I landed in Shanghai, China, on an 80-degree day with an attitude. The only times that I had experienced any overt racism in America had always come from the Chinese. I never understood their disdain for me, or why one of my Chinese-American friends often heard her father say that he “hated” blacks.
I spent a week there meeting with members of the Chinese government, visiting schools and taking in all that the city had to offer. One of my greatest life experiences came in the home of a Chinese native. His wife prepared a 25-course meal for my father and me that bordered on gluttony. When our host cracked open a bottle of Chinese wine in our honor — a bottle that he had been saving for more than 20 years — I realized how much they respected us.
In the 168 hours I spent there, I quickly learned that their culture places great value on three things: respecting the wisdom of elders; education; and respecting oneself by never creating an embarrassing situation. My dad is a 78-year-old educational publisher with myriad degrees, so they treated him like an emperor.
On my third night there, I was given movie star treatment by nine young Chinese hostesses at a karaoke bar. I learned through an interpreter that they thought I was “hot and rich.” I had to wonder why I got such icy stares from the Chinese at home. One of the girls at the karaoke bar whispered to me that she had never seen an African-American in person. Assuming that most Chinese immigrants have the same limited exposure before arriving in America, imagine what they experience upon landing here.
In many urban districts, the high school dropout rate hovers despicably near 50 percent. Combine that with a heavy dose of embarrassing music videos featuring African-Americans, a drive through our often lawless and unkempt neighborhoods, and the reality that a 16-year-old black youth has no problems pulling the trigger on a man three times his age, and you realize that African-Americans have painted a very unflattering picture of who we are as people.
Our culture has become the exact opposite of everything Chinese culture stands for — and maybe that is why they seem to dislike us so much. But I guess we simply have to accept it. How can we expect them to respect us when we don’t really seem to respect ourselves?
— Eric Mayberry is president of SmartBoy Enterprises, a media and entertainment firm in Philadelphia. To take The Big Brain Challenge and debate this column, go to www.hugebrain.net.