This afternoon, my xiao laoban or “little boss” asked me to come to a government event for local entrepreneurs. “I have classes,” I said, but LB said I could cancel those, no problem. I was curious, so I didn’t protest too much.
I suspected the reason why my presence was desired but they were made clear when my roommate came home. She’s going to the event too, and I asked her what it was about. “I don’t really know,” she said, “but my boss said that it would be great if you came. Everyone there likes foreigners.”
I read this as something along the lines of, “Having and displaying a foreign employee makes our company look good.”
The work I’m here to do, English-language training, is truly a part of the “internationalism” I’m meant to represent. Still, this company is already international – there are many employees from all over Asia here.
But I am white. It’s hard not to notice that in the advertisements my company runs are filled with Caucasian actors. Internationalism and openness to the world are great things, and I think they are things my employers truly desire. But using white people as props to connote these things?
From what I’ve seen here, the vast majority of my company’s prospective customers are Chinese. Why would a Chinese company market to (mostly) Chinese consumers by putting Caucasians front and center?
It’s hard out there for a company that wants to use foreigners to market itself as cosmopolitan and international when the barriers of language remain serious obstacles (definitely not too many fluent-in-Chinese, non-Chinese foreigners out there to hire as something other than an English teacher).
Title for this post inspired by The Company Bitch, one of my favourite blogs of all time (though it stopped updating long ago).