White Privilege, Money, and Spare Tires

My name is Randy and I’m moving to China. Read about the things I do while I get ready to embark.

January 26, 2017

Wei Laoshi and the Chinese 202 class at Boise State University

Vice News’s Morgan Hartley and Chris Walker wrote in 2014 that if you are a white English speaker, you may be guaranteed a teaching job in China, and that “many schools will hire you without any prior experience, teaching credentials, or a working visa.” The writers themselves were offered multiple teaching jobs during their stay, some offers even coming from people walking past them on the street.

As I continue to read about living in China, the advantages associated with being white surprises me more and more. At least, it’s kind of hard to miss in the mainstream media. From time to time, some major news outlet will post an article about Chinese companies ‘renting’ white foreigners, or someone will write an op-ed piece on color discrimination in colonial-minded Hong Kong.

I spent much of my day yesterday at Boise State accompanying Chinese classes on guitar as they practiced songs for their performances at China Night on Chinese New Year. After class was over, I went out to eat with my old Chinese teacher, and we discussed what opportunities I might have in China. Inevitably, my tall-with-blonde-hair-blue-eyes “phenotypical lottery jackpot” was brought into play before long. Girls will fall head-over-heels for me as my list of spare tires (Chinese term for “backup girlfriends”) grows, and new opportunities for social and economic advancement will litter my every path.

I’ll take all that with a grain of salt, but I think it does add some interesting color to my picture of China. My teacher recommended that I consider being a real-time translator, and she’s not the first Chinese person to recommend it. She told me that once I establish a reputation for myself as an interpreter, I could make up to RMB10,000 or more per hour. That equates to something like $1,500 per hour, which is an excellent wage by any standard. If I were good enough, I could even work at the UN, where I could be a fly on the wall (or babelfish in the fishbowl, ahem) in one of the most complex political machines in the world. However, simultaneous translation is a bit down the road, yet.

Meanwhile, as Vice News pointed out, I stand to make more money as a teacher than an equivalently qualified teacher with darker skin. (Read: anybody else.)

This brings to mind the recent discussions of white privilege in America. Whatever the case may be where white people are the majority, the advantage is much clearer if you’re white in an Asian country—but all this is only speculation for me. It’s something I’ll be interested to observe over the next year. After all, who doesn’t need a spare tire?