Black Lives Matter has spread to many countries around the world, opposition to racist statues (e.g. a slaver in England, the butcher Leopold in Belgium), peaceful protests everywhere and hostile government responses in some of them (e.g. Australia).
Taiwan now has its own Black Lives Matter movement begun last week, organized by several ex-pats from the US and other countries. It’s amazing how much people can accomplish with no money and little time. There was a Black Lives Matter event on Saturday night, though regrettably I couldn’t attend because of my back. There is another larger public demonstration planned for next Saturday which I intend to attend.
These meetings and demonstrations have a new impetus because of recent events in Taiwan. In early May, a dance troupe inexplicably did a “performance” in blackface. And did it a second time after already knowing it was inappropriate. More below the fold.
TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A video surfaced over the weekend of a Taiwanese dance crew performing a routine in blackface in a Taipei nightclub that also has an entry policy that discriminates against foreigners.
On Saturday (May 2), a video appeared on TikTok showing the dance troupe Luxy Boyz imitating a Ghanian “Coffin Dance,” a viral online meme in which pallbearers gyrate to a beat as they carry a coffin on their shoulders. However, in this case, the Taiwanese dancers took the extra step of applying dark-colored makeup to perform in blackface.
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A few weeks ago, a dance group for a local nightclub, the “Luxy Boyz,” received backlash for performing in blackface. They were trying to emulate a popular meme of Ghanaian pallbearers dancing with a coffin, set to electronic music. The problem with this was the clear use of blackface, or darkening the skin to make oneself look “black,” which is historically associated with minstrel shows and discrimination towards people of African descent.
That being said, it seems the backlash towards the Luxy Boyz failed to educate the broader community, because just two days ago, on May 31st, another such incident occurred. Three men from a comedy group known as the “Wackyboys” took to the streets of Tianmu in Taipei, Taiwan, once again donning blackface.
The “policy” mentioned in the first item was xenophobic, not racist. Many clubs and restaurants around Taiwan began illegally demanding foreigners present passports, proof of travel, because of COVID-19. This was not required of Taiwanese despite the fact that nearly every case imported was from a returning Taiwanese citizen. So many businesses attempted the illegal move that the government acted before foreigners complained.
An ex-pat and local celebrity Dooley reports he was asked by a Taiwanese TV program about doing a sketch in blackface:
African-American entertainer Dooley appeared on local television show Super Entourage (小明星大跟班) a few weeks ago and was told by the crew that they wanted to do a skit in blackface.
Dooley, whose real name is Matthew Candler, tells the Taipei Times that Super Entourage wanted to perform a rendition of the wildly popular “Ghana Coffin Dance,” a meme that has taken the world by storm. Instead, he showed them videos about the racist origins of blackface and slavery in America, and they agreed to drop the makeup.
“[I told them] about the history [behind blackface] and [said] you decide whether you want to do it.”
One would think being told twice in the media not to do it (both English and Mandarin) and the world media’s reporting of Black Lives Matter would be enough for people to get the message. Apparently not.
A video posted to the Facebook page of a Kaohsiung -based restaurant shows a man in blackface promoting the upcoming recall election of mayor Han Kuo-Yu. In the video, the man, dressed in a suit and tie, and wearing a headband promoting the recall election, urges people to get out and vote, and reminds them to wear a mask when doing so. He also mentions in the video that he is playing Tedros, the WHO director General, and makes a pun about wearing your mask and wearing your pants.
Taiwan Observer contacted the restaurant and inquired about the posts. The Facebook page features a number of pictures of the owner dressed up in a variety of different costumes, mainly portraying local deities and other characters. When asked if he knew how offensive this particular costume was to the black community, he claimed that it was not his intention in any way to mock or ridicule black people.
It’s not the first time I’ve seen such oblivious attitudes in Taiwan. In 2018, a barber shop opened with a nazi swastika as its logo. You can tell it was not a buddhist swastika by the direction it was turning, and by the shop’s name: “Berlin Hair Salon”. The owner attempted to defend his “choice of marketing” until pressured to change.
A hairdressers in Taiwan has covered up its street signs, after it was criticised for having a logo similar to the Nazi swastika, it’s reported.
According to the Taiwan News website, the Berlin Hair Salon in the northern city of Hsinchu has covered its logos with a magic marker, so that only the name of the hair salon can be seen, after a week of angry comments.
The salon has also changed the logo on its Facebook page, after it received hundreds of negative comments online. It has been criticised by the region’s German and Jewish communities.
The Liberty Times newspaper said that owner Hsu Chen-yang had originally defended his business, claiming the design was merely four razor blades. He said that the salon’s design was created by an external designer, and denied there was any relationship between the shop’s logo and historical events.
It’s hard to tell where insensitivity and ignorance end and racism begins. At one school I worked for, a fellow foreign English teacher was a Black South African man. The Taiwanese staff were always polite and courteous to him, never said nor did anything discriminatory. And yet after he moved on to another school, one of the same staff said to me during a conversation, “I don’t understand what’s wrong with the word ******” (not a verbatim quote, but the same meaning).