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What Does It Mean to Be Black?

Updated: May 10, 2019

Black Series Panel Discussion at Hong Kong University

If you’re a black person in Hong Kong, it could take you longer to pass the customs; people might misunderstand your hair as hats; they would avoid walking up the same stairway as you or avoid sitting near you. Some said Hong Kong is a racist society, but I think that it’s ignorance and lack of understanding that’s come into play.

Black people in Hong Kong don’t have as many as 400 years of history in this city as compared to whites. In this city, more than 90% of the population are ethnic Chinese, and they barely meet or talk to any black person. So the way people see black people is through references from media, from others’ words, and, because it’s too hard to do otherwise, we are content with simplistic and incomplete images of people we don’t know. It’s always easier to apply a general stereotype on others than trying to understand the historical and cultural context that’s imposed on individuals.

During Chinese New Year, CCTV’s blackface sketch was criticized heavily for its lack of cultural sensitivity. In a country without a history of “blackness” and understanding of the race, they’re adopting a Western lens to view a whole community, when people aren’t even thinking of or trying to comprehend the issue of race. They are simply not interested.

In fact, when we ask for the meaning and implication of being black, we are also speaking about how, when and why a person becomes conscious about their own, and others’ race. Growing up and surrounded by people of your color, being black is not something that would occur to you until you enter other parts of the society where this time, your skin color matters because of the treatment you receive, the status you’re given, and your predefined character before you have a chance to introduce yourself.

Then you become self-conscious.

There is much more diversity in what seems homogeneous to outsiders. The color black cannot represent an universal experience, neither can media shows the suffering or uplifting moments that apply to each individual. Your hometown, culture, immigration experience, and environment defines the person you are, and race is a just a constant reminder that, from time to time, we have to stop and see ourselves from others’ gaze.

There’s not a definite answer to the question of “being black”, nor can we put every black person in the same box, but that doesn’t mean we should stop talking about it. Because at the end of the day, it’s an attempt to comprehend or at least start an ongoing conversation on “what it means to be black”.


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