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Commentary: They won't understand, they are not black people
Published on February 22, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Donya L. Francis

Not going to rage and rant about racism, I always told myself that I was not versed in this area so I should stay away. However, never have I been so surrounded by the said topic in my life. A friend once told me that he feels that ‘blacks’ are the quickest to cry “that’s racist”, something I somewhat agree with. But, I strongly believe that majority of the times the situation does call for the popular “that’s racist” line.

Donya L. Francis was born on the island of St Kitts. He entered the teaching profession at age 17 and taught for four years. When he was not busy teaching, he spent most of his spare time reading and writing, having produced over 75 pieces, including poems, short skits, commentaries and news articles. He has a Bachelors of Arts in Journalism and Mass Communication candidate (2016) at the Ming Chuan University in Taipei, Taiwan. Feedback to
Now, ‘blacks’ or ‘people of colour’ have had a difficult time, the history is there to prove it. I am not really going to focus on that. I am now living in Taiwan. Some also call it Republic of China or Chinese Taipei; this is due to political reasons. Many readers might be asking where is this country (island) so let me briefly introduce.

Often being mistaken for Thailand, Taiwan (Republic of China) has a unique history. Located in East Asia it is home to 23 million people with its capital being Taipei. Taiwan is also home to one of the world’s tallest and famous buildings Taipei 101. The people here speak Mandarin Chinese -- I do speak a little -- and read and write characters.

How did I end up in Taiwan? I am a black-Caribbean youth living in Asia. For years Taiwan has been trying to be recognized internationally by as many countries as possible. To date there are 22 countries who have established diplomatic ties with this historical country. It was 23 until last year 2013, when The Gambia broke relations.

There are five Caribbean states that are friends with Taiwan: Haiti, Dominican Republic, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and my homeland, St Kitts and Nevis. Through these established agreements, Taiwan has been awarding full scholarships to outstanding individuals to pursue undergraduate, post graduate and doctorate degrees. I am grateful to be one of the lucky hundreds.

The Caribbean students here are so close to each other, one would think that we are from the same country. The stories that we all share about our experiences in Taiwan are always almost great ones but the ones of how we are treated are always the highlights of our gathering.

They won’t understand, they are not black people (黑人 hei ren)

Taiwan is also home to people from all over the world. My class itself has persons from about ten different countries. We are known as 外國人 (wai guo ren) or foreigners. However, it is sad to say that most of the ‘blacks’ share similar stories. Stories of how their skin is the centre of attention, their hair, no one wants to sit in the empty seat next to them on the train and even how people run away or add speed to their walk whenever they are in sight.

Now I understand fully that the Taiwanese people are naturally shy but this type of behaviour simply is ignorance and not because of shyness. How can Taiwan become international if the people are not internationally minded? How can Taiwan win over more friends if they are too shy to do so?

I visited a store back in late 2012 at Ximending (a famous place in Taiwan). This business woman was eager to ask me something and I was eager to listen and provide her with the best appropriate answer. The curious filth that flowed from her mouth made me vomit in my mouth a little. In the presence of my Taiwanese friends and a classmate from Saint Lucia, she asked, “So at nights when you are hungry and the lights are off and you want to eat chocolate, do you eat your fingers too?” The room went silent! I was in a state of anger right after but to my surprise my three Taiwanese friends did not laugh but were angrier than I was. They questioned as to why she would ask such a distasteful question but she just smiled. A year later I was made aware that this is a riddle that they were TAUGHT as children. I was disturbed.

Another that also occurred was at a police station. A friend had misplaced her purse so we went there to report it. After lounging around for almost one hour, in came a squad of officers. We were instantly the ‘talk of the station’ -- the conversation surpassed why are we not from Africa but the Caribbean to why are our palms white and our skin so black. Yes it was all curiosity! No, this was also engraved into their childhood stories.

