Tag Archives: blackface

[Opinion] Of ‘blackfaces’ and SinoAfrican modernities

Screen shot from The Break Up Guru (China 2014)

You could compile a long list of blackfaces’ in East Asian media over the last decade see here, here and here. However, the latest iteration of this Euro-American racist archetype in Chinese media is by far the most controversial.
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, a well-known Chinese actress performed in blackface’ during a skit on CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala. Lou Naiming (with exaggerated buttocks, a fruit platter, and a black man dressed as a monkey) played the role of a traditional and somewhat confused African mother in a skit about love, tradition, and China’s historical role in Africa.
The Gala is not just another Chinese TV show. It is a well-rehearsed and perfectly curated 4-hour-long representation of Chinese culture, tradition, everyday life, and nationalism.

Spring Festival Gala with Chinese actress in blackface (left).

CCTV Spring Festival Gala’s blackface’ adds to the increasing list of racist’ incidents in China (concerning black people) that have gone viral see here and here. Most big Western media conglomerates carried the story and, as of the time of writing, no formal apology has been issued.
Africa as China’s damsel in distress’
Beyond the blackface’, the skit’s story is rather simple but problematic. Carrie, an 18-year-old Kenyan stewardess trainee, asks her Chinese teacher to pass as her boyfriend to avoid a blind date organised by her mother. Carrie does not want to marry yet. She wants to work and then go to China to study.
In the skit’s resolution, Carrie confesses to her mother and explains her desire to go to China. It becomes clear that Carrie sees China as a way to escape tradition (and her mother’s traditional views on marriage). All of a sudden, Carrie’s mother praises China’s role (past and present) in Africa and agrees to Carrie’s plans, shouting I love the Chinese! I love China!’
The skit intended to highlight the positive aspects of China-Africa relations. It does this, however, by presenting a narrative in which China is seen as a solution to Africa’s backwardness’.
As I was watching the skit, I was reminded of a piece of analysis I wrote some years back about the representation of Africans on the highly popular dating TV show If You Are the One (feicheng wurao).
Similar to the Gala’s skit, the production of If You Are the One’ portrayed Xiao De (a participant from Guinea Bissau) as a free-spirited girl, trapped by tradition. Xiao De saw going to China as a way to escape her fate (an arranged marriage), study, and become independent.
In the dating show, Xiao De is strictly looking to marry a Chinese man. Moving to China and marrying a Chinese was for Xiao De, as it is for Carrie, a way to escape tradition and enter modernity a Chinese version of modernity perhaps.
The blackface’ skit reproduced a narrative line that is representative of China’s general approach to Africa. Both official and popular Chinese narratives about Africa consistently try to construct an image of the continent as China’s damsel in distress’.

Paolo Uccello’s depiction of Saint George and the dragon, c. 1470, a classic image of a damsel in distress.

The age-old trope of the damsel in distress’ in film, literature and video games depicts a young and beautiful woman who needs to be saved from a monster by a male hero. In the end, the woman usually marries her rescuer. On both the skit and the dating show, this gendered narrative portrays China as the (modern) male hero and Africa and the princess in jeopardy (or a dire predicament caused by tradition).

Xiao De in her last appearance on If You Are the One

This trope has multiple iterations in China-Africa relations and is linked to the Chinese white saviour complex, as seen in the box office hit Wolf Warrior 2.
In short, behind the Gala’s blackface’ lies a consistent top-down, ego-boosting effort to see and represent China as a way for Africa to enter modernity. An effort that casts China-Africa relations along the lines of the binary of Africa as the past and China as the future’.
Beyond the blackface’: Africa as the past’ and China as the future’
The Spring Festival Gala is a program full of skits. While the skits are normally comedic, they generally intend to inform and educate the audience about a particular topic (from military affairs and everyday life to, controversially, other cultures).
The blackface’ skit the first in the Gala’s history to portray China-Africa relations succeeds in informing its Chinese audience about China’s historical role in Africa. However, it fails to educate’ viewers as to the complexities and realities of contemporary sub-Saharan life.
The proof is in the pudding. The skit’s story is supposedly set in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, but all you can see in the background is a savannah. This stereotypical African landscape is about to be crossed by a Chinese-built railway hailed as part of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.

