The Spectacle

To be Black is to be dangerous.
To be Black is to be ignorant.
To be Black is to be lazy.

Our society perpetuates ignorance. According to our one-sided lens of the media, I am a loud-mouthed ho’ who is promiscuous, broke, and living off of food stamps. That might explain why as I walked past, a local woman stared me down as she inched closer to her husband and child. Or why when Nicky, DJ, and I are walking many women shift their purses closer to them. Or maybe that’s why the bus driver pushed me to avoid me entering his “personal space” (HILARIOUS given no one here has the slightest conception of that, at all). Either way, China’s claim to “Welcome you with open arms” is a bit far stretched.

I came here well aware that I am a far cry from the norm, but it has occurred to me that I am one of Shanghai’s newest spectacles. The infiltration of foreigners of course generates stares, yet some of these instances went beyond simple expressions of curiosity, to invasive scrutiny resulting in my discomfort. To add to the my affliction, while looking up information about the notorious 查克力市 (Chocolate City), I stumbled across a few articles, one of which thoroughly disheartened me 1. In fact, it was the subsequent commentary from the locals that literally brought me to tears:

“The majority of blacks are representatives of promiscuity, violence, and AIDS.”

“Blacks are simply a low-level race—– This comment is something I heard elsewhere. Think about it and you know it is true… In reality, black people are gluttonous and lazy, unrealistic, and those who can work hard are rarer than rare, wanting in their bones to do little but still get a lot. They don’t seek to improve themselves!!”

“Chinese people know their place and are orderly wherever they are, an active and motivated people… As for black people, they are lazy and carefree wherever they are, and like to cause trouble, not diligent in learning, nor in work.”

“What can Africans bring us besides AIDS?????!!!! I am a customs officer who monitors infectious diseases, just look at how many people checked that are AIDS sufferers from Africa and you’ll know we should keep such garbage far away.”

Clearly negative notions of “Blackness” have penetrated not only our nation, but also abroad.

Photo courtesy of MacDougall’s “The Visual in Anthropology” 2

This is frightening.

But none of this is new. Selling the fractured image of the “Other” has always been profitable. Not only did media generate revenue by creating a spectacle of the “Other” (through exhibitions such as those in the World Fairs and commemorative postcards), but it also reinforced a Westernized notion of civility and primitiveness through means of visual comparisons:

“For a general public imbued with ideas of Social Darwinism, the visual appearance of exotic peoples was the most obvious way of placing them on a scale between civilised man and animal.” 2

Since the colonial era, the camera has helped establish the social construction of racial superiority. While ethnographic films and documentaries are meant to facilitate an appreciation for other cultures, often ethnographic research was performed to manipulate “human categories reinforcing colonisers’ sense of difference as their sense of power.”3 In other words, the media has done a fine job of projecting prejudicial images for ages.

Unfortunately, the damage is done. Though we are living in an age of increase global awareness, much more progress is necessary. As disturbing as the reality check was, I will not passively accept the negative stereotypes that follow me wherever I go. Rather I must challenge myself to impact the community, as it has done to me. While I may not be able to change the world myself, I do hope to demonstrate the pride, joy, and beauty in being Black, that has been all too neglected in the media.

2 David MacDougall. 1997. The Visual in Anthropology In Rethinking Visual Anthropology. Marcus Banks and Howard Morphy, eds. Pp. 279. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.
3 David MacDougall. 1997. The Visual in Anthropology In Rethinking Visual Anthropology. Marcus Banks and Howard Morphy, eds. Pp. 280. New Haven; London: Yale University Press.