It is this rage that pushes me to keep considering the fundamental ideology beneath the anti-Blackness hashtag and its popularity in China. Luckily, I am not the only angry feminist; anger has been a productive tool in radical feminism throughout history. Black feminist Audre Lorde wrote in 1981, “My response to racism is anger… We are not here as women examining racism in a political and social vacuum. We operate in the teeth of a system for which racism and sexism are primary, established, and necessary props of profit.”
I am inspired by Lorde, and I argue that anti-Blackness in China is attributed to conservative nationalism, and toxic masculinity is complicit in this. The interlocked patriarchal and nationalistic structures objectify Chinese women as private property that should be limited to a certain Chinese race, and undermine foreign immigrants, especially Black male diaspora, as a sexualised and thus menacing race.
This marginalisation of Black diasporas was further exacerbated with the escalation of the draconian measures taken in many Chinese cities to control the second wave of the pandemic. At the beginning of April 2020, an allegedly racially motivated compulsory quarantine was imposed on many African people in Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong Province on the southern coast of China. The Chinese government has denied allegations of racism.
The shocking measures were first reported by CNN, which exposed how the anti-immigrant sentiment had led to some African expats in the city being forcefully evicted and ending up homeless.
The news triggered a public outcry on Weibo, where many defended the racist measures. Some argued that African people had not been deliberately discriminated against. They claimed that these racial-profiling measures were for the sake of public health. Others admitted that the measures were xenophobic and singled out Black people, but they still found them justifiable because of the pandemic.
The denial of racism in China disturbed me, especially after witnessing how many of my Chinese/East Asian friends were harassed verbally and physically in the UK during the pandemic. But anti-Asian racism did not originate at the outbreak of COVID-19. It has always been there. So has anti-Black racism in China. Downplaying China as an exception from racism does not help anyone to live in a safe and just society. In fact, denying racism enables racists.
Chinese racism must be understood in the complex Chinese political context. It exists in the nexus between internal migrations and foreign residency, the intersections of gender relations and African/Black racial politics, the nuancing of racism during the pandemic, and the history of African migration in China from African perspectives. Any efforts to build a safe society for everyone are welcome, but beyond boarded up nations and masculine domination.