Actual Nairobi

CCTV’s imagined Nairobi

Representing Africa as the past’ means associating ideas about Africa strictly with nature and tradition. Stereotypical views on Africa are not only part of the top-down’ approach as seen on CCTV’s skit they pervade everyday life in China. This is something that many African students who have lived in contemporary China understand.
Often, when African youngsters want to make a quick buck in China, they take on entertainment jobs that essentialise their Africanness. This happens to other foreigners in China as well. But in the case of Africans, they often end up donning traditional attire and then drumming or dancing, even if they have no idea about either.
For many ordinary Chinese people, there is no space for modern Africa. By reproducing age-old stereotypes about the continent and its people, the CCTV skit catered to this.
When asked about this, young and educated Chinese often claim that people who produce negative stereotypes about Africa (and blackness) are not aware they are doing it. Naivety and ignorance are the common justifications. Ordinary Chinese, they say, ignore African and global histories and only reproduce what is offered to them by Hollywood.
This is to some extent true. However, there is evidence from museum exhibitions (pairing Africans to fauna) to film festivals (solely focusing on films about indigenous Africa, for example, Namibia’s Himba people or the Maasai) that point in another direction. Even ‘educated’ people in positions of power in China seem to hold these views. Blaming Hollywood seems a poor defence.
In a future post, I will propose an alternative route through which negative cinematic representations have entered Chinese imagination. Stay tuned!
*An edited version of this post was published by The Conversation Africa as ‘What ‘blackface’ tells us about China’s patronising attitude towards Africa’  
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Racisme – avec des caractéristiques chinoises: comment le visage noir a assombri le ton des célébrations du Festival du Printemps en Chine.

Une pièce en collaboration entre Hannah Getachew et Runako Celina Bernard-Stevenson, traduite en français par Grace Maloba

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 6.27.45 PM

Les événements du gala du Nouvel An / Festival du Nouvel An chinois de 2018 sont en train d’être débattus en ligne parmi les Africains en Chine et ailleurs dans le monde, les Chinois, et maintenant même la presse occidentale en parle. Quelque 800 millions de personnes étaient connecté pour être témoin du spectacle, entre autres choses, une actrice chinoise défile autour de la scène le visage noirci, avec des fesses et une poitrine prothétiques. Comme beaucoup le savent maintenant, le conte raconté dans le sketch en question ressemble à ceci:

Une jeune fille africaine est sous la pression apparente de sa mère (jouée par l’actrice chinoise Lou Naiming le visage noirci) pour se marier à l’âge de 18 ans. Elle ne veut pas se marier mais veut plutôt aller en Chine pour étudier parce qu’elle aime passionnément nous rappelle, la Chine est incroyable. Alors, elle demande à son ami chinois de faire semblant d’être son fiancé dans le but de faire croire à sa mère qu’elle suit ses désirs. La mère est ravie d’apprendre que sa fille a l’intention d’épouser un Chinois et dit à l’auditoire combien elle est reconnaissante de tout ce que la Chine a fait et fait pour l’Afrique. Pourtant, peu de temps après, le secret est révélé quand la vraie mariée de son fiancé fictif (une femme chinoise) apparaît sur scène dans une robe de mariée, prête à dire «je fais ».

Lorsque sa fille explique pourquoi elle a menti au sujet du mariage et insiste pour déménager en Chine, sa mère semble oublier son désir de voir sa fille se marier. Au lieu de cela, elle regarde passionnément dans le public et déclare « J’aime les Chinois. J’aime la Chine ».

Il semble y avoir une certaine confusion quant à savoir si le personnage de singe accompagnant a été joué ou non par un homme africain.

La pièce se termine comme elle a commencé – en jouant Shakira, la meilleure exportation de l’Afrique, tandis que les Africains dansent sur scène.