The ‘white’ foreigners will never understand what we as ‘black’ people living in Taiwan have to really go through but claim they understand. Taiwanese are fascinated by their skin colour and long straight hair. The claims of encountering similar incidents as us are there, but when you listen to them, you will be begging for the same. Whenever our stories are being told they quickly jump to: they are shy people, give them a chance, why are you always on this race thing (even if the race issue is not mentioned), they are just curious and always climaxing with “we all get the same treatment, so stop complaining so much.” Well, that’s a lie and we are not complaining, just trying to change the situation.

I have embarked on a teaching drive to educate the Taiwanese people on the world, especially the Caribbean, starting with my classmates. I am showing them that is more to the USA, more to Africa than what was taught and more to ‘black’ people. Childhood stories are just childhood stories. Sadly, I can’t do it alone.

They won’t understand, they are not black people (黑人 hei ren)

I am sorry for the children who are taught to see us and cry. I am sorry for the children who are taught to say ‘black man/woman’ instead of foreigner. I am sorry for the persons who think that we are hard on the Taiwanese people just for trying to earn a little respect. I am sorry for those people who will never understand because they are not ‘black people’.

Taiwan is on its way to be being internationally accepted; well it has already made it with the creation of the many international colleges, coupled with students from every corner of the world. But, for a country to be international I strongly believe that the populace must be internationally minded.

I am proud to be black, open-minded and international.
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Rudolph Haynes:

Well said my friend. You are not the only one with similar experiences with the Asian/Culture.

Vinci Vin:

Dear Mr. Francis:

You have highlighted a very important issue that Afro-Caribbean peoples need to understand and address. Many of our politicians and citizens only see Taiwan as a generous provider of assistance to selected Caribbean nations. What we cannot see is the low esteem in which we might be held by the general Taiwanese population.

Now Asian attitudes towards peoples of African origins are influenced by the mis-information disseminated by American and European media: Tv programs, news, movies, etc. Whether they are Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indian or others, most Asians see black as the inferior caricature that has been propagated by Caucasians for centuries.

To aggravate this situation, Taiwanese might see Caribbean peoples in their universities as poor beggars that are dependant on their country for educational handouts. Consequently, I am happy that you are taking the appropriate approach ton try to remedy this situation: Educating Taiwanese about our rich culture, our contributions to the world and the economic gains Taiwan receive from association with Caribbean democracies.

Yes my brother, on the surface it appears that we are getting more from our relationship with Taiwan than Taiwan is getting from us. Taiwanese generally feel that their country is paying us for international recognition and supporting their quest for independence at the UN and other international forums. What the general populace does not know is that Taiwan businesses reap billions of dollars through their licenses to harvest fish in Caribbean waters. What they cannot see are the many engineering and construction contracts that Taiwanese companies exploity in the Caribbean because of the purported friendship with our politicians. On St. Vincent, my homeland, the Taiwanese operate an Agricultural experiment station. At first blush you would think that it is primarily for the benefits of Vincentians. Not so, the primary benefits flow to Taiwan. In essence, what you see is not what you get.

So my dear brother, lift your head high. You are not the beggar in Taipei that the Taiwanese would like to think you are. You are a proud, intellectually gifted man who happens to be of African descent, studying at a Taiwanese university due to the benefits that we contribute to the Taiwanese economy. Without these benefits it is questionable whether the racist Asians would give us the light of day.

Give them Hell my brother. But never forget African History is rife with accomplishments and Afro-caribbean peoples are known to have contributed to much developments in the developed world and elsewhere.

Best regards,

Vinci Vin

Donate Philbert:

Very interesting to read about the authors experience as a Caribbean Black man in Taiwan. By creating awareness and by writing we can enlighthen cultures!

Henry Harper:

Indeed, a very interesting and enlightening piece from a black pioneer, in the 21st century, in Taiwan!

It is important that you enjoy what you are doing and that you keep documenting your experiences.

You may not be surprised to know that in the very Caribbean pioneering work of a similar nature has, at times, to be undertaken.


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