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Modern Asian attitudes towards black and white
The Shanghainese are known for admiring Western civilization. One in four Shanghainese sons-in-law are foreign (including foreign-born Chinese and other Asians). Many Chinese parents boast proudly of daughters married to European/Euro-North American men. This enthusiastic reception for white foreigners contrasts with the prevalent Chinese belief, held even by members of the supposedly non-racist Communist party, that people of African descent are unredeemably savage. But was the white-good-black-bad mentality part of Chinese tradition? Or is it a product of Western imperialism?
Koreans and Japanese have similar attitudes towards blacks and whites. Japanese animation is full of beautiful, sexy and heroic white characters. A European woman who saw Sailor Moon noted with much amusement, "If this is Japanese animation, why do none of the characters look Japanese?" The few black characters in other works of Japanese animation are mostly negative or marginal. The recent LA riots in the US testify to the damaging effects of Korean attitudes towards blacks. Generally, white consumers are treated better than black consumers in Korean establishments. Many Koreans and Japanese dye their hair blond, brown or red. Blue and green contact lenses are also popular among young East Asians.
Southeast Asians, wherever they're living in the world, also express similar white-is-better-than-black attitudes. A black Amerasian living in Vietnam said he wished he was a white Amerasian instead. A Filipino American woman remarked that a woman's beauty is marred by dark skin. A South Asian woman recalled with horror a stranger knocking on her door, expressly noting it was "an African American man". Race is almost never tagged onto descriptions of white strangers.
Pre-modern Asian ideas on 'race'
Apparently, the white-is-right attitude so prevalent today was not always the norm.
Standards of beauty in South and Southeast Asia:
Marco Polo reports on the Dravidians of South India:
"It is a fact that in this country when a child is born they anoint him once a week with oil of sesame, and this makes him grow much darker than when he was born. For I assure you that the darkest man is here the most highly esteemed and considered better than those who are not so dark. Let me add that in very truth these people portray and depict their gods and idols black and their devils white as snow. For they say that God and all the saints are black and the devils are all white..." 9
An early Chinese traveler to Southeast Asia wrote that the local people "consider black the most beautiful." 10 Although modern Filipinos prize the 'high-nosed', oval-faced European-blooded individual as beautiful, some even going as far as to pinch their children's nose bridges in the hopes of achieving a higher nose, this has not always been the case. Prior to European colonization, the ancient Visayans of the Philippines considered the very opposite of high noses and oval faces handsome. Visayans, as well as some other Austronesian peoples in Malaysia and Indonesia, compressed their babies' skulls to achieve broad faces with receding foreheads and flat noses . The Minahasa of Celebes even restricted binding with a forehead board to the nobility.11
Old Chinese views on Caucasians:
By traditional Chinese opera conventions, a black face is considered nobler. Actors wear masks that denote the character's qualities. A pre-dominantly black face indicates courage, righteousness and incorruptibility. A pre-dominantly white face indicates craftiness, deceit and knavery. Ming Dynasty China records even state that Caucasians, in particular blonds, are physically unattractive:
Huihui are shaggy with big noses, and Qipchags have light hair and blue eyes. Their appearance is vile and peculiar, so there are those (Chinese) who do not wish to marry them. 12
This distaste for blondes is a stark contrast to the worship of European standards of beauty so prevalent among modern Asians. Today's Chinese boast about their Caucasian sons-in-law or husbands. Instead of attributing the worship of whites, or the vilification of whites for that matter, to "natural" perceptions of racial hierarchy, it should be remembered that standards of beauty shift through time.
In the 1980s and 1990s, the Cherokee nation has seen a couple of lawsuits involving the denial of citizenship to Cherokee Freedmen (African descendants living in the Cherokee nation). The Cherokee leaders denied that the Freedmen had any Cherokee blood. But most of them did. A Black Indian was typically descended from a Cherokee man and a black woman. Faced with evidence of Cherokee blood in plaintiffs, the Cherokee nation came up with the argument that the matrilineal Cherokee were not required to extend Cherokee identity to the Freedmen. But this strict requirement for matriliny does not apply to descendants of Cherokee men and white women.13 Other nations too had similar lawsuits involving the alleged denial of membership to Freedmen.14 But is this modern preference for whites over blacks characteristic of traditional Native American views?
Native Americans initially prefer blacks to whites
York, the black slave of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, fascinated Native Americans on his expedition to the Northwest. Indian women all the way to the Pacific Coast were "very fond" of York, Clark wrote. Once a Flathead Indian tried to explain how his people saw York:
"Those who had been brave and fearless, the victorious ones in battle, painted themselves in charcoal. So the black man, they thought, had been the bravest of the party." 15
Colonel James Stevenson of the Bureau of American Ethnology spent thirty years living among and studying Native Americans. In 1888 he wrote: "... the old fur traders always got a Negro if possible to negotiate for them with the Indians, because of their 'pacifying effect.' They could manage them better than the white men, with less friction." 16 In 1738, Nantucket, Rhode Island, residents uncovered an Indian plot to attack their city at night and spare only Africans. 17 These are only a few examples of Indians killing Europeans and rescuing their African slaves. For a more in-depth treatment of this history, see the book "Africans and Native Americans: The Language of Race and the Evolution of Red-Black Peoples" in the sidebar.
The idea of white superiority/black inferiority a European import?
Unfortunately the goodwill Native Americans bore towards Africans would dissipate under deliberate European efforts to sabotage black-Indian relations. Indian agents sent by Washington to the 5 Civilized Nations openly encouraged slaveholding. Soon each Indian Nation had a small class of "mixed bloods" who felt that they were superior because they owned slaves and usually had some white ancestry. The amount of "white" blood came to be viewed a positive, much as the amount of "black" blood came to be viewed as a negative. 18
Ancient Romans disdain all non-Romans regardless of color
The ancient Romans believed that their civilization was superior to all, but they held Africans and non-Roman Europeans in equal contempt. In his book On Architecture, Roman architect Vitruvius described three basic types of human beings: the tall, blue-eyed, fair people of the north; the curly-haired, black-eyed, dark people of the south; and Vitruvius' own people, the Romans, who lay somewhere in the middle. The Roman believes the dark people are more intelligent than the light people, a view quite different from that of later Europeans:
"Now while the southern peoples are of acute intelligence and infinite resource, they give way when courage is demanded because their strength is drained away by the sun, but those who are born in colder regions by their fearless courage are better equipped for the clash of arms, yet by their slowness of mind they rush on without reflection, and through lack of tactics are balked of their purpose... Italy presents good qualities which are tempered by admixture from either side both north and south, and are consequently unsurpassed. And so, by its policy, it curbs the courage of the northern barbarians, by its strength, the imaginative south. Thu the divine mind has allotted to the Roman state an excellent and temperate region in order to rule the world." 19
The character and beauty of Ethiopians admired by ancient Europeans
"The Ethiopians," wrote Herodotos, "are said to be the tallest and best-looking people in the world." (In ancient Roman/Greek writings, the term "Ethiopian" is loosely used to refer to all black Africans)
Greek writer Diodoros wrote of the Ethiopians: "their piety has been published abroad among all men, and it is generally held that the sacrifices practised among the Ethiopians are those which are the most pleasing to heaven." 20
Roman army defeats all nations encountered except the Ethiopians
The only nation which successfully resisted Roman domination was the Ethiopians. After conquering nations all the way from Italy to Egypt, the Roman legions were finally stopped by the Ethiopian military. Three times, Augustus sent his armies into Nubia, but he never conquered the Nubians.