Divers Africains, Divers Opinions

La pièce fait plusieurs fois référence à ‘feizhou’, traitant à nouveau le continent africain comme une entité singulière. En fait, il y a 55 pays à travers le continent africain et sa masse terrestre est trois fois supérieure à celle de la Chine. Ce sketch dénature les pays sub-sahariens et la diaspora noire mondiale, mais ne fait aucune référence aux pays nord-africains. Autrement dit, l’Afrique est trop vaste, complexe et diverse pour tout récit singulier.

Ce principe s’applique également au contenu de cet article. Black Lives China ne prétend pas englober toute la diversité de l’expérience noire en réponse à ce sketch, et les lecteurs devraient se méfier de tout article qui prétend le faire.

Parmi la communauté noire, il y a des membres qui trouvent ce sketch inoffensif, divertissant ou largement hors de propos. Pour eux, les éléments du jeu sonnent vrai. Les zèbres, les lions, et les singes sont originaires d’Afrique sub-saharienne, diront-ils. Certains ont été amusés par la musique et la danse, tapant leurs pieds au rythme des tambours sur scène.

D’autres appellent le sketch une distraction. Toute représentation raciste insensible des Africains noirs ne peut exister qu’en raison de la dynamique de pouvoir économique entre l’Afrique et la Chine, disent-ils. À la suite de cette argumentation, on peut souligner le déséquilibre monétaire dans le niveau des investissements financiers que la Chine fait dans les pays africains, contrairement à l’inverse. Une fois que les pays africains auront organisé et négocié des investissements avec la Chine sur la base de priorités régionales et continentales claires, le racisme en Chine s’estompera progressivement. Ce sont juste un échantillon des nombreuses vues dans la communauté noire sur le sketch.

Raciste ou pas? Notre analyse

La question sur la bouche de la plupart des commentateurs semble être si oui ou non le sketch, et en particulier la représentation de la mère était raciste ou racialement insensible… [Lire la suite]

“涂黑脸”:西方流行文化中,白人扮演黑人的历史

黄琨/康奈尔大学比较文学系博士生

 

扮演其他种族的演出为什么常常被批评带有种族主义的痕迹?通过化妆来还原另一个种族的形象,仅仅是出于现实主义的考量吗?跨族演出具有漫长的历史,曾在不同国家出现,如今为什么会引起那么大争议? 涂黑脸演黑人又有什么特殊的历史包袱?

“涂黑脸”(blackface)在美国有着很长的历史,并与多种主流艺术体裁的演变密切相关。尽管涂黑脸演黑人的戏剧实践在约在十七世纪便登台于欧洲和美国——比如为了扮演莎剧中的“摩尔人”奥赛罗,但真正标志着“涂黑脸”进入美国主流文化的,是十九世纪初流行在美国的黑脸滑稽剧 (blackface minstrelsy)。

黑脸滑稽剧被认为是最早的美国大众文化。起源于十九世纪三十年代,黑脸滑稽剧团主要由涂黑脸的白人挪用南方种植园的场景和黑奴的传统艺术元素,在北方城市巡回演出。黑脸滑稽剧团一般由四到五名甚至更多的白人男性组成。他们用化妆油彩或者烧焦的软木把脸涂黑,故意穿上宽大或者破烂的衣服,模仿黑人口音,来扮演种植园奴隶或者其他符合刻板印象的黑人角色。演出乐器有班卓琴(五弦琴)、提琴、响板、铃鼓等。演出形式包括以奴隶制为背景的歌曲、俏皮话、滑稽歌舞、情景剧、以及穿异性服装扮演女黑人等等。

需要注意的是,黑脸滑稽剧盛行的时候,美国尚未正式废奴,南部诸州仍是蓄奴州。逃逸到北方的奴隶受到《逃奴法案》(Fugitive Slave Act,1793年颁布、1850年加强)的管辖,时刻面临重新沦为奴隶的命运。黑脸滑稽剧的最大问题,便是把种植园奴隶制描绘成一种正常的社区生态,甚至表现得好玩又有趣。这种通俗的文化形式掩盖了种植园奴隶制的残酷和不公。

