A Ugandan woman who filmed a racist encounter at a Guangdong, China 7-Eleven earlier this month says Chinese police officers visited her shortly afterward demanding she delete the video.
As BuzzFeed reports, Darasa (who wasn’t identified by her full name to protect her from possible retribution) is one of multiple Africans currently living in China who spoke to the outlet about their experiences being visited by the police after sharing videos of racist, xenophobic harassment and abuse. Anti-African discrimination and harassment made international news earlier in April after the country experienced a resurgence in coronavirus infections. China, where the novel coronavirus was first discovered, had curbed its coronavirus cases after hitting a peak in February; officials said the new outbreaks came from foreign travelers arriving from foreign countries. China had also recently relaxed travel restrictions within the country.
Though it hasn’t been reported which country or countries the outbreak stemmed from, African migrants became scapegoats among some Chinese residents and businesses. The most well-known case of discrimination thus far came from a Guangzhou McDonalds, which posted a sign explicitly stating “black people are not allowed to the restaurant.”
The resulting backlash has Chinese immigration police actively trying to contain videos and other documentation of racist treatment from getting out, BuzzFeed’s sources tell them. Darasa told the outlet that after filming and posting an encounter at 7-Eleven where staff members refused her entry and sprayed disinfectant at her feet, two groups of police officers came to her hotel to pay her visit. They demanded she delete the video. One group of four officers brought her a “gift” box which included hand sanitizer, a face mask, and tea bags as part of an effort to get her to cooperate with authorities, she said.
“We’re in their country, so they can still do whatever they wish to us,” said Darasa.
Others reported similar experiences. One person’s story suggests that Chinese authorities are even infiltrating black WhatsApp groups. From BuzzFeed:
A Ugandan known as Omuntu Wawansi, who lives outside Shanghai, secretly recorded his interrogation by immigration police last week after helping several Africans facing discrimination in China connect with foreign news outlets. After Wawansi shared the video with the foreigners’ WhatsApp group, he was surprised to get a call from the same police officer he caught on tape.
“We’re like pets to them — you’re supposed to just stay in their lane,” Wawansi said. “You’re not supposed to speak up if you’re violated in any way.”
The high-level concern about limiting stories of racist incidents stems from the government’s desire to “preserve economic and diplomatic ties [it] had spent years building with African nations,” writes BuzzFeed. Though, of course, it’s worth questioning what Chinese authorities have done to stop the racist incidents from happening in the first place, rather than mitigating the spread of the stories themselves.
The impulse to punish Africans for the spread of the virus is both xenophobic and racist, not unlike the spike in hate crimes and harassment against Asians and Asian Americans in the U.S. after the coronavirus spread in this country. Officials recently reported that most of the first wave of coronavirus cases in New York City, now the global epicenter of the crisis, actually came from Europe.
Still, in the U.S. and in China, white people have not been targeted or blamed for spreading the virus. And in China specifically, the anti-blackness directed at African migrants is made all the more concerning because of the state’s capacity for monitoring and policing its residents. Unfortunately, those who do want to return to their home countries, like Darasa, cannot.
In an attempt to ease the suffering of some of the African students and workers living in China, Atlanta Black Star CEO Neil Nelson has tried to work with Ugandan politicians to try to organize an airlift for those who want to leave. The demand is certainly there—300 people have asked for seats on such an evacuation flight, Nelson told BuzzFeed. But thus far, in part because of prohibitive costs and travel restrictions, no African country has been willing or able to receive them.