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Racism in Taiwan?

Recently when strolling about arm in arm with my honey, I’m encountering some hostile looks. Mostly from women, around my age, who are reasonably attractive. They stare at me without smiling. It’s so obvious that Mike has noticed it too, and commented on it.

It is very strange though, for we (or mainly, me) did not receive such glares in the previous seasons. So it might have something to do with. A: Winter B: My advanced and obvious stage of gestation C: Mike’s increasing attractiveness.

Concerning A: It’s winter, the time of the year when people who are single particularly feel the need to have a warm person, thus there is greater angst against couples and PDA in general.

If the issues is B. I’m getting increasingly pregnant, to the point where there’s no hiding it.

Profiling Taipei 101: Very pregnant lady

But, as Mike has noticed, there has been an increase in waddlers in this city. So my pregnancy should not be an issue for consternation. (btw, I’ve noticed that people who give me their seats on public transportation are overwhelmingly women around childbearing age. Another topic to explore!) A particularly twisted explanation for this would then be the fact that we’re an inter-racial couple, and I’ve staked my claim on this particularly desirable white man with my prominent belly. How crude. How absolutely conniving.

C. Mike’s Increasing Attractiveness. Which would increase the jealousy argument for case B. I do think he’s much improved since he married me. I find my husband strangely and increasingly attractive of late. Perhaps it’s the lovely small facial hair that increases his ruggedness. His fit form in long black stockings that somehow puts me in mind of a statue of a Roman centurion, his lovely clear eyes as he kisses me goodbye in the morning… But then, I don’t think I am impartial judge.

In any case, I would consider jealousy of inter-racial relationships a form of racism (also, hostility towards inter-racial couples). Racism is, I maintain, an issue that hasn’t been properly addressed in Taiwanese education on human rights or history. Mostly because we’re taught Chinese ethics, which is tied in with Chinese history, which is inherently racist (China is the Center of the world, and all other nations and peoples of lesser breeding and might —> to the recent decades of –> The West came in with their big guns and defeated us with their superior Western culture! Oh my!). I’ve been looking at some arguments of the situation in blogs across the web. And I daresay that most of them are imperfect. In fact, it is nearly impossible to offer a good excuse/explanation/argument/bashing of racism here in Asia. Too much of it is tied in with emotional responses of pride and the ever-present notions of self-superiority due to having the ‘correct morals’ of not being a racist.

In fact, I believe that people who even discuss the issue are either slightly racist themselves, or have some morbid fascination with the interaction of what can be called societal idealism v.s. the putrid reality of human inclination. Today we may call it a scholarly interest, an intellectual debate, and in the attempt to appear concerned for societal health, strive to come to conclusions about the causes that could hypothetically induce a cure. It is an intensely self-interested endeavor.

This fascination has previously shielded studies in eugenics. Mike has very little interest in discussing the fact that our son will be a mixed-race child, or even using the term, because it denotes the existence of race and the attendant issues. I find it interesting from a genetic standpoint – but I also must admit that I must have some of the fallacies of racism that make the issue far more than a medical interest – but also an issue of social structuring. Every conflict of interest in sociology is a matter of power. The question is, if we choose to propagate this discussion, will it make us better people? (A mind examined) Or is it merely an indulgence of our inner vices and outer morality?

It would be facile for me to say that I didn’t marry Mike for his Caucasian bloodline. It is who he is, and we cannot easily separate our beloveds, once their person become so much etched in our hearts, from their physical realities. I admit the idea of having a child with a person of so obviously distant lineage than my own is appealing due to the strengthening effect diverse genetics holds. I could point to people I’ve dated in the past as examples of my lack of racism. But all I can say is that in meeting Mike, I feel extremely fortunate to be with a man whom I hold in the highest regard, whose every gesture strengthens my affection, and who can also be my best friend.

So really, the glares do not perturb me much. Whatever sentiment is but shallow in my eyes.

11 responses »

  1. Oh boy, I can really go on and on about this subject, BUT I won’t. We too are on the “not so nice” end of rude looks, remarks and such, being that we have Ethiopian/black children. Also, if you could believe it, we have had a fair number of folks tell us outright how our severly special needs child (CP, siezures, blind, and so many other disabilities) is really not a worthwhile human being. He is seen as an object and we have been reminded how if he were born here in the USA he would likely have been aborted.
    We love living here in northern VA as interacial families are very accepted, more so then other places. When we visit Long Island that is not the case at all!I chaulk it up to ignorance and stupidity, and usually I don’t have the words to respond because even though we have experienced this behavior over the last 5 years I’m still so surprised when it happens. I’m speechless.
    I think since we live in an area here in VA where most of the folks are well educated, when they react like that I can only assume that they are “educated morons”. Being book smart and holding a high educational degree/job title does not buy one class or etiquette.
    This is obviously something that is somewhat of a sore subject to me but I feel that as long as you and Michael are a strong foundation for your family that is all that matters. Sometimes I think people are just shallow.
    As you know, I think very highly of Michael, he was always a special person in my life. I haven’t met you yet but enjoy your posts and like to read what you write. I for one am very excited that Michael most certainly found his match. (you both seem perfect for each other) Your baby will be truly blessed to be born into your family.

