London Mayor Sadiq Khan has responded to last week’s controversy over a shockingly racist article published in the inflight magazine of China’s flagship carrier, Air China.
In case you missed it, the offensive paragraph shared around the world was taken from a feature article about visiting London published in Air China’s inflight magazine “Wings of China” this month. While most of the feature was either innocuous or silly, under a section titled “Tips from Air China,” the article gave this helpful advice:
“London is generally a safe place to travel, however precautions are needed when entering areas mainly populated by Indians,Pakistanis and black people. We advise tourists not to go out alone at night, and females always to be accompanied by another person when traveling.”
The offending article was first noticed by Chinese journalist Haze Fan and then published online by CNBC. Before that, Fan shared the photograph of the article on her Twitter account, asking the mayor of London what he thought about its description of his city.
To make things even more awkward. Khan comes from a working class British Pakistani family and frequently talks and blogs about his favorite places to eat in Tooting, a neighborhood in South London dominated by Pakistani and Indian shops. Over the weekend, a spokesman for the mayor had this to say:
“London is one of the safest cities in the world and Londoners from different backgrounds living side by side is one of our greatest strengths.”
The spokesman added that Khan was “pleased that the magazine has now been withdrawn.” Responding to the international backlash over the article, Air China removed all copies of the offensive mag and issued a non-apology, blaming the magazine’s publisher for the incident and saying that publications on its flight do not represent its own views (even when published under the heading “Tips from Air China”).
The “Wings of China” publisher has fallen on the sword, apologizing to Air China for damaging the company’s brand and to those readers who were made “uncomfortable” by the article, blaming the offending passage on the carelessness of their editors.
China’s Foreign Ministry even weighed in on the controversy, saying that China “opposes all forms of racial discrimination.”
Yesterday, the nationalistic tabloid, the Global Times, also weighed in with an editorial, writing that the Air China article was not actually racist, but merely reflected Chinese people’s “unawareness of racial issues” due to lack of exposure. With typical GT flair the editorial begins like this:
“As British ministers plan to build a ‘Great Wall’ in Calais to fend off Afghan and Sudanese refugees camped in France, they have not forgotten to kindly remind others of showing humanity to different races.”