而当时,黑人艺术家还欠缺向主流观众呈现自我及黑人社群的机会。黑脸滑稽剧所塑造的刻板印象,便成为了广泛流传而为人接受的黑人形象——比如穿着花哨、趾高气昂,但缺乏修养的北方自由黑人;种植园上笨拙老实的老黑奴;(因由白人男性扮演而)过于男性化、身躯肥硕的黑人女性;风流的混血少妇等等。十九世纪后期,即内战结束后,已经有黑人演出者参与黑脸滑稽剧团演出,但他们在许多城市不受待见,也不及白人演出者人数众多且声名显赫。尽管黑人演出者有时候会微妙地嘲讽美国种族生态,但大多时候他们仍需要符合人们对黑脸滑稽剧典型角色的期待。

黑脸滑稽剧中的文化挪用

黑脸滑稽剧及后来的各种涂黑脸的演出,也涉及到文化挪用(cultural appropriation)的问题。文化挪用,指的是由强势文化借用和重新诠释弱势文化,从而获取艺术授权、公众认可和商业实利。黑人文化——包括黑人英语(Ebonics)、灵歌、布鲁斯、 爵士等,其起源可追溯到种植园奴隶制中,奴隶为生存、为抗争、为维系因人身商品化而无比脆弱的情谊,而创作、演出,并通过身体动作、声音等最朴素的方式,在黑人社群中流传下来的艺术实践。对于黑人艺术家,这些艺术元素不仅仅是美学上的成就,更是黑人社群同心协力、在艰苦的状态下互相维系的象征。“窃取”了黑人文化的白人演出者,虽然一定程度上可能出于对黑人文化的欣赏和认可,并客观地推广了黑人文化,但取得的成就并未让黑人社群受益,反而加固了种族等级制。

黑脸滑稽剧对于当时的观众来说,其中一大“趣味”正是在于逾越种族身份界限的暧昧。正因为扮演的是另一个种族,白人男性演出者和主体为工人阶级的白人观众,更能肆无忌惮地在这些黑人角色身上投射夸张、荒诞、粗俗、暴力和淫秽的想象。这种奇观式的演出以突破日常黑人和白人之间紧守的身份和亲密关系边界为乐,同时又不断重申和强化白人对黑人身体的贬低、嘲弄、控制和“窃取”。黑脸滑稽剧对黑人身体的想象和模仿,是白人男性对“男性气概”的诠释,这样的诠释也在日后以其他方式不断重现 。

黑脸滑稽剧“越界”的快感在马克·吐温的著作中也有所体现。马克·吐温在自传中记述了小时候跟妈妈与阿姨去看黑脸滑稽剧的一幕。为了哄骗虔诚的妈妈观看黑脸滑稽剧团低俗的演出,小马克·吐温骗她说那是从非洲回来的传教士演出的黑人音乐。当演出者涂着黑脸、穿着夸张的衣服走到台前,妈妈和阿姨震惊得说不出话来。小马克·吐温解释说,他们在非洲传教时必须这么打扮。但当演出开始,两位体面的女士便瞪大眼睛,逐渐沉浸其中,不可自拔。后来,马克·吐温也在《汤姆索亚历险记》中插入了“布法罗(水牛城)的姑娘们”的指涉。这首民谣也源于黑脸滑稽剧,在最早的歌词中曾把黑人女性描绘成粗俗的性的象征。

尽管黑脸滑稽剧团在二十世纪已基本消失,但相关的歌曲、角色、以及黑脸表演形式,却通过不同艺术形式延续下来。著名作曲家史蒂芬·福斯特(Stephen Foster)为黑脸滑稽剧团及其他场合创作了众多脍炙人口的民谣,比如《哦苏珊娜》、《老黑奴》等。这些民谣把种植园作为逝去的故乡,充满怀旧的怅惘。正因为这些民谣中既描绘了有尊严的黑人形象,同时又可以理解为对奴隶制粉饰太平,史蒂芬·福斯特的艺术遗产充满争议。

