|An expat in Beijing was beaten unconscious and left laying in
the street last week after sexually assaulting a young Chinese woman.
Warning – This post is not a funny one but stick with it to the end. Sorry. I’ll be extra funny later I promise. Also, for those of you keeping track, if your kids read this blog you might want to steer them clear or better yet (if appropriate) talk to them about it.
“Did you hear the news?” My Chinese friend (who requested I not use her name) asked me as we were crossing the street last week.
“About the England man in Beijing. He tried to make sex with the woman right on the street. Can you believe such a thing?”
My initial mental picture was way off but after a few questions I realized that we weren’t talking about a couple of drunk college students busted for public indecency. It was one drunk expat who sexually assaulted a Chinese girl and was nearly beaten to death by a group of furious Chinese men. The entire thing was caught on video and posted to youku (kind of like Chinese youtube) and instantly went viral. Two days (and 3 million hits) later it sparked an outrage against foreigners living in Beijing. The man has been detained and is facing 3 to 10 years in Chinese prison.
This story makes me shake on the inside. It’s like a tornado of intensely personal issues for me. Just to mention a couple . . . racial profiling . . . and rape.
It seems easier to start with racial profiling.
Let me start by saying how blatantly aware I am that this is a loaded issue. There’s no safe way around it. Understood. Challenge accepted. Here we go.
These are a few of the thoughts rolling through my head in the wake of this story:
1. I’m a Racial Profiler
I do it all the time . . . I catch myself . . . I kick myself.
Then I do it again.
I make snap judgements based on my largest pool of understanding about any one group of people. It’s not always negative. It’s rarely (but not never) hateful and you would be hard pressed to convict me on charges of premeditated racism but I can’t shake it.
When I see you I automatically build a story about you in my head based on my experience with other people who look like you.
When I hear you speak I do it again.
2. So is everyone else (except for you)
I won’t waste my time here trying to convince you that you share my affliction. But have you noticed everyone else? Yeah, they do it for sure. Especially Canadians. (that’s a joke Canada – just because I know you can take it).
I’m not even convinced it’s humanly possible to not do it. It doesn’t mean you instinctively tag people as gangsters or terrorists or thieves but you’ve got them tagged as something the moment you see them.
3. Pronouns are significant.
We. Us. Them. They.
Hold that thought.
4. Racial profiling is fueled by ignorance.
Feel like making someone mad? Call them a racist. Want to get your face punched off? Call them ignorant.
There’s not a nice way to call someone ignorant but by definition ignorance is simply not knowing. Profiling is an assumption based on the piece of the story that I don’t have. The less I know about a person (i.e. the more ignorant I am) the more I need to assume.
Granted, I fill in the gaps based on what information I DO have (even if it is next to nothing or 500% wrong) but the more I know the less I need to make up in my head.
5. Number (grammatically speaking) is significant.
When I profile someone singular and plural become indistinguishable.
Personality is lost in the profile. Individuality, temperament, disposition and character are snubbed for the sake of the assumption. Simultaneously, all of the perceived characteristics of the plural group are shoveled onto the singular individual.
6. Pronouns get bigger when people do bad things
“WE” can be extremely proud of “OUR” inclusivity until “THEY” attack “US”.
Then the lines become less blurry.
Fair enough in some cases but combine this with #4 and innocent people get hurt.
A Ball State University study showed that people who were perceived to be Middle Eastern were as much at risk of retaliatory violence as those who actually were following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. South Asians were especially at risk and one Indian man in Arizona was shot and killed just for being a Muslim.
He was a Sikh.
In a broken moment “WE” lumped “THEM” together. Not all of “US” pulled the trigger or threw a punch or shouted obscenities . . . but some of “US” still tense up when “WE” see “THEM” wearing a turban on an airplane.
Then “WE” kick “OURSELVES”.
Then “WE” do it again.
7. Every profiler should feel the sting of being profiled
Living as a foreigner in China, I get profiled a lot (click here
for more about that).
