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The coronavirus crisis has exposed China’s long history of racism

“Clean up the foreign trash!”. “Don’t turn our hometown into an international rubbish dump.”

 

“This is China, not Nigeria!” Resembling the anti-migrant racist hatred you frequently see on UK social media, these are just a few examples of countless anti-African rants from Weibo users in China in a surge of popular racism over the past month.

Despite the huge amount of censorship on China’s social media, none of these posts have been removed. Migrants from sub-Saharan Africa have become the primary target of suspicion, racial discrimination and abuse amid public fear of a second wave of Covid-19. And this intolerance has peaked in Guangzhou, a city of 12 million people in the highly industrialised Guangdong province.

It started with the local government in Guangzhou implementing surveillance, conducting compulsory testing and enforcing a 14-day quarantine for all African nationals – even if they had earlier been tested negative and hadn’t recently travelled outside China. In Yuexiu district, the largest African migrant community in China, many Africans were evicted by landlords – despite having paid their rents – and left to sleep rough on the streets.

In an echo of apartheid South Africa or segregation-era United States, a colour bar was imposed across the city: Africans were refused entry by hospitals, hotels, supermarkets, shops and food outlets. At one hospital, even a pregnant woman was denied access. In a department store, an African woman was stopped at the entrance while her white friend was allowed in. In a McDonald’s restaurant, a notice was put up saying “black people cannot come in”.

The widespread racism has caused a huge public outcry across Africa, shared on social media under the hashtag #ChinaMustExplain. YouTuber Wode Maya, who has lived in China and is a fluent Mandarin speaker, urges fellow Africans to “wake up to what’s happening”. The global African diaspora has put pressure on African embassies and institutions to act. Last weekend the Kenyan government announced plans to allow its citizens stranded in China to be evacuated.

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