同样富有争议的经典作品莫过于斯托夫人在1852年发表的《汤姆叔叔的小屋》。 《汤姆叔叔的小屋》沿用了许多黑脸滑稽剧中关于种植园的桥段,但也成功地把滑稽喜剧转化成悲情剧(melodrama),成功深化大众对黑奴的同情和对奴隶制的谴责。文学的成功引发了戏剧舞台的热潮。据统计,直至十九世纪末,美国境内对《汤姆叔叔的小屋》的改编表演就多达五百种。但在很长一段时间内,出演此剧的都是涂黑脸的白人。部分南部演出更改写小说的废奴精神,把汤姆叔叔演成支持奴隶制的快乐黑奴。

正因如此,在激进的黑人运动者眼中,《汤姆叔叔的小屋》 塑造的老实忠厚、任劳任怨的“汤姆叔叔”, 代表了基督教的和平主义——只能感恩戴德地等待白人的救赎,而非通过自己的努力去抵抗不公的体制。“汤姆叔叔”也逐渐成为黑人社群中暗讽某人与种族制度同流合污、无所作为的贬义词。但在当时,《汤姆叔叔的小屋》确实在全美引起极大的轰动,并有力地在公众舆论中推动废奴。甚至有传闻说,林肯在1962年接见斯托夫人的时候第一句话便是,“你就是发动了这场伟大战争的小妇人!”

格里菲斯富有争议的电影《一个国家的诞生》(1915年),则可以看作是白人至上主义者通过“演黑脸”对南北战争和废奴修正案的回击。南北战争之后,不满战败及黑人获得解放的南方白人至上主义者, 通过各种种族隔离法案来区隔白人与黑人(及其他有色人种)能使用的公共空间,阻碍非白人取得与白人同等的民事和政治权利。白人至上主义者不仅在正式的法律和政治领域推行他们的政策,还创立了诸如3K党等“治安”(vigilante)组织,动用私刑处死他们认为为非作歹的黑人。废奴之后白人至上主义者这些反击手段,导致南方黑人纷纷逃离南部,移民北方和西部工业城市。

《一个国家的诞生》便是在这样的背景下上映的,一部诋毁黑人解放、赞美3K党的白人至上主义电影。片中大量采用了涂黑脸的白人演员,扮演在议会和白人村落为非作歹、强抢白人妇女的黑人暴徒。 影片开创的并留名于影史的“最后一刻营救”蒙太奇片段,描绘的便是3K党成员骑着英姿飒爽地策马狂奔,营救被黑人暴徒围攻的白人村庄。尽管影片上映之前及全过程都备受争议,平权组织NAACP甚至尝试禁止影片公映,但《一个国家的诞生》仍取得极大的商业成功,甚至推动了3K党的复兴和新成员招募。

爵士时代发展出 “涂黑脸”的另一个潮流。著名犹太裔爵士歌手Al Jolson以涂黑脸演唱爵士歌曲出名,由他主演的1927电影《爵士歌手》是第一部全片使用声画同步技术的电影,标志着有声电影时代的来临。Al Jolson在片中多次呈现涂黑脸、戴假发的化妆过程,展现主角从传统犹太家庭迈进美国主流文化的身份探索。但Al Jolson为代表的犹太艺术家“涂黑脸”的演出也是备受争议。一方面,“涂黑脸”象征着这些犹太艺术家对黑人社群和文化的认同,并为黑人爵士音乐家开辟道路。另一方面,在种族隔离法仍生效的当时,“涂黑脸”意味着犹太艺术家与黑人形象和文化的区分,强调了犹太移民的“白”,让他们更成功地融入主流白人社会。

当“涂黑脸”遭遇新语境

民权运动之后,种族隔离废除,黑人艺术家也获得更多施展身手的机会,“涂黑脸”也自此淡出公众视野。“黑人权力” (Black Power)运动如火如荼的1970年代前期,激进派黑人导演 Melvin Van Peebles 先锋性地在电影中引入了“涂白脸”的黑人角色。他的《西瓜人》(Watermelon Man)讲述了一个充满种族偏见的白人(由黑人演员 Godfrey Cambridge 扮演),一朝醒来变成黑人的荒诞故事。他不仅需要适应自己的新肤色,还需要适应家庭、同事及社会对黑人的差别待遇。电影延续了爵士-放克音乐家 Herbie Hancock 同名曲目中对“西瓜人”这一有关黑人的刻板印象的颠覆。而“涂白脸”也反转了“涂黑脸”的结构,质疑了“白”的合法性,让“黑”成为正常的标准。

