Say it loud "I’m Black and I’m Proud" :Race and the City

When buying a pair of sweatpants, the owner gave me a bag with unsavory image of the store’s logo on it. It was of savage person, large lips and dressed like the cannibal images of yore that were used to depict mythical Africans long ago. When I declined to use it, only did the man realize the impact of the bag had on me. He offered up a quick apology, one that had no real meaning, and I left. I questioned my morals that whole day. Wondering should have I gotten my money back. Did the owner, think nothing of my feelings because I already given him my money? Like Ralph Ellison’s character in “Invisible Man.”, as I have moved more into adulthood I have had to deal with my own naive faith while fluctuating between disenchantment and stone cold reality.

Since being in Asia, I have notice that my self esteem has risen because I am treated as a person more often than not, and not as a skin color. In Japan, I noticed this when I came home on visits. Things that would be racists in nature or just ‘business as usual’ would not upset me. I could blow it off because I now knew how it felt to be treated with respect. But it was inevitable that I would encounter some familiar themes in race relations during my time in Japan. Ironically, I always experienced them when dealing with Japanese who 1) had spent time in a Western country or 2) had a lot of white western friends. I could be lax in my anger when dealing with the attitude I encountered, dismissing it as ignorance or whatever. Where I was less forgiving was the racism I encountered from my peers. It would dig deep under my skin that even thought it was proven, de facto of my being there with them, that I was not what who ever told them what about blacks. This would cause me to have occasional bouts of self doubt because I wonder if I was more concerned with being accepted rather than me dealing with authentic racism.

This week I have been dealing with more racism than I have care to or have been aware of. Beginning with being told by a man, that I wasn’t’t attractive because I was born with black skin.(He should take that one up with God, since I have no control over that. Nor the money to change it) to the images I see in stores, and the unspoken stuff that is in the conversations between myself and someone who’s Taiwanese. In the old days, having dark skin marked you as a person who worked outdoors, therefore marked you as lower class. This still holds true today, as old beliefs die hard. You will see ladies who work in the streets, bundled in clothing to protect them from the sun, even on the hottest days in Taiwan. Skin whiting products are everywhere in stores and on TV some model with near ivory skin is the epitome of beauty. Suddenly my rage has come to surface, and I find myself snapping at everyone, and very suspicious of every Taiwanese I encounter. Old wounds have been reopened and I’m feeling a “cussin out” coming on. But before I go that route, I asked my language exchange partner for some insight.

To ask for insight on why the Taiwanese have racist beliefs(or any face-losing subject) is akin to talking about that big pink ass elephant in the middle of the living room. After much prodding, he finally gave me the answer I was either looking for or something to shut me up. He told me that most of the Taiwanese take their cue from the West, particularly American culture. Alas, as far as I go, I seem not to be able to remove my grasp from it’s racial tentacles, yet it undeniable. I see it when I go to the night clubs, where Taiwanese boys dress like 50 cent, Snoop Dogg, etc and give me a nod and shake my hand like I’m a brother meeting another brother from da hood. I see it in their newspapers, in the sport section where the cartoon icons for the articles, have big lips, afros, dark skin-updated versions of sambo. Or recently in the news where an African was divorced from his Taiwanese wife after 2 years because ‘he was verbally abusing her’. Be that as it may, whether he was or not, having such an mundane activity in the news was their way to send a message to other Taiwanese girls about the dangers of being involved with blacks.

When I lived in Kaoshiung, I would occasionally watch MTV and noticed how much rap and hip hop was being played here. At first I was impressed, but then seeing how the TW interpreted that culture it began to wear on me and piss me off. I wanted to strangle someone and it wasn’t the TW. It was more like Puffy Daddy and clan because I could see the impact of the portrayals of blacks in these videos were having on blacks in the real world. For a race of people who don’t have vast amount of experience with dealing with blacks, they will take whatever is given to them. So, image having to deal their own beliefs combined with western beliefs via movies,videos or politics grounding itself deeper with time. I think I would fare better at a blue blood, old money republican family reunion than here sometimes. I realized that it is our responsibility as to how we are represented in the world. I can do my best to present another side of the coin, but I feel it’s a two steps forward and 10 steps back when you add in majority thought to the equation.