    Warmly,
    Maria

    Reply
    • I’ve read about cases where people who have adopted children of a different race (or give birth to children who have different skin color) are given dirty looks. It seems very strange to me as America is suppose to be this ‘melting pot’, ‘salad bowl’ and respect the rights of individuals. The fact seems to be that senses of superiority and lack of reason seem to still prevail among people. I believe that people only learn empathy for others when they hear/read stories that give them a chance to be in someone else’s shoes, or when they experience something similar. For example, Mike takes really good care of me when I’m experiencing hip problems or difficulty walking with the pregnancy and when the contractions started – and that I think is due to the fact that he has previously experienced hip and stomach muscle problems that helps him understand how it can feel painful to walk in such situations. For this I’m extremely grateful. I find it admirable that you and your husband were willing to adopt kids that need the most care. What triggered this?

      I feel that it is a constant struggle for us as humans to overcome our base instincts, for example prizing the strong over the weak, and being xenophobic. You’re right that having a higher degree of education doesn’t solve this.

      Reply
    • Jean christophe levy

      You are right. I am the father of 3 kids here, my wife is Taiwanese and i have been abused by the police and gouvernment in Taiwan. They do all they can to put me down just because i am a foreigner. help! This s a real scandal. Thx for your understanding. Jc

      Reply
  2. Sorry to hear about your experience. I don’t think Chinese ethics is inherently racist. There were times in the past, like the Tang Dynasty when people were quite open-minded. I think the current problems have more to do with, as you noted yourself, modern history of the ethnic Chinese people. It’s a pretty tragic one whether you are from Taiwan, China or any other ethnic Chinese areas. It seems many (not all) ethnic Chinese have a love/hate relationship with Westerners. A mixture of self-hating, jealousy and self-doubt. It can be quite unhealthy. However, I think as all of these places start to get better and become more affluent both materially and spiritually (and Taiwan has already achieved a great deal), things probably will get better. Of course, when it comes to demographics, East Asian countries are generally much more homogeneous compared to Western countries. It can be both good and bad. Yet, not having many different races and ethnicites in your society means that the spread of potential racial, ethnic discrimination becomes much easier. But that’s how things are. Well, I wish you best of luck.

    David

    Reply
    • I agree with you completely David! In many ways, Taiwan is still a young nation forming its own identity. I am, however, very optimistic about our increasing maturity. There are so many people I meet who impress me with their thoughtfulness and care for the future of our society, particularly in the environmental and civic rights groups that our organization has been working with recently. As we say “One type of rice raises many different types of people.” Upon looking back, my experience in this blog entry can only be regarded as anecdotal.

      Reply
  3. I came across your posting since I had visited Taipei just a couple of days ago. I had a great experience but was wondering if there issues of racism like any other east asian nation.
    Interestingly, I saw skin whitening products in the 89th floor of Taipei 101 ! Also, there is a Chinese saying “white skin covers up a hundred uglinesses (cnngo.com)” I am wondering if your experience was jealousy. Perhaps the other girls just wondered how did you end up with a caucasian ? As a dark skinned individual I would say that most East Asians nations have not followed Martin Luther King’s idealism….

    Reply
    • The concept of racism seems to put many social phenomenons under a moral prism that may or may not be relevant, and sometimes make unjust what was originally just. This seems to hold true for all prejudices: gender, height, weight, minorities…etc. Difficult topics, but very much worth considering, if only to consciously sideline our own biases.

      However, I believe the aesthetic preference for whiter skin in our culture came before the concept of race ever penetrated our society (which in many ways for Taiwanese daily life, still hasn’t). I find it comparable for the desirability of being tanned in the West; and telling that, despite being tanned was considered attractive, it didn’t seem to change the desirability or undesirability of mating with ethnically darker skinned people. So in essence, I would consider this a separate issue. Does it factor in people’s mate choice here?… sometimes yes, unfortunately. But the greater differentiation I have observed in Taiwan seems to be that there are just two groups of people: Those who won’t ever consider marrying a foreigner with the contingent cultural and possibly language issues involved, and those who don’t mind. The ones that are determined to marry a foreigner and not a Taiwanese I would consider a very extreme minority.

