Chocolate teacher

I walked into class the other day, and was greeted with “Hello Chocolate Teacher!!!”

Say Whaaaaat???  Seriously??  I was taken aback with this blatantly racist comment, and had to take a breath to get over my initial shock.The kids were smiling at me innocently, all proud with their new accomplishment and waiting for my response.

“Ohhh…very clever!!! Who made up the name?”

“Meeee!!!” one of the cute little innocent racists raises her hand “Chocolate teacher…hee hee.”

It happened to be one of the brightest kids in the class, and her little face was beaming with {insert racist organization here} pride.

Well, not really.  She had no idea what her words imply.  To her, it’s just calling a spade, a spade (I am a darker shade of brown, a delicious chocolate moccha, if you will).

I found it mildly disturbing that a 12 year old wasn’t aware of basic racial issues, and this got me thinking about racial discrimination in Taiwan.

Positive discrimination

I already knew that Caucasians have an advantage here.  Racial discrimination toward white people is of the positive kind.  Taiwanese are enamoured with them, so if you are white, you can speak and act like a drooling monkey and still get more job opportunities than a hard working, intelligent person of colour.  Blonde hair and blue eyes will also greatly increase your chances of panty removal from the local females.  Like this guy:

While this is changing in the cities (due to increased exposure to foreigners and increased awareness of other cultures), small town Taiwan is still far behind.  In general, there is not a whole lot of education about international affairs or the western world (except the overdose of English lessons, of course), so a lot of rural Taiwanese have NO clue what western culture is like.  Just like a lot of us in the west have NO idea what Taiwanese culture is like.

So, because of this lack of knowledge, when foreigners behave badly or obnoxiously, some ultra-polite Taiwanese accept this as “western” and figure it’s normal in western society, so it’s ok.  Then again, some dont’t even recognize it as idiocy because of the massive cultural differences in behaviour.  Face and excessive politeness strike again!!!

Also, this lack of knowledge about foreign affairs creates an ignorance of most racial issues.  They just call it as they see it (uninformed as that may be) without any thought to delicacy.  It became glaringly obvious to me when someone called me “Obama”.  He was joking of course, and I  took it as such, but in fact, I look nothing like Obama.  I’m not even African American.  He categorized me as a black person because I’m dark.

So really, in my case it hasn’t been positive or negative racism, but more just a benign, uneducated racism…if that makes any sense.

Negative discrimination

That being said, negative racial discrimination does exist here.  The aboriginals (like aboriginals everywhere) have a bad go of it.  They are seen as primitive and uncivilized.

In addition, Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino…people of any Asian country “lower” on the development scale than Taiwan are generally thought of as lower class and uneducated.  A contributing factor to this view is probably the influx of foreign labour from Taiwan’s semi-conductor boom.  Most of the people that came were working class foreign labourers, so some Taiwanese (even though they won’t admit it) look down on them as inferior and uncivilized.

Sometimes this boils down to just not liking some behaviours.  Taiwanese are quiet and reserved while Filipinos and Thais can be loud and boisterous.  One person told me that they don’t like members of these 2 races for just that reason.

In contrast to this, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore are all raised on pedestals because they are viewed as successful.

Concerning black people, I have heard many things, so I am not entirely sure where they stand with the general Taiwanese population.  I would imagine that since Taiwan loves fair skin (side note – some of the women walk around with umbrellas on sunny days so that their skin doesn’t get dark), black people do have some problems with opportunities, but I think that is slowly changing.  Again, not entirely sure.

Passive discrimination

Apart from all this,  there is a sort of passive, or neutral racism here.  It doesn’t matter if you’re black, white or brown; just being foreign is enough to qualify for this discrimination.

People stare at you, especially when you first arrive.  They want to take pictures with you and point you out to their friends.  This isn’t really harmful, but it makes some people REALLY uncomfortable.  The Taiwanese (many of who have never even seen a foreign face before) don’t mean anything by it, just curiosity and a different understanding of personal boundaries.

Regardless of their intent, this scrutiny is so pointed, that some feel more like an alien than a foreigner.  Already having to deal with deep culture shock and missing home, this unintended discrimination adds on to the stresses of some foreigners.

I’m happy to say that all the discrimination I have had so far has been neutral or positive.  Taiwan has been (in regards to discrimination) a great go up to now.


5 Responses to “Chocolate teacher”

  1. 1 tokumori December 4, 2012 at 6:29 pm

    Taiwan’s probably a bit more friendly to foreigners than, say, Japan or Korea. That being said, racism and racial discrimination isn’t big in most people’s minds because the population is largely homogenous and foreigners aren’t expected to assimilate. But ask someone coming back from a trip abroad and they’ll probably have a story or two about how they were discriminated against, so it’s not like they’re not aware of the concept; they just don’t connect one with the other.

  2. 2 Annie March 10, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Thank you for sharing your story. As someone who has moved back to Taiwan (my family moved to the US when I was young), I have experienced countless discrimination during my job search.

    I learned very quickly that when a job advertisement is searching for a “foreign” teacher, employers simply mean “white” teacher. The ugly truth is that if you’re not white, it’s difficult to get a job in Taiwan.

    Last year, I filed a report with the Taipei Labor Department against a school who would not hire me because of the way I look. I won the case, and the school was fined 10,000NT. I think that if more people fought back against this system where discrimination is happening openly and casually, then things can change. I also truly believe that this backwards attitude can dissolve with exposure and education.

    With those things in mind, I started a Facebook community, where members are not only supporting each other, but also focused on taking action.

    Here is a recent Taipei Times article on our group. Please feel free to join us and share your voice on the issue!

  3. 4 Name November 8, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    “I am a darker shade of brown, a delicious chocolate moccha, if you will).”

    How is an innocent child calling you chocolate teacher any more offensive than you referring to yourself as “delicious chocolate moccha”? Is it the absence of delicious?

    He is unaware of racial issues because for him, this isn’t one. Feel free to scar him for life by calling him a racist for comparing your skin to one of his favorite things in life.

    Oh, and thanks for implying all white guys that go abroad are entitled idiots looking to steal jobs from more worthy candidates while trying to sexually harvest the local population. Hypocrisy is by far my favorite sin.

    • 5 islandsidechronicles January 4, 2014 at 12:57 am

      I’m sorry you got this impression from the post – it was supposed to be more of a tongue-in-cheek story of an incident that happened in class. To address your concern regarding the child, I’ll refer you to what I wrote in the post.

      “It happened to be one of the brightest kids in the class, and her little face was beaming with {insert racist organization here} pride.
      Well, not really. She had no idea what her words imply. To her, it’s just calling a spade, a spade…”

      I don’t really think of that child as a racist, it was simply to insert sarcasm into the post.

      To address your other concern, I didn’t imply that all white guys here are morons, sleeping around. I said that if you are white, then you can ACT like a moron and get away with it much more easily than if you’re not. And if you have spent any time here, it’s obvious that Taiwanese are enamoured with white people, thus the positive discrimination.
      And for your last point concerning hypocrisy…I have no idea what you are getting at…please elaborate.

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