Blacks aren’t the only ones being singled out for this treatment. Ask any foreigner here, and they can tell you their own experience. Fact is Taiwan is an incredibly race/color conscious society. They even differentiate very distinctly between people of similar ethnic origin (sic). Yet, they are very resistant to acknowledging this reality. They find it okay to use stereotypical icons and ideals to represent foreigners or foreign ideas as if to supplement their low esteem or to sell their products. Problem is they can’t take it when it’s dished out to them. Point in case. Last Friday, I saw “Dodgeball” with a friend. The movie humorously and visually explains that dodgeball is an ancient game invented by the Chinese(who came up with idea while doing opium. The idea was to use decapitated heads as the ball. The entire theater was silent, expect for myself, my friend and a few other people(probably foreigners) who found this hilarious. Why couldn’t they have a good laugh at themselves I wondered? Maybe its because they could be so wrapped up in the belief that ‘they’ aren’t the outsiders, that it’s hard to see their own behavior mirrored back to them. I have yet to hear of any complaints about that part.

So, since I’m here for the meanwhile, how does one navigate thru it all and maintain their sanity? I guess I could do as my friend choose to do, last night while walking on the street, when we spotted in a cell phone store window, a pair of stereotypical tribal African figurines-don’t give it much thought. Or better, learn the rules of engagement.

5 comments on “Say it loud "I’m Black and I’m Proud" :Race and the City

  1. Thomas
    October 21, 2004

    I have met more than a few Taiwanese who have been to America and report feeling racially excluded, treated “differently”, looked at “differently”, etc. Some will say that it is known on the island that Americans will just not hire Taiwanese for racist reasons. So, lots of people ‘know’ racism. But possibly many don’t or at least the relative “weight” and “value” of racism may be different here from the USA. I can’t really tell, but I agree with you about the whitening products etc. and students openly tell me they wish they were whiter. Whatever I respond seems to have no real effect; it’s a deep drive to be white/pure/innocent. I don’t know that it all comes from the old: if you are dark its because you’re a laborer, poor, stupid, etc. There may be another source but I have no idea what it may be. There is acute awareness of race here as you say; European racism is always a live issue; American racism is different from both. I have been told by a European that they in Europe are “conscious” of rascism–they know it and fear it; but that in America, rascism is an “obsession”. That’s what I mean by different “weight” or “value”.

    Somehow there is a different relation to representation in general here, the East, than in America, or the West in general. More broadly, there is a different relation to appearance here than in the West. The difference shows up in their art and in the reception of representational art like movies. It’s iconic, and so it signifies a little differently. That’s why anime is so popular here but not so much in the west. No? And the absolute obsession with logos of all kinds, cartoons figures are everywhere. An icon is not exactly a representation. Representation in the West is a medium for thought, ideas, ideology, truth, as well as being purely graphically aesthetic. That’s why Westerners are so passionate about representations and fight about them, fight for them and against them, and why my students consider my attitude toward literature and film to be incomprehensibly overly serious. Icons behave differently, are a different economy which mystifies me–I can only see them as representations. Somehow whiteness itself is iconic. America itself is an icon. Puffy Daddy is iconic. (I am an icon: I am ‘Teacher’ with no article: I am neither definite nor indefinite.) None of these are “read into” as a representational thought-problem with social consequences. A representation is always an appearance of…some reality or some possible reality, but an icon is not of…anything else. I take the term ‘icon’ as the closest approximation I can think of.

    Let me sum this up quickly with a guess: it ultimately relates to fact the character based writing/the spoken language is of a different order than the alphabetical wrting/speaking division in the West.

  2. Maoman
    October 25, 2004

    You said:
    “Last Friday, I saw “Dodgeball” with a friend. The movie humorously and visually explains that dodgeball is an ancient game invented by the Chinese(who came up with idea while doing opium. The idea was to use decapitated heads as the ball. The entire theater was silent, expect for myself, my friend and a few other people(probably foreigners) who found this hilarious. Why couldn’t they have a good laugh at themselves I wondered? Maybe its because they could be so wrapped up in the belief that ‘they’ aren’t the outsiders, that it’s hard to see their own behavior mirrored back to them.”
    Maybe because it’s not that funny! 😉 I saw that movie last night, and while parts of it were ok, that particular joke did nothing for me, nor the other foreigners in the theatre. It wasn’t offensive, it was just bland.

