If anyone thinks we live in a post-racial world, she only needs to talk to 20-year-old Lou Jing to have that myth dispelled.
Lou was a recent finalist on “Let’s Go, Chinese Angels!” (“Jiayou, Dongfang Tianshi”), a Chinese reality television show similar to “American Idol.” Her presence skyrocketed the show’s interest and prompted national debate about identity due to a single factor: the color of her skin.
Lou, who is of Chinese and African American descent, was raised by her Shanghainese mother and had never met her African American father who returned to the U.S. before she was born. Many argue that Lou’s background is sordid: aside from ancestry, her parents were unwed when she was conceived; in fact, her mother was married to another man at the time, whom she divorced in order to raise Lou alone.
Though Lou consistently acted with poise and decorum in front of the camera, online commenters complained that it was immoral for a girl of her background to be exposed to the public consciousness. Regardless of the fact that her mother showed responsibility and strength in raising her daughter alone, and that Lou cannot help the circumstances of her birth – people still say that it is “shameful” for her to appear on television.
There’s prejudice both subtle and obvious in this story. The hosts of the show repeatedly focus on her race, calling her “chocolate girl” and “black pearl” and questioning why she’s fluent in Mandarin, even though Mandarin is her native language. More blatant are the protests that she is not a “true” Chinese and should not be allowed to win or represent China in any way.
Many of us Stateside are accustomed to diversity, so it’s important to realize that nearly 92 percent of China’s population is of the Han ethnicity. In this racially homogeneous society, people like Lou stick out like a sore thumb. Plus, fair skin is one of the most prized traits in Chinese society, as evident in the widespread use of whitening creams, so Lou’s brown skin color is frequently looked down upon by their standard of beauty.
These factors may make the surprise and shock more easily comprehended, but not more acceptable. As anyone who has ever struggled with labels knows, there is so much more to culture than just facial features, and Lou should simply be accepted as Chinese. There’s more to a nation than race.
Here’s a video of Lou Jing on “Let’s Go! Chinese Angels:”
Photo of Lou Jing by Imaginechina via Time.com
Last modified: October 6, 2009