What does it mean to be a Chinese (or any ethnic group) nowadays?

A South African teacher of mine posted a video of Kimmi Skota singing “My African Dreams” and commented, “An African woman with flawless skin and perfect African features, wearing an African dress, singing an African song, with an African accent – so put that in your pipe and smoke it Beyonce.”

It struck me – how strong she feels about being from the continent of Africa. What does it mean to be an “African” (note: the term is used by her) woman? The use of that term confused me equally – didn’t I learn from somewhere that “Africans” is not suitable as a collective noun (“There are countries in Africa, you know! At least talk about North/South/East/West Africa!”)? Or is it unsuitable only in certain contexts, and which are they?

Being a Chinese is important to me, so is being a Malaysian – I feel strongly about being a Chinese-Malaysian. But there is a lot of resistance from my guts when I am being referred to “the Chinese girl”. And I ask myself, “Why?”

Is it because the term “Chinese”:

  • to me, bears a unique definition that I made up myself, and can only be applied to me? (e.g. “The Chinese in me makes me understand the need to be humble, the importance of education, and the value of harmony”)
  • to the rest of the world, is capable of suggesting a whole lot of things – physical appearance, taste, a set of values, social norms, activities, country of origin, hang out places, accent, possible occupations or knowledge of a particular language, art form and practice? And some of which I do not identify with?
  • is (therefore) problematic in itself?

What does it mean to be a Chinese (or any ethnic group) nowadays? How does racism work anyway, nowadays? In London, the UK, the world?

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