It’s not the bad kind though. I’ve been called a “foreign devil” but very rarely and never to my face. In six years of living in China not a single person has told me to speak Chinese or go home. I have never been arrested because I look like a criminal and I have yet to be shot and killed for being Jewish (even though I am a Christian). Usually it’s just people sizing me up based on what they know about other people who look like me.
I’m doing the same thing to them so I can’t complain.
Sometimes I still do.
This week it seems different though. The pronouns feel bigger because “WE” attacked “THEM”. I know, I know, the guy was a British foreigner and not an American foreigner and his actions are as deplorable to me as they are to the men who dropped him to the pavement but I think foreigners are foreigners this week. I can’t help but think that I probably look a lot more British than the Sikh looked Muslim.
PLEASE DON’T READ THIS WRONG — I don’t feel a threat or like expats in China are in any kind of danger.
There is NO code red here or even orange.
In fact, with the exception of three rude taxi drivers nearly every Chinese person I have seen this week has been perfectly polite and gracious as always. But I know for a fact that foreigners lost respect last week.
All of us. My friend told me so.
So I’m wondering – what do they think when they see me? Do the women tense up when I walk past them? Do the men secretly want to punch my face off?
I also saw the video. I saw the absolute rage in the man who kept coming back to stomp on the foreigner.
And I felt it. Not the stomps. The rage.
Which brings us to point number two.
There was a period of about six months in my life that I couldn’t even bring myself to think the word, let alone say it. It was a combination of a defense mechanism and my own cowardice. Saying it would mean that it actually happened. All of it. I could say “attacked and beaten.” I could even say “sexually assaulted.” But I couldn’t say the word.
To this day there is no more repulsive word in my vocabulary. It’s foul. Revolting. Nauseating and it makes me shake on the inside. I freaking hate it.
There. I said it. But I don’t feel any better.
He shared my skin color. He was about my age. He was middle class, like me.
In the context of this week, there is a part of me that is glad he wasn’t Chinese. Or African. Or Middle Eastern. Not because that would have been even the slightest bit more horrible but because I’m a profiler. If it would have been one of “THEM” then (somewhere in my mind) it would have become all of “THEM”, whoever “THEY” are and I really don’t want to live my life blaming the plural for the sin of the singular. It wasn’t though. It was one of “US”. So I don’t have the luxury of blaming it on race. I can’t say, “It was a dirty (insert racial slur) that . . . ” I’m forced to consider the fact that it was the condition of his heart and not the color of his skin that drove him to rape my wife.
He’s in prison for 45 years. And I’m glad.
But for China it wasn’t one of “THEM”. It was one of “US”.
This is a quote from a Chinese man commenting on the crime. I tried to read it out loud to my friend today but I cried in the middle of it:
“Damn foreigner. You’d think it was 100 years ago when the foreigners came to China and did as they pleased.”
Another man said, “How dare he be so arrogant in our land.”
I’m going to practice profiling now just to see how it feels.
Dear China – I’m am sorry, embarrassed and outraged that it was us who attacked your young woman. You were right to protect her and frankly I’m glad that you beat us senseless and left us laying in the street.
We had it coming.
Even though we have confused you, insulted you and infuriated you, thank you for not making it entirely plural. Thank you for not rioting against “US”, burning down “OUR” homes, threatening “OUR” lives or lynching “US”. You have been a gracious host and we slapped you in the face this week.
Your house. Your rules.
We have earned your justice and your prison.
It doesn’t feel good.
1. If this hits home. Share it. Facebook it. Tweet it. Pin it. Whatever you do. Do your little thing.
2. If you know us personally and this is new to you please know that you don’t have to tiptoe around my wife. It’s not new to her. She is a brilliant, strong and amazing woman who is most often an open book on the issue and would honestly rather talk about it than wonder if you read this blog and want to say something but won’t. She also knows that she’s not alone and aches deeply alongside the millions of women who share her story with varying, horrible details.
Talking is good.
And if she doesn’t feel like talking about it at the moment or you say something legitimately stupid (or just ignorant)- she’s an open book about that too.