Eric Liu’s recent commentary in your paper (originally appearing on CNN) titled “China’s Awkward Banana Slip,” referencing China’s view that Gary Locke is a “banana,” is written from a viewpoint of political correctness, but with somewhat sensationalistic undertones. My position is that we should take a more balanced view of this particular comment that was made in an editorial in China’s state media.
Let me start first by going back in history. Beginning in the second half of the 19th century and continuing for several decades, the British, French, Germans, Russians, and Japanese, through superior military power, controlled parts of China. The Chinese never forgot their humiliation at the hands of these mostly “white” countries. America today, for all the talk about diversity, is still mostly white. According to Wikipedia, whites make up 72 percent of our population.
Although President Obama is African American, he is also half white. And his cabinet is 69 percent white, despite his pledge to appoint more minorities. In the business world, the lack of diversity is even more telling. Less than 6 percent of Fortune 500 company CEOs are non-white.
Liu writes that the Chinese wrongly assume that to be American is to be white.
Gary Locke has ably represented American interests and values during his appointment in China, but given that statistics show that the power base in America is effectively white, can we really blame China for thinking that Locke is doing the work of the white man?
Although I think Locke is a great American and I support many of the positions he has taken as our representative in China, he does not strike me as someone who is very culturally Chinese. As Liu alluded to, he doesn’t even speak Chinese.
I suspect from the viewpoint of Asians in Asia, he does not come across as being very Asian. This is all understandably so, as he grew up in America. And this perception does not just apply to Locke but to Asian Americans who grew up in the United States. They look Asian, but most of them can’t speak the language of their immigrant parents, and most only have a superficial knowledge of their cultural heritage and customs. This is probably not something second- or third-generation Asian Americans would like to hear, but it’s the truth.
We should therefore not feel insulted or take umbrage if our Asian friends across the Pacific view Gary Locke as being less Asian than they are themselves.
We are Americans after all.
As much as we would like to pretend that race has nothing to do with it all, and that we are all a melting pot and color blind and American, it actually has a lot to do with why he was sent to China. Locke’s ethnic Chinese background, and the fact that the Chinese raved about him as being one of theirs when he was governor, is precisely one of the main reasons why President Obama chose him, despite the fact that he actually supported Hillary Clinton during the run for the White House.
So, while I think the banana rant is unfortunate and was likely used for political reasons, I also think Liu’s commentary is overly one-sided. (end)
— David Grant