its interesting that during this celebrations, the Chinese actors didn’t attempt to put on a costume and adjust/ exaggerate their features to represent any other country or continent. Africa is not the only place that China has ties to, and although I do appreciate the attempts of a celebration, I do believe that this is inexcusable. Its just ironic to me that this was the only demonstration where physical features were altered, and mocked in an attempt to celebrate. The people working on this television network are educated individuals with internet access, and resources that could have guided them in this matter. This could have all been avoided by simply featuring an African-American actress to play this role.
-But Y’all Don’t Hear Me Though