English Teaching in Taiwan – Overt Racism That Everyone Knows About

News broke that a school in Taipei was discriminating against black and dark-skinned people in their hiring practices and everyone lost it. By everyone, I mean mostly the international community and some locals.

As quickly as the story broke, it was gone. There hasn’t been much discussion on the topic since. I didn’t want to blog about the issue when it was happening because everyone and their grandmother were making articles about the issue. Instead, I wanted to wait a few weeks and see if it was still a salient issue.

Well, my gut feeling was right, it’s not salient as an issue now.

The problem with racist hiring practices is simple; we know it’s happening, we see it in the news, and yet nothing is being done. Sure, there are laws that protect job-seekers from being discriminated against based on their ethnicity, but that alone isn’t enough to stop businesses and schools from discriminating.

And it’s not just racism, sexism is an issue when it comes to hiring practices.

The boy who cried racism when there was actual racism

Every now and then, stories break about racism in Taiwan. We hear it, and we are furious. We get in an uproar. Not just foreigners, but a lot of locals too. Unfortunately, the issue dies down and after a few months, it happens again. What happens at the end of it all is we all forget about it and the issue is swept under the rug.

It’s almost like the boy who cried wolf if there was a wolf each time he shouted, but by the time he says it a fourth time, nobody really cares or does anything. We are not doing enough to stop these kinds of practices in industries that hire an international workforce.

This just doesn’t give Taiwan a good image either. I know, everywhere in Asia, there is racism and people have told me if I don’t like it here then I should move to Japan to see what real racism looks like. It is a pathetic argument that minimizes racism in one place by stating it is worse somewhere else. Racism is racism. A punch in the nose isn’t the same as a bunch in the balls but they both hurt tremendously.

White privilege in hiring practices

For a long time, I was skeptical of white privilege as a phenomenon in Taiwan. I saw this kind of privilege as being part of a larger concept of “foreigner privilege”, that is, you can be privileged if you stay in your box and do nothing else, but the longer I live here, the more obvious white privilege has come to me.

There are enough people in Taiwan that aren’t white that are hired in professional roles and teaching to show that it isn’t impossible to get a job because of your ethnicity, but that doesn’t negate the fact that people have been turned away for their ethnicity.

Taiwan is a fantastic place and it does pain me to tell friends that aren’t white that they will probably need to spend a bit longer than me to find a job.

Whether people want to admit it or not, we are in industries that do actively discriminate against non-white people, and we do have a certain amount of privilege.

That privilege isn’t something I have known or even felt I had for most of my life. I grew up in Belfast, where schools to this day are separated by religion and identity. To me, the issue wasn’t my ethnicity, it was my identity and culture. The transition to understanding that being white is real thing took time and I’ve gotten on with it.

However, I think we as a community should be more vocal about the issue of racism in hiring practices. We should let the issue be gone as fast as it came, and we shouldn’t justify it as a one-off issue because it isn’t.

We have to look at ourselves and say, how many of us benefitted from the perception that locals have of white people as being better?

What can we do?

This is probably the hardest part of the issue of racism in Taiwan. We know it happens, but at the same time, Taiwanese society doesn’t come off as a racist one. In fact, I have Indian friends that said they feel more like themselves as women here as they do back home. There is a sense of cognitive dissonance for me when I think “what can we do?” because the answer isn’t clear.

We can create awareness by doing what I’m doing now, blogging. We can bring the issue up to local politicians, and advocate better policies, though those policies might not be enforced. We can even keep the issue alive and keep discussing it and not just when a racist incident happens but in general.

Unfortunately, the law in Taiwan prevents anyone that isn’t a citizen from organizing protest activities, but if locals took up the mantle to prevent racist practices, there isn’t a reason why foreigners could take part.

Again, there is no real solid answer and I don’t claim to have any. I just want us all to start thinking about it more and take some introspectiveness.

I think one point I want to make clear is, I’m not attacking Taiwanese people or white people. I’m attacking the idea of racism in society. Ever since I came to Taiwan, I’ve felt welcomed and liked. There have been a few instances of racism directed at me, but I boiled it down to me being in the wrong place at the wrong time because there are places even in Ireland I wouldn’t go to.

I mean, it is probably just an issue of time. My own country of Ireland was a pretty nasty place towards foreigners for a while and it took time for people to realize that “hey that was kind of racist” to be a thing. Nowadays, racism in Ireland still occurs, but not to the same extent as it might in the past. Attitudes changed, and they will in Taiwan.

I guess the point is, let’s get the discussion going. Let’s not paint everything in Taiwan as racism and go over the top, but let’s damn sure get a chat going with a few cups of tea about how we can better the society we live.

 

Tomás 孫柯

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