American film and television have long been among the United States’ most capacious exports, sending to overseas audiences a pernicious inventory of racial tropes, stereotypes and distortions. Those misperceptions arrived in Asia years before my brother did.
Two decades ago, he arrived in Taiwan to teach English as a second language, primarily to young adults. As an African-American fluent in Mandarin Chinese, he expected to encounter surprise and curiosity — and he was pretty sure people would want to touch his hair.
What he did not expect was the fear and anxiety that he encountered. His students, living half a world away from the U.S., were frightened by his presence and, more so, by his identity. They had never met a Black person, yet they held the same harmful stereotypes about him that are so prevalent here at home, an indelible association of Black people with criminality, malice and brutality.
In the years that followed, teaching in Taipei, Beijing and Shanghai, my brother finally unearthed a major source of those stereotypes: Hollywood.
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