然而, 硕果累累的民权运动真的完全改写了种族不平等的历史吗?源自奴隶制种族主义结构的“涂黑脸”真的就此消失吗?斯派克·李2000年的电影《哄骗》(Bamboozled)似乎给出了否定的回答。《哄骗》讲述了电视台的黑人高管为了推出成功的节目,让两个年轻而贫困的黑人街头艺人“涂黑脸”,重现黑脸滑稽剧团演出盛况的故事。 《哄骗》因重现了“政治不正确”的黑脸滑稽剧团演出而饱受争议。但斯派克·李的“黑脸”的不同之处在于,它反映了即使是黑人创作、黑人演出的作品,也可能带有种族主义的痕迹。影片反思了黑人导演和黑人演员在娱乐产业依旧缺乏自主性——或者说自主地给自己涂上黑脸,代入刻版形象,来获取实利的现象。

当代美国主流文艺界为了反歧视所做出的努力,体现在选角时对黑人演员的重用和选片时对黑人历史的尊重。百老汇的经典剧目近年来积极招募黑人做主演。著名音乐剧 《汉密尔顿》采用了全非裔的演员班子来扮演美国开国元勋,重新想象由奴隶制支撑的美国建国瞬间。2016的电影《一个国家的诞生》在一个世纪后重审并改写格里菲斯的同名电影,讲述了黑奴Nat Turner领导奴隶发动叛乱的历史。2018年刚上映的《黑豹》(Black Panther)成为了第一部主要角色和演员均为黑人的漫威超级英雄电影,广受好评。

然而,“涂黑脸”至今仍以不同形式出现,有的更明目张胆地重演白人至上的种族暴力幻想。阿拉巴马州奥本大学的一个兄弟会曾于2001年在派对中上演3K党私刑绞死黑人(由涂黑脸的白人兄弟会成员扮演),导致两位学生被学校开除,该兄弟会被其全国总部解散。但这样的事情触碰的是美国一个更为根本的问题,即言论自由、创作自由的边界在哪?仇恨言论或者歧视性的艺术表现手法在多大程度上应该受到法律保护?

当类似的事情出现在国外,事情便更为复杂。2016年,圣彼得堡的俄国政府部门员工在办公室的化妆派对中上演了一幕“吊死黑人”的闹剧。一名员工穿上连体工装,涂黑脸扮演被绞死的黑人。另外一名员工把照片发到社交平台 Instagram 后,引发网民的强烈抗议。虽然她抗议说他们仅仅是在模仿美国老电影、重演美国历史,但最后仍迫于舆论压力删除了自己所有的社交媒体账户。重演私刑的事件并没有对任何人造成人身伤害,而针对黑人的私刑客观来说也的确是美国历史的一部分,但这段历史对美国黑人来说却是极端残暴和屈辱的。私刑盛行的时候,白人至上主义者曾把处死黑人的照片做成明信片来收藏。这些照片中,聚众庆祝黑人被绞死的白人小镇居民,也常常露出欢笑,毫不在意地把执行私刑当作公众娱乐。

那并无明显种族主义色彩的“涂黑脸”行为,现在是否就可以被大众接受呢?荷兰的圣诞节传统中,卷发红唇的“黑彼得”是圣尼古拉斯(圣诞老人)的助手,负责给小朋友派送糖果。有说法认为“黑彼得”是圣尼古拉斯从西班牙带来的摩尔人奴仆,也有说法认为“黑彼得”仅仅是在钻进烟囱的时候弄黑了脸。随着荷兰的人口组成更为多元,荷兰的少数族裔开始质疑“黑彼得”的种族暗示,认为这一传统指涉了荷兰殖民和奴隶贸易的历史,并对非裔形象产生了负面影响。不少城市开始反思并着手改革“黑彼得”的形象,比如去掉假发和唇妆,并把黑脸改成黑色条纹,来表示这并不是他原有的肤色,而是烟灰。针对“黑彼得”的问题,联合国的消除种族歧视委员会也曾于2015年发表报告,指出“不能以历史悠久的文化传统为由合理化歧视行为和刻版印象”,并建议荷兰应“平衡’黑彼得’的不同表现方式,来确保国内所有居民的尊严和人权得到尊重”。

