Racism is alive and well, as evidenced by news headlines from across the world. On February 26, a 17-year-old black teenager named Trayvon Martin was shot to death under uncertain circumstances in Florida, US. The killer was 28-year-old George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch captain who initially walked free after claiming self-defense. In southern France, an attack in March on a Jewish school resulted in four deaths – three of them young children. Recently, beijingkids sat down with students from the International Academy of Beijing to talk about the complicated issues surrounding racism today.
Sarah Tang, 17, Hong Kong, has been living in Beijing for six years
Jenna Serstad, 15, US, has been living in Beijing for 11 years
Josiah Lay, 16, US, has been living in Beijing for six years
Jason Burrows, 18, US, has been living in Beijing for two years
Jeremy Lin recently made waves for being the first Chinese-American basketball player in the NBA, but he has also been the subject of racist headlines. What does this say about the state of racism?
Sarah: I don’t think it’s so much discrimination as it is stereotyping. It’s not like they’re not letting him play basketball, they just assume that all Asians come from the same background.
Jason: A big part of it is just American ignorance. If there’s anyone from China, we expect them to eat out of a rice bowl and work in rice fields. Or if you’re Indian, you must be that guy from Slumdog Millionaire. Because many Americans have such a small world view, they jump to conclusions that they’ve heard from the media.
Josiah: If I were [Jeremy Lin], I wouldn’t care. If I’m part of the stereotype, then so be it; if I’m not, then it’s [the other person’s]problem.
How does your experience of racism in your home country compare with China?
Sarah: There are terms like gweilo [a Cantonese slur for Caucasians]that were used in Hong Kong in the past and that people keep using – not because they discriminate against [Caucasians], but because it’s a habit. But other than that, Hong Kong is very international and racism isn’t a problem there.
Jenna: In China, when I say I’m from America, people always say: “Oh, so you’re really rich.” They make the assumption that money grows on trees and that it’s a beautiful paradise [in the US].
Jason: In the States, it’s such a hodge-podge of different people. I lived in Arkansas; my high school was half black, half white. They mixed well because they’d been together so long. [China is] just starting to get that interaction between the races and there’s a lot of that stuff that we don’t like talking about.
Josiah: There’s a huge Asian community in Houston – at least at my church – and I didn’t experience much racism there. Because I’m Asian, I don’t experience much discrimination at all here. The only difference is that I speak Mandarin with people, whereas in the States I’d speak English with my Asian friends.
How do you feel about affirmative action?
Sarah: I think when [affirmative action]first started, the point was to help minorities move towards the middle or upper class. But now, because the US has developed to a point where everyone is equal, I don’t think it’s necessary anymore.
Jason: I’ve heard of a lot of situations in the States where [the school]tries to fill a quota to get a diverse campus. I do think it’s a good idea because you don’t want all the white people in one school and all the minorities in another school, but there needs to be a very delicate balance between letting people in and not just getting to a point of “Let’s just get these people in no matter what.”
Jenna: I wouldn’t be OK with [benefiting from affirmative action]. I would want to know that I was chosen for having good grades and working hard; otherwise, I would feel like I was cheating.
Josiah: I would agree. Entrance to a college by merit is much more satisfying. If I was accepted to Harvard based on affirmative action, I wouldn’t say no, but I wouldn’t feel good about it in the short run.
Should people be blind to race in situations like an international work setting?
Jenna: I think it’s good to be color blind, unless you’re working in a big group. You might want to put the same races together to reduce language barriers.
Sarah: People who come to China would probably expect to work with other races. Though it’s great to be able to look past color, different cultures have a different way of working. Chinese people see the goal, whereas [Americans] care about the process. Though it might be rough, there are good things you can learn from each other.
Josiah: Having different cultures could be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on what the company is trying to accomplish. If you were in game design, it would be nice to have different ideas because [the product]doesn’t have to conform to anything specific.
Jason: I met a really cool Indian guy once. If you forget the fact that he’s Indian and just converse with him, then it really opens up a lot more doors.