These Niggas Won’t Hold Me Back

As our departure date approaches a lot faster than we want it to, we all have started making an inventory of what we will miss the most. In my case, one of Shanghai’s amenities that I will miss the most is the ease of transportation. Getting around Shanghai is a lot easier and cheaper than in New York, D.C., and Paris. A bus fare only cost ¥2 ($.30); the metro only costs ¥4 ($.60) and a cabs start at ¥14 ($2.25) (no charge for carrying goods in their trunk). However, there is a downside to this: every time you step on the street, you’re risking your life. Indeed, Shanghai (and China in general) embodies the characteristics of both a 3rd world country and developed nation. So while there are good roads, traffic lights and more than adequate signs; the people themselves still have the same mentality drivers in 3rd world countries (without dangerous roads) have. To read more about this, please see Shanel’s article.

Personally, I find that the benefits outweigh the downsides. As a student, I’d rather pay what I pay here for transport rather than what I pay in the aforementioned city; especially if that only means me being more attentive to what’s going on around me.

Besides, the subway lines here are relatively new and clean compared to the ones I’ve travelled in prior to Shanghai.

Unfortunately, the other day, I had an unpleasant experience in the subway; one I had only had in Western subways, and that I didn’t think I’d go through here.

We usually board the train at a station where it’s still quite empty. I was by myself and as the train kept filling up, I noticed that there was an empty seat next to me that no one wanted to take. Initially, I tried to convince myself that it was just coincidence, that people just didn’t feel like sitting. However, I began to notice people notice the empty seat, then look at me and decide to just stand. At first I was confused because in the past, people just go right away sit next to me like it’s nothing. So what was going on? Especially since no one could have made the case that I look menacing: I was dress in business casual, on my way to teach Coco, the 9 year old girl I volunteered to tutor English to. And then it clicked: for the first time, I was in the subway by myself. Usually, Coco’s mother picks me up (in her magnificent Beamer) or pays for my cab fare.

So what difference does it makes whether I’m in there by myself or not? Why am I not threatening when around my peers, but intimidating when riding solo? As people kept eyeing that empty spot all while wishing I wasn’t next to it, I came to the [what seemed to be the most logical] conclusion: it was racism.

Indeed, if you read Shanel’s article on the Chinese’s opinion of AFRICAN people, you will be shocked at the terms used to describe motherlanders. Which led me to this theory: when with my American friends, I’m given the benefit of the doubt; I could be a black American, which is considered cool. I could be Obama’s son, Beyonce’s brother or Shaq’s cousin. But if my dark self is riding the subway alone, I’m most likely Idi Amine’s son; I probably have AIDS and stink. That was my first negative skin color-related experience in China. I decided to get over it since I was going to teach an innocent 9 year old. After all, I’m hoping that by the time kids her age are my age, mentalities regarding race will change once and for all, and racial issues will no longer be a commonality. However, that wasn’t enough to encourage me. As I went through her English workbook, I noticed that one of the characters was a black kid; a vain attempt to provide the student with a diverse set of characters. But take a look at what the kid looked like.

A vignette from Tintin in Congo

Obviously not a flattering depiction of black people. Now I understand why Chinese kids are confused when they see me: they go from seeing the picture above, to seeing me. I’d be confused too.  The worst part is that if one looked at black people’s portraits during the Mao era, they were drawn very humanely. Why then, has backtracking taken place? Why did Chinese “art” go from an accurate, normal depiction of black people in the Mao era, to a racist, insulting one in 2012? I can firmly assert and blame it on the West. Indeed, the only thing that has changed is the penetration of Western culture in China.

So is racism imported from the West? I don’t know. I don’t even care. It’s just frustrating and annoying. I can read/write a 1000 books and have a 100 intellectual conversations about the issue: it still won’t solve anything. As long as the White man keeps pillaging our homelands and financing our genocidal leaders, we Africans will never be able to rise and show what we’re really capable of. And maybe they know that… Maybe that’s why we’re treated like and kept head under $h!t. *drops mic, walks out*

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