It was the start of summer and I had a new group of eager, cheerful students aged between 17 and 19 years old.
I opened the class with a simple warm-up exercise.
‘Which Three Guests Would You Invite to a Dinner Party and Why?’
I’d done this many times before both in China and in England. It was fun but also required some thought and mental processing. The rules were simple and straight forward; no family members, girlfriends or boyfriends. Apart from that the guests could be dead or alive, from any country and from any time in history.
These new learners seemed to be an intelligent group with a fairly good level of English so I was looking forward to an interesting discussion.
After about ten minutes to prepare, they were ready to respond.
‘I’d invite Michael Jackson or any black man,’ volunteered one young man leaving me confused and intrigued at the same time.
‘Why?’ I prompted.
‘Because I want to learn how to sing and dance and all black men can sing and dance.’
I sighed inwardly. Kept my facial expression neutral, bordering on pleasant. Dampened down the rage that wanted to explode at such ignorant, blatant, negative stereotyping.
My new student didn’t know any better and it really wasn’t his fault.
In his nineteen years, apart from President Obama, the only black men he’d seen in the media had been singing, dancing, shooting guns, rapping and playing basketball.
So what else could he believe?
Where are the images of black men as scientists, world leaders, writers, explorers and inventors? They exist but are hard to find. There are many black, male Presidents across African countries but they only seem to be on TV when there is news of corruption, fighting or unrest. Apart from that they’re practically invisible outside of their own continent.
Michael Jordan. Basketball Star, Businessman, Husband, Father. (www.history.com)
Instead and, according to someone’s agenda, the world is fed a daily diet of images of black men as entertainers, poor, prison inmates, dying and other negative standards.
Consequently the real picture of black men is distorted and un-balanced in favour or the above mentioned themes, whilst rarely showing black men in the normal roles of family man, businessmen, providers, graduates and loving family members.
Our lesson that day was only 45 minutes, no-where near long enough for me to begin to explain what was wrong with his premise and to point him in the right direction in any meaningful way. I would have had to do this at the expense of the other 12 students waiting to speak.
So, I vowed to re-visit this annoying stereotype soon, unsure of how much difference I could make against his lifetime of conditioning but extremely determined to try.
I also recently had an interesting discussion with another group of slightly younger Chinese students about their ideas on western and Chinese beauty where, once again, black stereotypes came into play.
You can click on the link below to read about that.