By Eric Olander
It’s been several weeks since the first reports of widespread mistreatment of and discrimination against African residents in Guangzhou first emerged, and since then anger and frustration among broad swathes of African civil society and the larger global black diaspora has only intensified.
One of Nigeria’s largest newspapers, The Guardian, has become the latest mainstream media outlet on the continent to issue a blistering editorial on Tuesday, denouncing the poor treatment that Nigerians and other Africans reportedly have had to endure in Guangzhou amid the government’s enforcement of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Guardian’s editorial board reflected on the countless social media videos that portray aggressive Chinese behavior towards Africans in Guangzhou and noted that the alleged perpetrators were never held accountable. “Curiously, none of these maltreatments have been reported for investigations and prosecution by the Chinese authorities,” said the editorial.
The newspaper also dismissed outright the Chinese explanation for what happened in Guangzhou and any assertions that there is no racism or discrimination in China.
The editorial concluded by saying “respect begets respect” — a familiar theme that has been repeated in other prominent editorials and in much of the social media messaging that is driving this narrative within African civil society.
The Premium Times editorial, though, is just the latest and among the high-profile condemnations of the situation in Guangzhou. The issue has been taken up by the Nigerian House of Representatives, hashtags like #BlackChina are now trending on social media and international human rights groups including Human Rights Watch have also started speaking out.
Human Rights Watch Calls for China to “End Discriminatory Treatment of Africans”
- ACCOUNTABILITY: “Chinese authorities claim ‘zero tolerance’ for discrimination, but what they are doing to Africans in Guangzhou is a textbook case of just that… Beijing should immediately investigate and hold accountable all officials and others responsible for discriminatory treatment,” said Yaqiu Wang, China researcher at Human Rights Watch.
- INVESTIGATIONS: “African governments together should unequivocally call on the Chinese government to cease all discrimination against Africans in China, and carry out prompt and transparent investigations to hold to account all those responsible for discriminatory practices. African governments should also press China to enforce measures to prevent discrimination in the future,” said Carine Kaneza Nantulya, Africa advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.
TAKE AWAY: It’s important to note that both The Guardian’s editorial and the HRW article use the word “Chinese” as a blanket characterization to represent both the Chinese government and Chinese civil society. Little, if any, distinction is made between the two and that’s potentially misleading. Over the past several weeks, both Guangdong provincial authorities and local officials in Guangzhou have made considerable efforts to introduce new anti-discrimination measures and to make amends with local African communities.
Many of the videos and accounts of mistreatment in China that are now circulating on social media show interactions with private actors (stores, restaurants, individuals) and not representatives of the state (police and other officials). At the height of the crisis in April that was not the case.
There’s certainly more the Chinese authorities can do to crack down on racist and discriminatory rhetoric online and to follow up on documented instances of maltreatment. But it’s also important to differentiate between public policy and individual behavior.
This article was originally published on THE CHINA AFRICA PROJECT