Imagine if you boarded a bus and no-one would sit beside you, or if you were rejected from a job for blatantly superficial reasons. Berthold Winkler faces such issues day in and day out, and has made a video to prove it.
Simply titled “Problems Black People Face In China,” the Ghanaian BLCU student recorded of one of his bus commutes on his phone, where the seat beside him remained empty while numerous Chinese passengers decided to stand instead. The video went viral and has since gone on to prompt plenty of viewers to comment, some applauding the vlogger, and others only choosing to demean him further.
“A lot of people that comment on my videos insult me, especially on Chinese social media because many Chinese people don’t want to be corrected,” says Winkler, who cheekily goes by “Mr. Wode Maya” online. He goes on to tell us about some of the backlash to his clips, some of which was so fervent that he now only posts on YouTube and avoids Chinese channels entirely. But he adds that netizens often “take my videos and post them on Chinese social media anyway, where they get a lot of negative comments from people who think China is great.”
The clip also, however, got plenty of more reassuring comments from other viewers, both foreign and Chinese. And many of Winkler’s other videos aren’t quite so polarizing; on the contrary, ones about him speaking Chinese or white privilege amount to little more than him cracking wise and trying to win over participants with hugely warm, albeit frequently goofy, personality.
Winkler’s best video of all may very well be his most recent, where he strikes the write balance between humor and a deeper message by asking to interview Chinese passersby, asking them where various celebrities come from. When they assume Charlize Theron is European, and only to be shocked when he tells them she’s African, the viewer gets a candid glimpse at one of China’s biggest misconceptions, without preaching or being condescending to the interviewee.
It’s obvious at a glance that that video is Winkler’s latest, because it has a sharper message and a more nuanced approach, especially compared to his silly earlier clips, boding well for his future as a fun and thoughtful online commentator. Some viewers might dismiss his earlier videos as falling far short of that mark, however, especially one clip that begins with a picture of his wearing white face. Though the clip doesn’t feature any footage of him in such provocative paint, instead only its thumbnail image, that decision nevertheless would offend some viewers or come across as schlocky shock value.
But Winkler has a surprisingly thoughtful explanation for that decision, saying it was prompted by a brazen Taobao ad where a Chinese woman uses skin whitening cream on a black man to show how effective it is. “I know it’s sensitive, but I was just doing it for fun and to draw attention to the problems of that earlier ad,” he says.
At the very least, Winkler’s YouTube channel showcases a bold and distinctive point of view, one with entertaining jokes and biting humor, one where he at times lunges at boundaries and at others lays out nuanced arguments. The dialogues and debates that he prompts also seem to be more than necessary, especially given the approval of black commentors who post about going through many of the same issues depicted in his clips.
“For me, it’s just about clearing misconceptions and opening mindsets,” Winkler says, adding: “It’s also about the joy of engaging with people and sometimes changing their minds.