Is China Ready for Barak Obama?

by Robert Vance

“I don’t have a problem with black people,” a Chinese student recently stated in one of my classes. “It’s just that I don’t understand their language or their culture very well.” We were talking about the U.S. Democratic nominee Barak Obama who could become’s first African American president in September if he can defeat the Republican nominee John McCain. Many of my students have followed the primaries, taking special interest in the recent battle between Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. But now that Mr. Obama has finally clinched the nomination, some of my students have been candidly sharing their opinions about African Americans and blacks in general.

Most Chinese people with whom I speak on the issue of race say that they ”have nothing against  black people.” But many of my friends and students do seem to ’buy in’ to some of the stereotypes of black people that have always existed. For example, a student recently told me that she “is a little scared of black people” because they are big and strong. Others have said that  their black English teachers teachers were always kind but they often smelled bad. Still other students have said they have never really met a black person so they  have no opinion of them. A few have even asked me about whether or not there are more black people involved in crime in the U.S. than white people. Some of the ideas behind this stereotype may stem from a recent shooting in my city in which a South African man was murdered because he owed the local ‘mafia’ money. Mostly though, my students tell me that they view ‘black culture’ as strange and a little mysterious.Why is it so difficult for them to conceive of a black man in charge of America? The answer is quite simple. When Chinese people think of America, they think of the color white. Chinese women use umbrellas in the sun to keep their pale skin while both Chinese men and women try to change their hair color to blond or at least something lighter. Chinese people know all about Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Britney Spears, and the Backstreet Boys but not so much about Bill Cosby, Martin Luther King, and Oprah Winfrey. The fact that someone other than a white man could be sitting in the Oval Office come January seems to come as a surprise to many here.

The belief that racism is still very prevalent is another reason why some Chinese people have been ‘caught off guard’ by Obama’s success in the U.S. A young Chinese lady who was engaged to a foreigner told me recently that her parents were worried about her future in America because they had heard that “Chinese people’ and other minorities were treated as “” Whether or not such beliefs are true, many Chinese people are amazed that a minority person would ever have a chance at achieving the world’s most powerful position.