Last week a group of excited young people with red hats and clipboards convinced us to subscribe to a 30-day trial period of the Guangzhou Daily. Jon and I agreed that getting a daily dose of Chinese news would be good for our reading comprehension, and having a plastic mailbox hanging from our screen door would make us feel like a real Chinese family. Thus we were very excited when our first issue found its way to our door Tuesday morning, and even more excited when we saw what was on the front page:
The headline next to this computer-generated man reads: "Cement bags trap six workers, black brother saves people but doesn't leave his name". Black brother: their words, not mine.
The original text is available at the Guangzhou Daily website, but if you're not a sinophone you may enjoy the following PDF, a translation courtesy of Jon and Tate Plus Eight (collective years of Chinese experience)®.
Besides the amazing food and the surreal neuro-linguistic adventures, off the top of my head I can think of one other major perk of living in China and that's the glorious non-stop parade of casual racism. It's sometimes dangerous (Xinjiang riots), usually benign ("Hallo!"), but always shameless, and this is a prime example. I'm not so much talking about the fact that they keep calling this guy a "black brother" (fun fact: the phrase 黑人兄弟 is translated at nciku.com as "soul brother"). That's not [that] racist. I mean the fact that, although there were obviously many people who contributed to the rescue effort, the fact that a foreigner was among them is somehow incredible and praiseworthy. Why don't they just title the article, "Foreigner sees Chinese laborers as human beings worth saving!" or "Black man acts compassionately toward member of our humble race!". Granted, a single mention might have been appropriate ("Eyewitnesses report that one of the rescuers was an African man attending the Canton Fair"), which gives readers a chance to say something like "Hmm, good for him," but this is veering into satire territory. Compare:
"The black brother's heroism was corroborated by other witnesses" / "Area homosexual saves four from fire"
"I would like to personally thank this black brother, as well as the others who rescued us." / "Two young people and their companions are missing today..."
I know I shouldn't be so hard on Chinese people for being racist because Americans are racist too and the Chinese have more reason to be racist because they've lived in a homogeneous society for thousands of years blah blah blah. But wait, there's more: the next day the GZ Daily offered a hotline (020-81900123) that you can call if you have any information as to the whereabouts of the mysterious black hero. They want to know because the editors are going to nominate him as "the first foreigner to be awarded Guangzhou's Award of Heroism", which comes with a 3000 yuan prize. Also posted were responses from Chinese netizens:
Bravery is totally independent of nationality; respect to this brave black brother and the other rescuers!!
-netizen ""Big Desert Zhang Gong"
After hearing this news, I felt a warm feeling in my heart; thank you black brother!!!!!
-netizen from Chengdu, Sichuan
In this world, no matter what nation, race, or province, there are always good and bad people, always people with character and those without it. I've met a lot of black brothers and they are all very friendly!
-Dayang.com netizen "Mouse"
On the third day, there was a feature on page 2 about two Jordanians who also helped with the rescue effort, and it looks like they may be the first foreigners to win the prize after all. But the search for the "lovable, heroic black brother" is still on.
But seriously, is this racist? Does harmless racism still count, or is there such a thing? Help me out, here.
In other news, Jon and I are thinking about naming our budding translation company "But that's what it says, I swear!"® And somehow I've conditioned myself into wanting to practice my speed clapping whenever I step into line at the milk tea place. Quite a strange organ, the human brain.