事实上,如今“涂黑脸”的场合及扮演的角色似乎越来越多元化。白人男同性恋异装喜剧演员 Chuck Knipp 以扮演单身黑人母亲角色 Shirley Q. Liquor 吸引了大量关注。他认为他的演出是对黑人女性的赞美,而非嘲弄。亚洲近年来亦有多位艺人在娱乐节目上“涂黑脸”来扮演黑人,比如日本搞笑艺人浜田雅功扮演美国黑人艺人 Eddie Murphy。而每年的万圣节几乎都有人涂黑脸来演黑人,比如 Julianne Hough 在2013年扮演《女子监狱》的黑人角色“疯眼”苏珊。

不过,这些看似多元化、更为正面的形象真的能够抵消“黑脸”的副作用吗?或者说,黑脸的问题仅仅在于它所塑造的刻板印象吗?

问题的根本在于,“黑脸”所指涉的“种族现实主义”是一个可疑的概念。在这里,种族是“表层性”(epidermal)与“视觉性”的,它是附着在肤色上的,过度可见的能指,永远都在表意,而其表意的内容是种族化了的主体所无法控制的——自我塑造的形象与他人投射的形象之间,永远存在差异,而由他人塑造的可见形象,具有异化、分裂、甚至替代主体的力量。主体在他人的目光中被种族化,无法超越自身的肤色,而种族差异亦成为一个可以在肤色上找到的“事实”。因此,用“黑脸”来指涉黑人是在用可见的、归纳式的身体形象替代了个体经验。

但投射的自我与形塑的自我之间的差异总是压迫性的吗?我们能够完全脱离归纳式的逻辑来理解另一个族群吗?模仿的艺术可以冒险跨越个体经验的局限,去想象他者并与其共情吗?对“涂黑脸”进行批判的种族理论,其诞生和发展的背景是充满种族矛盾的社会,这些理论让更微妙、更难以言说的种族结构现形。或许,当“种族”不再是区分并组织社会等级结构的范畴时,“涂黑脸”才能正当地摆脱这些历史争议。

[Opinion] Of ‘blackfaces’ and SinoAfrican modernities

Screen shot from The Break Up Guru (China 2014)

You could compile a long list of blackfaces’ in East Asian media over the last decade see here, here and here. However, the latest iteration of this Euro-American racist archetype in Chinese media is by far the most controversial.
On Chinese New Year’s Eve, a well-known Chinese actress performed in blackface’ during a skit on CCTV’s Spring Festival Gala. Lou Naiming (with exaggerated buttocks, a fruit platter, and a black man dressed as a monkey) played the role of a traditional and somewhat confused African mother in a skit about love, tradition, and China’s historical role in Africa.
The Gala is not just another Chinese TV show. It is a well-rehearsed and perfectly curated 4-hour-long representation of Chinese culture, tradition, everyday life, and nationalism.

Spring Festival Gala with Chinese actress in blackface (left).

