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Are Africans in China victims of racism?

Africans living in China are being kicked out of their homes, refused entry to restaurants, supermarkets and even public transport under the new lockdown rules by the Chinese government to stop coronavirus.

Lockdown in the southern city of Guangzhou known as “Little Africa” began in early April. Certain parts of the city were under lockdown after two Nigerians tested positive for the virus, but they had escaped. According, to reporting by the BBC, widespread enforced testing of African nationals by the health commission began.

The local authority said that every African national in the city was tested for coronavirus. According to their figures, only 111 African nationals tested positive in the city out of over 4,500. While there are no definite figures, it is estimated over 15,000 African nationals live there, by far the largest population of Africans in the entire country. It seems people of the city were convinced Africans were responsible for the spread of the disease.

Citizen TV Kenya tweeted on April 9th 2020:

“Cruelty In China: Kenyans among Africans ejected from homes in Beijing
Africans are denied access to supermarkets, public transport
Kenyans affected have been forced to sleep in the cold.”

The racial tensions grew worse as a video circulated Twitter where a sign in a McDonalds read “We’ve been informed that from now on black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant. For the sake of your health consciously notify the local police for medical isolation. Please understand the inconvenience caused.”

A few days later after the video hit the internet, McDonald’s responded via a statement that the sign is “not representative of our inclusive values” and was removed and the restaurant has since been shut down, to “educate our staff” on said values.

This was evidently discriminatory and has exacerbated some racial tensions that predate the COVID-19 outbreak, with some African nationals decrying an unfair crackdown on visa regulations.

Let us test the vaccine on Africans

The same attitude has been present in other countries too. On French TV channel LCI, two doctors suggested using Africa as an experimenting ground to see if a tuberculosis vaccine could prove effective against coronavirus.

Jean-Paul Mira, head of intensive care at Cochin hospital in Paris, and Camille Locht, head of research at the Inserm health research group, suggested testing out COVID-19 vaccines in African countries.

The Doctors said that as Africa has ‘no masks, no treatments and no resuscitation’ for people suffering from the virus that meant ‘people were highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves. Like for some of the studies on Aids, in prostitutes, we try things because we know that they are highly exposed and that they do not protect themselves.’

Famous ex-footballers such as Didier Drogba tweeted their disgust at the suggestion.

Africans have been subjected to experiments by Europeans in the past.

J Marion Sims, otherwise known as the father of modern gynaecology, conducted up to 30 experiments on female slaves between the years of 1845 and 1849 without consent. Sims felt the surgery was, “not painful enough to justify the trouble,” he stated in an 1857 lecture, despite the operations being done without anaesthesia. 

John Quier, a British doctor that worked in rural Jamaica, experimented on slaves in attempts to cure smallpox. His London colleagues wondered whether smallpox experiments done on “Negro women” were valid for English women, who were “women of fashion, and of delicate constitutions.” Treatments appropriate for enslaved women, they warned, might well destroy ladies of “delicate habits, …educated in European luxury.”

Fear causing division?

The current racial discrimination shown in China shows us that despite the strong economic connections between the two countries, the blame can be shifted in times of fear, when previously the black community stood in solidarity against the racist attacks many Asians have faced. There has been relative quiet on these events, with only a couple of news outlets reporting on them, compared to the outcry when coronavirus was called the “Chinese flu” by President Trump. There has however been widespread outcry across social media. Racism never disappears but adapts to new circumstances when old strains rise from the dark vaults of American history. The recent rise carries the stench of late-19th-century racism from Chinese to now African, best demonstrated via Mc Donalds.

Racism is not acceptable, though of course an overreaction by uneducated staff in Mcdonalds should never tarnish all Chinese people with the same brush. Chinese diplomats and delegates have met with officials from several African countries to hear their “legitimate appeals”, said the Chinese foreign ministry. Lijan Zhou, their spokesman, stated there had been “misunderstandings in our implementation of measures” and that the government would take “immediate steps to stop the targeting and ill-treatment of Africans” in an April 13th statement. With such powerful economic and social ties between Africa and China, and with China on the defensive against criticisms of it’s reporting of the outbreak, they will certainly be looking to quickly close up wedges the pandemic has driven between the two nations.

Shaun Flores
Shaun Flores is from Trinidad & Tobago, the home of carnival In 2018 he became a TEDx speaker speaking on the failures of multiculturalism. He is also a commercial & fashion model. MA in Race Media and Social Justice BA in Criminology & Sociology He hopes to study a PhD 'The absence of paternal masculinity in the black home'.

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