Over the past few days a bit of a brouhaha has blown up in the western media – particularly the American media – about an article written in one of the ‘official’ English language newspapers here in China.
The controversial article is about the departure of the current US Ambassador Gary Locke who is returning to the USA after only two and a half years in post.
Mr Locke and his wife are what are known as ABCs (American Born Chinese) and he was the first ABC to be appointed to this post. For a variety of reasons his posting has not been as successful as either Washington or the Powers-that-Be here in China had hoped it would. But what has really hit the headlines is that in the afore-mentioned article he is referred to as a ‘banana’.
The American media are equating that word with the racial slur of calling a black person a ‘coconut’ or an ‘Oreo’ both of which expressions are rightly considered offensive in the USA.
However, the word ‘banana’ is not the same, in this context, it is NOT a racial slur, in China it just means someone who though ethnically Chinese is actually western by birth, education, behaviour and cultural knowledge. I know of Belgian, German and American ‘chinese’ who are living or studying here who refer to themselves as ‘Bananas’. It is a form of shorthand to say that though they may ‘look’ Chinese they are NOT Chinese. Colour doesn’t come into it. It is not about Yellow/White in any way.
That is not to say that the article did not have other offensive epithets for Mr Locke, none of which are either justified nor acceptable, but to call him a banana is just telling it like it is.
An interesting corollary to this whole situation is – did the US government originally choose Mr Locke as Ambassador to China BECAUSE of his ethnicity? because if that is so, that IS racist.