      Taiwan is rather homogenous, so racial diversity isn’t something that even enters our consciousness for the most part.

      Recently, a girl sitting next to me on the MRT told me that her friend really wanted a mixed baby too. I pasted a smile on my face, as this seems a common sentiment. But then she added: “What she really wants is a mixed baby with a black person. She finds black mixed babies incredibly adorable.”

      So maybe this generation is getting better? Or there is still a longer way to go: To move beyond preference to not viewing ethnicity as relevant at all. A human is a human is a human.

      Reply
      • Very much agree – a human is a human no matter what. A few months back, I saw a Hong Kong lady (in her 30s) walking with a black child. She may have adapted the child, but she was walking with him with great joy and pride. I have to sat it felt good. Lets hope the younger generation does not judge people by ones pigmentation.

        I think one observation I had in Hong Kong was the different treatment caucasians have in dance clubs-and hence I that equate (perhaps wrongly) the willingness to mate with a darker individual does factor in ones decision…. Of course that does not reflect the whole society, but someone dark like me, is marginalized in certain social contents due to the preference of certain ethnicity. In Taiwan, I did not quite see that. However, a south asian engineering who had lived in Taiwan did tell me that he was glad to have received a job offer in the US and was happy to leave….However, one always must be optimistic….:)

      • The population (in Taiwan at least) that I observed who go to dance clubs are not at all representative of the entire population. Not that I have anything against people who club. It is still, culturally, a less popular activity here. Outside the dance club, there is a higher resistance to dating foreigners, especially if there is a language barrier. It behooves the foreigner, then, to make extra effort in courting.

        Best of luck!

  4. Thanks for writing this. I too have a mixed-race marriage. Supposedly, for a white male in Taiwan, I lead a life of privilege and favor. Well, like any good lie, this one the Taiwanese people tell themselves is mostly true, but I’ve been here ten years, and the racism was jaw-dropping from the start.

    Most people I interact with here in Taiwan are wonderful, and I suppose that may be because people who don’t like me don’t interact with me, other than, as you described, the dirty looks, finger pointing, etc. Most of the racism I witnessed from people I knew was either well intended or directed toward someone else. When I tried to caution them, they just dismissed it as nothing. They laughed and poo-poohed the whole thing.

    It’s like the Taoyuan County Councilor Lu Lin Hsiao-feng (呂林小鳳), who denied that residents wanted foreign workers to leave because of racial discrimination.

    “It has nothing to do with discrimination,” she said. “With 460 households and more than 1,000 residents, Rueilian is a peaceful community. They are merely worried that clashes could happen because of these foreign workers, with their different skin color and different culture, going in and out of the community.”

    The jaw dropping part was that these guys had no clue they were being racist.

    Strangers also make derogatory and outright racist remarks in my presence, assuming I don’t understand Chinese or not caring if I do. The Chinese language media has it’s racist orgies now and then, talking about how foreigners are losers who couldn’t make it in their own countries, who beat their women, mistreat them and cheat on them — warning young Taiwanese women to stay away from them. Again, like any good lie, it has more than a grain of truth. One can find a lot of examples of foreign guys behaving badly, but I sincerely doubt the statistical probability is any greater for foreign guys than for Taiwanese guys.

    It doesn’t directly affect me, as I’m not in the dating scene. I met my wife in America and then came here. We’ve been married ten years, and we have a wonderful relationship. I also enjoy wonderful relationships with Taiwanese friends and clients, but in public, I feel the eyes on me always, and I’m not talking about friendly eyes. I also feel the racism and xenophobia have increased recently.

    Anyway, congratulations on your baby. I’m guessing he or she must be more than a year old now.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing your viewpoint! My husband always says that he is very aware how being white and male makes him privileged in many places, and he doesn’t view it lightly.

      It’s unfortunate that an issue like that did not get more hype in the media than the issue about the neighborhood leader 里長 rejecting a cancer facility in his district because “it’s a lie that cancer isn’t contagious.”

      There doesn’t seem to be an opening/cause in Taiwan currently for us to examine racism… nor does it in China. Unless there is a triggering point for the issue to be examined – without attendant false emotional controversies that usually divide rather than inform public opinion, I suppose it will only get better with time and contact, and increased integration of different peoples into our relatively homogenous communities.

      Reply

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