Ever wonder how an internet meme gets started? Or, for that matter, how it then spreads and metastasizes until it becomes accepted fact?
Over the last week, we’ve seen one particular meme develop about China: “China Hates Black People” (courtesy of Perez Hilton).
This idea didn’t, however, originate with Perez Hilton. It started last Friday with a story in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, “Authorities order bars not to serve black people,” which alleged that Chinese government authorities were secretly planning to ban blacks from bars during the Olympic games. Reporter Tom Miller based the story on the claim of one anonymous source:
“Uniformed Public Security Bureau officers came into the bar recently and told me not to serve black people or Mongolians,” said the co-owner of a western-style bar, who asked not to be named.
Then Miller quoted another unnamed source, a “black British national who lives in Beijing,” to further shore up the story:
“Chinese people are prejudiced, but I would have hoped that the government would set a better example as it debuts on the world stage.”
The story was then picked up by legitimate news sources like Reuters, The Globe and Mail, and The Age, and that was before it hit the blog-o-sphere. Four days later, around the same time that the Chinese government officially denied that such a ban existed, Perez Hilton posted the story, et voila…a meme is born. In the two days since and at the time of this writing, 649 comments have been made about Perez’s post, and many of them are loaded with xenophobia, racism, and hate, and not just for the Chinese:
Look. There are plenty of reasons to distrust the Chinese government and not believe a word it says. Free speech does not exist there, dissidents are routinely jailed and silenced, and the government doesn’t pretend to be a democracy. We’re all pretty familiar with its suppressive tactics. Just ask Tibet. As a first-generation Chinese-American, I was raised with a healthy dose of suspicion when it comes to China’s government, because it was the Communists, after all, who chased both sides of my family out of the country, tried to kill my great-grandfather, tossed my great-grandmother into a labor camp for the rest of her life, almost killed my father (the bomb that dropped next to him was, fortunately, a dud), took away my mother’s ancestral home, made one of my uncles a permanent invalid, and generally devastated the lives of everyone I’m related to. My experience teaching in China after I got out of college only confirmed my feelings that this was a country where you couldn’t talk freely and you had to toe the party line and the government had ultimate power.
But I find this story about China banning blacks from bars during the Olympics–and how little it’s been substantiated–very difficult to swallow. China has strong ties to Africa, some of them a bit too strong for my taste (just ask Sudan). Beijing is an international city filled with foreigners. Of course, you will find Chinese people who are prejudiced, racist, and xenophobic. Some of them are my relatives! (During my year-stint there, I met a lovely older teacher who told me he was “afraid of blacks” even though he had never actually met a black person. And where did he get this idea? American movies.)
Kudos to the Shanghaiist for following up the South China Morning Post‘s story with a considerable debunking and especially to Beijing Boyce (“A Somewhat Young China Hand on the Local Drinking Scene”), who did some actual reporting on this and hit many bars in Beijing after the story broke, painting a drastically different picture from the one in the Hong Kong paper.
Still, the Chinese are great at keeping secrets (just ask Calgon). So if this turns out to be true, you know that Diana and I will be first in line to shame the shit out of my mother ship. But, in the meantime, the idea that “China Hates Black People” is out there and, sadly, although it was intended as a commentary on racism, it’s only served to stir up more.
(To contact Perez Hilton, email email@example.com)
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