BHM: From Out of the Mouths of Babes

Today’s BHM focuses on the story of Chinese musical competition star Lou Jing. Jing was born in China to a Chinese mother and African-American father who left China before Jing was born. A talented singer and performer, Lou Jing entered an American Idol like show on Dragon TV in 2009 called, Go Oriental Angel, becoming the first black person to enter the competition. Her participation sparked intense nation-wide debate about “who counts” as Chinese. Complaints about Lou Jing included basic disbelief that a black person could also be Chinese, that a black person with Chinese heritage had the same right to claim Chinese identity as the rest of the Chinese girls she grew up with, and a string of racist comments about blackness in general. Someone even started a website making lude jokes about President Obama being Jing’s “deadbeat dad.” The controversy exposed the racist underbelly of Chinese culture particularly vis-a-vis black people. While some expressed incredulity at a nation of color demeaning people of color on the basis of race, these arguments largely ignored two key factors: 1) existing racism against black people in Asia exacerbated by the exportation of racism against black people through N. American imperialist war efforts and 2) the fact the poc is a catchall phrase meaning “non-white” not that everyone who is poc is the same or from similar backgrounds. The instance of unilateral race antagonism quickly spread to Asian diasporic communities leading some to weigh in on Lou Jing’s Chinese-ness against the prevailing anti-immigrant belief that born-in China, lived in China all one’s life trumps being born in the U.S. to Chinese parents. The issue was definitely one of skin.

The show itself took to calling Lou Jing, Little Black Pearl and Chocolate Girl, claiming that these names were terms of endearment. Yet both marked her out as different and emphasized her skin color as if she was not visible to tv audiences. They even invited her to do an impromptu rap one night on the show, and though she smiled sweetly and did her best, it was clear their expectations of her blackness and the realities of her identity were grossly out of sync, and rightfully so.

Throughout the competition, Lou Jing continued to be good-natured about her treatment and the growing demeaning of both herself and her mother. She chose to focus on the positives of her life and side step calls for her to behave in stereotypical ways or publicly denounce her father along racial lines as a stereotypical black absentee father. Though the names she was called on the internet and the Chinese media impacted her greatly, Lou Jing transformed these moments into a stronger will to succeed as an artist. The controversy opened the door for Lou Jing to intern at Dragon TV after losing the competition, and she used that opportunity to learn about journalism and get a job in a local Shanghai news show. She also attends the Shanghai Theater Academy, where she had been going to school prior to the contest, to continue to work on her acting and singing talent.

Lou Jing’s import to black herstory is both in her message of hope and perseverance as a young woman raised by a single mother under intense nationally and internationally racial scrutiny and because of the ways her involvement in the competition forced hard conversations about race and racism in China, Asia, and Asian-American communities and their impact on women and girls. Her historic involvement in the show, caused Chinese and Chinese American people to question their own beliefs about racial identity, to challenge stereotypes about both Asian-ness and blackness throughout the diaspora, and to decide whether to take a stand against anti-black racism. Lou Jing’s own willingness to talk about her family and her life experiences in ways that eschewed stereotype and emphasized similarities and strengths made it possible for people who had never considered race in these ways before to find expanding ideas about race accessible. At the same time, she also made sure to note that bi-racial white-Chinese people do not meet the same scrutiny, criticism, and intense racial hatred that was aimed at her during the show; and while there has been some complaint about the Chinese-ness of half white Asian children, she is largely right, especially in the context of Chinese American communities. While her observation opened the door for a larger conversation about biracial identity and the inbetweenity that biracial Asians feel regardless of their racial make up, these conversations did not occur (at least not in public) because they were eclipsed by ongoing anti-black sentiment. Her age and her history, as a child growing up in a single-parent household, also helped expose the faultlines and intersections between race, class, and gender and how these come together around issues of motherhood, girlhood, and women’s strength. Because these conversations took place in trasnantional social spaces that include the U.S. Lou Jing’s struggles have become a part of the N. American landscape as much as the Chinese one and she stands as an inspiration to biracial girls in the black diaspora, especially those who are bi-racial black Asians and Asian Americans, and to all of us discussing issues of race, gender, and national identity.

Here is Lou Jing in her own words:

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