Monday, May 19, 2014

An African American perspective on Sino-Africa relations

By Tasha Coleman

The evidence is undeniable. Africa and China are becoming increasingly connected. As an African-American living in China I am confronted with the evidence on a regular basis. Whether it be through reading news about increased investment and trade or meeting African students that learned to speak Chinese while in their home country, the connection is clear. For example, China is Africa’s largest trade partner[1] and is making investments such as building a railway line in East Africa.[2] Such encounters have made me wonder how African Americans relate to burgeoning Sino-African relations.

Currently, Africa, China, and African-Americans relations (ACAA) appear to be defined by the separate relationships that Africa-Americans have with Africans and Chinese. Unfortunately, relations between Africans and African-Americans have not always been strong.[3] Cultural differences, poor communication and stereotypes, among other factors, have often gotten in the way of the two groups connecting. I would argue, however, that our common ancestry and a mutual desire for a prosperous future can help to overcome these differences.

Relations between African-Americans and Chinese are also complex. Prior to moving to China, I had little practical knowledge about the country and I do not think I am alone. While Black Americans have embraced some aspects of Chinese culture, i.e. enjoyment of kung fu films, etc.,[4] such knowledge only scratches the surface. That said it appears to me that African-Americans are generally positive or neutral regarding China. On the flip-side, as an African-American living in China, I have encountered mostly good-natured curiosity from many Chinese people. While some Chinese have a lot of exposure to foreigners of varying backgrounds, many others have never met a foreigner or a Black person, especially one with braided hair. This is particularly true of Chinese persons from more rural areas. Further, historically, whiter skin has been prized in China due to its association with wealth. Those who were rich did not have to engage in manual labor outdoors and thus maintained a lighter complexion.[5]

Given all of these complex factors, ACAA relations do not seem to have a clear shape or vision yet. Despite this, I am hopeful for improved engagement between the three groups for a few reasons. First, we are living in an increasingly interconnected world. Fifty or one hundred years ago, I, as an African-American, may not have had the opportunity to live in China. Such increased interactions provide opportunities for increased dialogue and connections. Second, all people have the same basic needs and desires (i.e. food, water, education, etc.). These basic needs can serve as a foundation for increased dialogue and interaction, leading to closer and improved relations. I believe that all three groups have wonderful aspects about them which can be shared to enrich the lives of all.


[1] A Q&A With China’s Ambassador to South Africa, May 16, 2014,
[2] China to build new East Africa railway line, May 12, 2014,
[3]African and African American Relations: The Great Divide by Meghan Reid, May 2011,
[4] Black Beyond Borders, by Jeremy Berry and Eugenia Marshall,
[5] Latest Trend Sweeping China, Lighter Skin, October, 2012,

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