CCTV Spring Festival Gala’s blackface’ adds to the increasing list of racist’ incidents in China (concerning black people) that have gone viral see here and here. Most big Western media conglomerates carried the story and, as of the time of writing, no formal apology has been issued.
Africa as China’s damsel in distress’
Beyond the blackface’, the skit’s story is rather simple but problematic. Carrie, an 18-year-old Kenyan stewardess trainee, asks her Chinese teacher to pass as her boyfriend to avoid a blind date organised by her mother. Carrie does not want to marry yet. She wants to work and then go to China to study.
In the skit’s resolution, Carrie confesses to her mother and explains her desire to go to China. It becomes clear that Carrie sees China as a way to escape tradition (and her mother’s traditional views on marriage). All of a sudden, Carrie’s mother praises China’s role (past and present) in Africa and agrees to Carrie’s plans, shouting I love the Chinese! I love China!’
The skit intended to highlight the positive aspects of China-Africa relations. It does this, however, by presenting a narrative in which China is seen as a solution to Africa’s backwardness’.
As I was watching the skit, I was reminded of a piece of analysis I wrote some years back about the representation of Africans on the highly popular dating TV show If You Are the One (feicheng wurao).
Similar to the Gala’s skit, the production of If You Are the One’ portrayed Xiao De (a participant from Guinea Bissau) as a free-spirited girl, trapped by tradition. Xiao De saw going to China as a way to escape her fate (an arranged marriage), study, and become independent.
In the dating show, Xiao De is strictly looking to marry a Chinese man. Moving to China and marrying a Chinese was for Xiao De, as it is for Carrie, a way to escape tradition and enter modernity a Chinese version of modernity perhaps.
The blackface’ skit reproduced a narrative line that is representative of China’s general approach to Africa. Both official and popular Chinese narratives about Africa consistently try to construct an image of the continent as China’s damsel in distress’.

Paolo Uccello’s depiction of Saint George and the dragon, c. 1470, a classic image of a damsel in distress.

The age-old trope of the damsel in distress’ in film, literature and video games depicts a young and beautiful woman who needs to be saved from a monster by a male hero. In the end, the woman usually marries her rescuer. On both the skit and the dating show, this gendered narrative portrays China as the (modern) male hero and Africa and the princess in jeopardy (or a dire predicament caused by tradition).

Xiao De in her last appearance on If You Are the One

This trope has multiple iterations in China-Africa relations and is linked to the Chinese white saviour complex, as seen in the box office hit Wolf Warrior 2.
In short, behind the Gala’s blackface’ lies a consistent top-down, ego-boosting effort to see and represent China as a way for Africa to enter modernity. An effort that casts China-Africa relations along the lines of the binary of Africa as the past and China as the future’.
Beyond the blackface’: Africa as the past’ and China as the future’
The Spring Festival Gala is a program full of skits. While the skits are normally comedic, they generally intend to inform and educate the audience about a particular topic (from military affairs and everyday life to, controversially, other cultures).
The blackface’ skit the first in the Gala’s history to portray China-Africa relations succeeds in informing its Chinese audience about China’s historical role in Africa. However, it fails to educate’ viewers as to the complexities and realities of contemporary sub-Saharan life.
The proof is in the pudding. The skit’s story is supposedly set in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, but all you can see in the background is a savannah. This stereotypical African landscape is about to be crossed by a Chinese-built railway hailed as part of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative.

Actual Nairobi

CCTV’s imagined Nairobi

Representing Africa as the past’ means associating ideas about Africa strictly with nature and tradition. Stereotypical views on Africa are not only part of the top-down’ approach as seen on CCTV’s skit they pervade everyday life in China. This is something that many African students who have lived in contemporary China understand.
Often, when African youngsters want to make a quick buck in China, they take on entertainment jobs that essentialise their Africanness. This happens to other foreigners in China as well. But in the case of Africans, they often end up donning traditional attire and then drumming or dancing, even if they have no idea about either.
For many ordinary Chinese people, there is no space for modern Africa. By reproducing age-old stereotypes about the continent and its people, the CCTV skit catered to this.
When asked about this, young and educated Chinese often claim that people who produce negative stereotypes about Africa (and blackness) are not aware they are doing it. Naivety and ignorance are the common justifications. Ordinary Chinese, they say, ignore African and global histories and only reproduce what is offered to them by Hollywood.
This is to some extent true. However, there is evidence from museum exhibitions (pairing Africans to fauna) to film festivals (solely focusing on films about indigenous Africa, for example, Namibia’s Himba people or the Maasai) that point in another direction. Even ‘educated’ people in positions of power in China seem to hold these views. Blaming Hollywood seems a poor defence.
In a future post, I will propose an alternative route through which negative cinematic representations have entered Chinese imagination. Stay tuned!
*An edited version of this post was published by The Conversation Africa as ‘What ‘blackface’ tells us about China’s patronising attitude towards Africa’