Cartoons for Black Children in China
Can you be a black person who comes from Asia? The world has never seen this person, who is coming into being right now as I am writing this. For young black people who are being born and raised in this part of the world, the task set before them is exciting and daunting all at once. Black people who come from Asia are assigned the task of creating an identity for themselves. This may be a frightening prospect, especially because there is not much to go off of.
One key, crucial component in forging an identity is representation. In Asia, specifically in China, we almost never see black people on TV. When black people are represented on TV, it usually comes in the form of negative or offensive stereotypes. Combating these negative ideas is one of the reasons why Ashley Brown and her husband started Mandarin on That Beat. MOTB uses rhythm and dance to teach Mandarin Language. Most of their students are not from China.
Mandarin on That Beat is a very fun and engaging platform which is geared more toward kids because of the way it is designed. It uses animation. It uses popular nursery rhymes that are recognizable in English or in Chinese. It delivers very small particles of a notoriously difficult language as a means of simplifying the learning process. Students are able to digest the language in small bits which are easier to retain. This method is also a lot more fun that using rote memorization.
MOTB does quite a few, very brilliant things at the same time. Mandarin is a tonal language. It makes perfect sense to teach this language, to non-native speakers using music. Adding dance moves to the lessons helps the students to retain the meanings of words and phrases a lot more easily. Moreover, it instills pride and validation in our children out here. Children who are mixed- otherwise called Blasian- and black children who are being raised out here are everywhere and they are growing in number every day.
For these children, they are something unique that does not, just now, exist in the world. Where is their voice? How can the world understand these people and how will they come to understand themselves? How will they navigate this identity that is now being formed? Will they make an identity for themselves or will they come to accept an identity that has been created for them by the respective societies in which they live? Learning with MOTB is a way of getting them started on their journey.
The animation that Ashley uses on her platform is magical. Cartoons are a medium that directly speaks to children. Here young, melinated children can see themselves using the Chinese language. Language belongs to everyone who wants to use it. With only a handful of images of black people in Chinese media, is China making the statement that this language is not for black people to use? MOTB is the only place I know, where black children can get the kind of encouragement they need in using this language and owning this language for themselves. This platform is more than necessary in giving our children in Asia a voice and a sense of belonging.
From Ashley’s own words, she would like to see the whole world singing her songs and dancing to her beats. This is a very lofty and ambitious goal. Given Ashley’s talent and that she has her family behind her, I’m confident that she will be successful. More than that, Ashley is sending a very clear message through her platform. For young black and Blasian children, the Chinese language is just as much theirs as it is anyone’s from anywhere, including China.