Thursday, July 12, 2007

backpedalwhoa (+ racismboo)

So, after my last post, in which I whine and whinge about how unfair life is for poor me, I feel that I must balance out the perspective a bit, as I so often fail to do. Because, to be fair, many of my relatives are purely wonderful, kind-hearted people. Many of them realize that I am different, have grown up in a different culture, and make the effort to understand me. And that is something I truly appreciate, because, really, we are not really all that different, all of us.

I can also understand that they are a conservative clan, having grown up in the circumstances they did, and holding many traditional views about gender roles, respect, education, and filial piety. I am, I know, not as patient as I could be in accepting these cultural differences between me and my relatives.

As of now, all I can do is continue communicating with them, having these talks where we work to understand each other, as I have often had with my aunts regarding dating and race. They are often bemused, or perhaps amused, by my "equal opportunity dating" stance. And while I am not trying to excuse the often blatant racism that exists in Taiwan, I can understand that any homogeneous, conservative society is inevitably going to have difficulty accepting "outsiders" in their midst. I am hoping, through these conversations with my relatives, to help widen that acceptance margin.

And not only are the outsiders of Taiwan many (i.e. all non-East-Asians), but they are also ranked on a graded scale of acceptability. I would say Caucasians are probably at the top, most likely to be accepted (or at least pardoned) by locals here. And, here is no big surprise, dark-skinned and black people rank very low on this scale.

I walk to and from ShiDa every day and see the conglomeration of all these different races, coming for language exchange opportunities, and I love seeing that kind of diversity. But, then I wonder, once they leave the confines of the university and surrounding district, what must it be like to be so starkly different - physically, culturally, and even mentally?

Well, maybe Kevin is right and the current generation is not willing to blindly follow their predecessors into becoming drones of education, and I hope that also means they are more open-minded. I am not seeing that, but of course any change will take time. I am only going to be here for three months, after all.

In all of this, I cannot help but be reminded that, half a globe away back at campus, I have a friend, a black male, who is interested in Chinese and economics and politics, and has this crazy vision of rallying the Asian-Americans to fight for their rights and against racial discrimination in the United States.

Right, well, I think I've babbled on long enough. I have a trip to Thailand to prepare for, and so I will be offline for the next 5 days. What a refreshing change of pace.


T.S. Tang said...
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T.S. Tang said...

"I would say Caucasians are probably at the top, most likely to be accepted (or at least pardoned) by locals here. And, here is no big surprise, dark-skinned and black people rank very low on this scale."

Bullseye. I think this really needed to be brought up at some point. I don't think people here are generally aware that there's such a concept as postcolonialism, and that this kind of self-racism/"secondary colonialism" carries imperial flavors. Most (Caucasian) expatriates here are extraordinarily cool people, but this kinda value system lends itself to abuse to those who are less inclined to act respectfully. I've seen rowdy expatriates walking into the most upscale sushi joints/clubs/bars in Taipei as if it was their inborn entitlement to travel across Asia reaping its luxuries and VIP accomodations and assuming that everyone worth talking to in town speak on their terms (in English).

When I confront local people about this, they usually gladly admit to their racism/sexism/classim and treat it as some charming flaw of theirs or something. They're often huge self-Orientalists too, explaining their own timid/rigid/uncreative traits (if they have them) as "typically Asian." This is so ideologically unsound that it blows my mind.

Dark skinned people get very different treatment. I think there's a book floating out there called Black in Taiwan, written by an African American author on his expatriate experience. Consider again that a lot of immigrant labor here is from Southeast Asia (a seemingly invisible and voiceless population in Taipei) and the prejudice becomes twicefold.

That's why I'm very glad that Pots Weekly is enjoying such a flourishing readership across college campuses. Forgive its occasional Village Voice-esque tabloid silliness -- it's a morally serious paper that's yet to express a political opinion that does not foster tolerance.