Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lou Jing Is Too Black For China’s Go! Oriental Angel

"After the contest started, I often got more attention than the other girls. It made me feel strange," Lou said.

The reality show hosts fondly called her "chocolate girl" and "black pearl." The Chinese media fixated on her skin color. Netizens flooded Web sites with comments saying she "never should have been born" and telling her to "get out of China."

Lou Jing's background became fodder for national gossip, sparking a vitriolic debate about race across a country that, in many respects, can be quite homogenous. There are 56 different recognized ethnic groups in China, but more than 90 percent of the population is Han Chinese. So people who look different stand out.

"We lived in a small circle before," said her mother. "But after Lou was seen nationwide, some Chinese people couldn't accept her."

It has been a shocking ordeal for someone who says she always considered herself just like every other Chinese girl.

No matter where in the world you live, Blackness is always to some degree a stigmatized identity.  We could argue that some of the issues with Lou originate in the near homogenised nature of Chinese society but does this really excuse a direct attack on a young girl because she is different? As much as this is about race, this is also about the continual understanding that difference necessarily implies inferiority.  No matter the culture, all bodies must adhere to what is considered the norm to be understood as valuable.  Difference can take the form of race, gender, sexuality, age or ability; it only need stand as a marker of out group status to create the individual in question as “other.”

Unfortunately for Lou, there are not enough Black people to form a community to help her deal with the issues of racism that she is living with.  In the West, one of the few comforts from the dehumanizing attacks of racism is the  solidarity of those living with the same marginalization as you.  Lou is virtually alone and therefore attacks against her must be all that more polarizing.  The very fact that she needs to explain her existence to others proves how unwilling the Chinese are to accept her.

Ideally, a mixed raced body should be able to identify anyway they choose, however in a world that is far too interested in maintaining division such a right is often denied.  Unless a mixed race body has the ability to pass as part of the dominant group, it is more likely that they will be placed into the position of the marginalized body whether or not their experiences dictate that as the correct placement or not.  Lou is Chinese, she was born in China of a Chinese mother and yet this identification is denied her.  S/he who has the power to name or label controls society. 

There are many things that go into making our identity.  Though we like to think of ourselves as individuals, who and what are is a function of the discourse into which we are born.  We are constantly being disciplined into performing behaviours and this is a practice we continue until death.  For Lou, identity shame is the overriding message.  Like many other marginalized bodies she will have to rise above simply to exist but this will not be without its consequences.  Fighting each day is exhausting and for many, capitulation and the internalization of negative stereotypes is easier than continuing the struggle.The moment this becomes a truism, one becomes complicit in the social degradation.  For Lou, it is a question of whether she has the mettle for the ride because it will certainly not stop for one moment.