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Thursday, 16 February 2012

Advanced racism

If you've been paying attention, you'll have probably noticed that my wife is Chinese. That's not her in the picture by the way. Anyway, my wife (whose name I'm not going to mention - you wouldn't be able to pronounce it; I know I can't) is Chinese from Taiwan. If that sounds a bit odd, then it's because you don't know anything about the political history of the region - and that makes you lucky.

The wife's sitting behind me right now watching Korean dramas (halfway between a soap opera and a period drama) and laughing her head off. We've sat and watched comedies in various languages and yet I've never heard her laugh quite as much as she is right now. The main actor is attempting some (Chinese) Tang Dynasty poetry and messing it up somewhat. Yes, that's right, she's laughing at a man having difficulty with thousand year old poetry in, what is for him, a foreign language. That's some pretty sophisticated racism right there. You might think a London cab driver is racist because he doesn't like people with dark skin, but hypothetical stereotyped taxi drivers ain't got nothing on the wife.

Taiwanese 'Darkie' toothpaste over the years - at least
they've changed the name and reduced the, uh...
impact of the image a bit. There's a tube of this in my
bathroom. Yeah...
Most Asian countries are mono-cultural, China especially. China has had several thousand years of a single continuous culture - they've been invaded many times, but due to sheer size, the invaders have ironically become assimilated; their cultures subsumed. A similar situation has occurred in most Asian countries, with the only successful invaders being the Chinese themselves. Accordingly, in most countries in the region, there is a single culture - foreigners are rare outside of tourist or business areas and they don't tend to stay. Foreigners are outsiders and different races are very different.

Across Asia there's a tendency for what we would regard as casual racism. It's often said that racism is caused by ignorance and this is certainly true in Asian countries. Foreign races are so rare that information about them and their cultures is rarely above the level of comic-book rumour and innuendo. But what surprised me is that many Asian cultures are so insular that they have little idea about other Asian cultures - my wife can barely find Indonesia on a map.

Not just racism, Chinese racism
So I made the mistake of asking just what it was that made Koreans so funny. And I made the further mistake of asking what she thought of the other Asian countries. She has a list, in rank order. This is undoubtedly offensive to some (well, quite a lot of) people, so caveat lector and all that.

1. China - The home of culture. There's good and bad, but 5,000 years of continuous history, invention and culture cannot be ignored.

2. Japan - They're alright. At least they don't live in the mud. They've got quite a good culture, even though they stole a lot of it from China. They're a bit too kind though [no idea, I just wrote it down]. Good manners.

3. Singapore - At least they have strict laws. Quite a good country... for a democracy [yeah, she's not a fan of democracies]

4. South Korea - A bunch of peasant farmers dressed up in suits.. ah, I should say Burberry. They're too low class and yet they try so hard to be proud.

5. Taiwan - In some ways better, but they still have the Chinese disease [she means societally]. Education has failed. Farmers go to school - school makes them smart, but they make themselves stupid.

6. Hong Kong - They take your culture but stay in Gung Ho brotherhood [gung ho means something rather different in Mandarin from how it tends to be used in English] Bit too interested in money, power and materialism.

7. Malaysia - Lot of Chinese people live there. All the rich or smart people in that country are Chinese.

8. North Korea - Independent and keep their own culture.

9. Indonesia - Never think about them. Lots of rich people go there for business. They accept all races and cultures, so there's no problem. The live in real multi-cultural society. Poor but happy. They are second race; not high class, but they don't think they are high class.

10. Vietnam - Pfft.

11. Philippines - Servants and prostitutes. Do they even have a culture?

12. Thailand - See Philippines

=13. Cambodia & Laos - Not even human. Not even like the pigs who live in the mud; just monkeys. And for us, monkeys are not even cute.


  1. wait... you actually married this racist bitch??? wtf wrong with you

    1. She's a lovely woman. This isn't an issue that ever comes up, so it's of no practical consequence.

      Consider that just a couple of generations ago, such racist opinions were commonplace in Western countries. My and your ancestors are likely to have held such opinions. Does that mean our ancestors were worthless scum?

      We are all a product of our times and our cultures. As much as we like to think of ourselves as individuals with opinions and thoughts that are entirely our own, this is not the case. If we had lived in a time and place where racism was commonplace, then it's entirely likely that we'd be racist too. I doubt that there is anything so special about you or I that we would be the lone voices challenging such widely-held views.

      China is a homogeneous country. Chinese people really are all yellow. Fair enough, there are actually a few white Chinese, but you really have to head out to the far-flung borders to find any. So because the vast majority of Chinese people never really encounter foreigners, they've never had to develop more sophisticated opinions about them; hence the widespread casual racism. There just ain't much immigration in China.

      Also bear in mind that you just called a woman a bitch. You'll probably find that, among your peer group, that is increasingly seen as an unacceptable sexist slur. That's rather ironic.

      We live in a small town in the far north of England. We never encounter any people from any of these countries - not even China. So if she has no situation in which she would express these opinions and no opportunity to act upon them, does it even matter?

      It's almost impossible to find anyone free of racial bias. Humans instinctively group together with similar humans and reject those who are different. For instance, I don't tend to like Nigerians. I've met a couple of hundred over the years and they're almost always insufferable Christians or thieves and cheats. I met a Nigerian on Saturday. He was a nice chap. He's only the second Nigerian I've ever met who was a nice chap. Perhaps I've just been unfortunate. Or perhaps the poverty and uncertainty of Nigerian life makes the two former character types more likely. We all know about the Nigerian email and internet scams - why do so many originate in Nigeria? They're rarely from Chad or South Africa.

      So when I encounter a Nigerian, am I right to be wary? After all, I've only got a 1% chance of finding a decent one (based on past results). Or should I treat all people from all groups exactly the same, regardless of experience? Even if I should attempt to do so, can I be sure that I'm free of subconscious bias?

      I live in England, where immigration is very much a reality. I lived in London for a long time, where it's even more pronounced (I only know two people from London who were actually born there). It's very hard to maintain an overt racist attitude in such circumstances, as it would make life next to impossible. So I have to wonder if our new-found tolerance for other races is born out of necessity rather than any true multiculturalism.

      12% of the UK population is not White-British. Are one in eight of my friends non-white? No. Okay, so I live in a small town with little immigration. But when I lived in London, were one in eight of my friends non-white? No. And in London, non-whites are 40% of the population, so my circle of friends really ought to have featured a lot more non-whites. But it didn't.

      What's it like for you? What the ethnic makeup of the area where you live? And does your circle of friends match it? If not (and there a very high chance that it won't), do you know why not?

      I wrote this article to demonstrate the casual, yet inconsequential racism of my wife. We're very happy together and she lives in a country, where she is very much a minority. In this town, she's practically the only Chinese person here and she's married to a foreigner. She can't really be all that racist now, can she?