  3. 纖毛蟲
    October 29, 2004

    Dear Jennifer,

    I think Taiwanese more or less have racism although people in Taiwan will not admit it. Probably they are even not aware that their views toward the people with darker skin colors are so wrong.

    But first, let me ask a question. What is the racism all about? To me, it’s about how to see a person different from yourself. Unfortunately, people in Taiwan are quite homogeneous–they are mainly Chinese immigrants, with less than 5% indigent people. Since Taiwanese don’t grow and live in an environment where people with different colors go to school, work and live together, they don’t know how to deal with them except based on some stereotypes imprinted in their mind. They don’t even pretend to be politically correct since there was no political correctness with respect to the skin colors! I guess this is why you might feel being better treated by a blue blood Republican than a Taiwanese.

    What are these stereotypes? Where are they from? Who made them? You may ask, and I ask myself, too. Some of them stem from the low self-esteem. When Taiwanese people look at white westerners, they respect them because they are from more powerful, more civilized, and more ‘superior’ cultures (of this time). When Taiwanese look at someone from Africa, South Asia or Indian China, they find a chance to be ‘better’ than their encountered because they’re from less economically developed nations. As a Taiwanese, it’s a shame that my people do that, but it’s the reality. I won’t deny it. With the growing awareness and with the foreseeing problems coming from the steer rising numbers of the foreign wives with Southeastern Asia origins if Taiwanese people don’t learn about some balanced views, I believe the issue is on the table now. Taiwanese people need to get (and will be) educated on the race issue. It just takes time.

    In addition to that, I believe the most influential biased images are brought by movies, TVs, music videos, and comics. Ironically, most of the bad ones, if not all, are imported from the US. I don’t like Jacky Chan’s movies recently made in Hollywood. In all his films made in the US, he always played a funny Asian guy based on a preexisting stereotype. He is silly but not humorous. He is funny but not sexy. He is not smart. He is not sophisticated. He is not somebody but a clown. A clown capable to do martial art fighting and stuns. That’s it. And in one film, his partner is an African American male. A ‘typical’ black guy you can find in American movies — very talkative, somehow annoying, and having a tendency to ruin decent plans. To me, the two colored guys (yellow and black) earned their money by amplifying and replicating the biased, stigma images of their own people. How could this happen, again and again?

    I’ve been staying in the US for 5 years. I feel I am treated differently by Americans from time to time. In this city which Asians are still the very minority, sometimes Americans were too polite to me; sometimes I was merely ignored like a non-existing person. Waiters and waitress at the restaurants served me well but seldom had a friendly conversation with me like they would do with other western customers. I was greeted when I went into a store at mall but received no further assistance that my American friends enjoyed. But I don’t blame them. I know what I would do to someone like you were I not coming to study in this country.

    I am sorry for the uncomfortable feelings that my people at home brought to you. It’s complicated. Sometimes we can learn things by being empathy, but I guess sometimes that’s not enough. We need the real experience. We have to get the real lessons from putting ourselves in an awful situation. Maybe we should be grateful because not everyone has such kind of chance.


  4. Anonymous
    April 22, 2005

    Your own reaction to decline a shopping bag is actually no different from the dodgeball reaction in theatre of TW people – if you really think about it. To Japanese or TW people, they don’t really see the image. All they see is a shopping bag. Yet, to a black person, it isn’t funny.In dodgeball scene, it just isn’t funny to the rest of audience.In both instances, there is no intentional disrespect. But, it is just insensitive, at which point it does not occur to them and you someone’s feelings are hurt.

  5. JB
    June 8, 2005

    It’s funny and pathetic to see how, in my time in Asia, to see kids emulate “black ghetto culture” because of MTV and hip-hop music (or hippity hop as the father in CB4 says). Or how in rural America, you hear about kids who form gangs and speak “ghetto”. To be sure, some of the language has crossed over so much that is is sometimes hard to avoid, but to dress “ghetto”, pretend you’re black, and then treat strangers who happen to be black as your bros and sistas is just asking to be beat down. But it’s also a curious reaction to see in people when they meet black people in the street: is he a cool rapping, balling mofo, or should I be shitting bricks cuz he’s a thug that’s gonna rob me, beat me, or con me.

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This entry was posted on October 20, 2004 by in Uncategorized.
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