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Why Black People Are Learning Chinese

October 7, 2011

Why Black People Are Learning Chinese

A growing number recognize that it will be a crucial skill for competing in the global marketplace.

  • By: Abdul Ali | Posted: October 7, 2011 at 12:01 AM
Why Black People Are Learning Chinese

Damon Woods (top row, third from left) with colleagues (Courtesy of Damon Woods)

When Zuri Patterson, a second-grader, entered her new classroom the first day of school, butterflies traveled the length of her stomach right before she made formal introductions to her new classmates.

“We say Ni Hao [pronounced “nee-how”], which means “hello” in Chinese,” said the 7-year-old attending the Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School, a Mandarin-immersion school in the northeast quadrant of the nation’s capital.

The second-grader’s mother, Qwanda Patterson, an international traveler, told The Root, “We plan to take her to China on her 10th birthday. When I travel to Europe or Africa, everyone speaks at least two languages. Why can’t we?”

In today’s economic climate, in which black unemployment is in the double digits, one way to give the next generation of black graduates a competitive edge is to think outside one’s borders — more globally — and learn Mandarin Chinese. Today’s black graduates aren’t competing only with their white American counterparts anymore. The landscape has changed radically in a relatively short span of time. Black graduates must now compete with their cohorts from places like China.

The past few decades have made Zuri’s first day of school a familiar scene across the nation for many students of color living in urban areas like the District of Columbia, where black students make up about half of the children enrolled in the Washington Yu Ying Public Charter School.

Earlier this year, Michelle Obama gave a speech at Howard University urging students to take advantage of study-abroad programs as part of President Obama’s “100,000 Strong” Initiative, which seeks to increase and diversify the number of U.S. students studying in China.

Read more here.


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