(Image description: Black & white print of white British men having their feet washed by a black African man in an African village)
As a child of diaspora from a colonized nation (Nigeria), colonization is something that I know and feel personally, but the image of it only revealed itself to me in stark relief in a dream I had last night.
I spent a year before this in Taiwan teaching English as part of America’s neo-imperialist machine to spread our language and culture and subsume and eventually destroy local identities and languages abroad. I was placed in a Taiwanese aboriginal community which was all the more damning, and it took me many months to understand my place and role as a colonizer in this setting causing damage every single day I walked into the classroom.
It didn’t matter that I was black and experiencing antiblackness, I was still a Westerner spreading our imperialist language and hurting the community which had embraced me with open arms as a “foreign looking” foreigner. I had Western privilege even if I didn’t have white privilege as well like my colleagues.
Understanding my Western privilege and the damage I was causing to the community and kids that I was working with (many of whom could not understand or speak their indigenous languages due to their own colonization by Japanese and Han Chinese over the preceeding centuries) was incredibly difficult to say the least, and it broke my heart to know how much I was hurting these kids that I had grown to care so much about.
I did what I could to minimize the damage after self-examining and seeing these things for what they were. I collaborated with professors and local teachers to create a community based cultural empowerment and art project for some of our students meant to promote their local language and culture—the same languages and cultures which I was helping to subsume during my day job. The project won national recognition, and the kids will soon get to be featured on the national stage in Taiwan for doing a project in which they personally explored and told the stories of their lives and community using tools we provided them to aid in their exploration. A positive message to send to kids in a community that faces tremendous amounts of institutionalized discrimination and marginalization within Taiwan to this day.
But at the end of the day, I was still an outsider and a colonial agent there hoping, praying that my work there could “cancel out” some of the damage I was at that point contractually locked into dealing for a year as an English teacher (I completed my grant in July). What was the net impact? What does colonization look like and how can I tell how much damage versus good that I did?
There is now a new teacher at my school- a pretty white girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. I’ve heard that my students love her, and I also can tell that she doesn’t have an understanding of her role there as a colonial agent which is just further compounded by her whiteness, making the damage she is doing in an already vulnerable indigenous community as an “English teacher” all the more damaging. I saw a picture on facebook of her working with some of my former students, them crowded around her smiling and laughing, and immediately my heart sank and shattered. I was devastated not that they had found a new teacher that they liked, but that the cycle of colonization was just perpetuating and exacerbating itself.
Later that night I dozzed off and suddenly I was in the midst of a vivid dream.
One of my students, Jesse, who I had seen in the facebook picture crowded around the white teacher smiling came up to my dream self, and he looked completely normal and happy. I was happy to see him when he suddenly rolled up his pant leg to reveal a ghastly scene.
His leg was covered with deep, open gashes that went down almost clear to the bone. Red with fresh blood along the length of the cuts, but old enough that the blood did not poor or gush— it just stayed smiling sinisterly at me with a pinkish-red gleam. The gashes were everywhere I looked up and down the length of his leg- vertical, horizontal, diagonal slashes going every which way tearing and contorting his leg into a mangled mass. And in between his flesh was discolored and beginning to gangrene and rot.
All of this on a body that outwardly looked completely healthy and “okay.”
My dream self was horrified and immediately called my collaborator on the cultural empowerment project I had done in the community in a panic. I wanted to know what I could do to help him. If there was anything that I could do to help.
But it quickly became clear from our conversation that there was nothing that I could do to help.
And then that part of the dream abruptly ended.
When I awoke I realized that this was all a metaphor for colonization. For not just the damage I had done to these students I cared so deeply about, but which, as I’d seen in that facebook picture of them with their new white teacher, has only just been compounded many times fold this year. You do not solve a problem caused by colonization by adding more colonizers to the mix, even ones like me that might “mean well” otherwise.
It was also so clear from his outward health but the tremendous scars that laid right beneath the surface (when he pulled up his pant leg) what colonization really looks like. It is not always a physical manifestation, but the longer and far more damaging legacy is internalized and shows itself in different ways.
The loss of language, of customs, traditions, a way of being, living and seeing the world.
That’s only some of what colonization strips the colonized of in the metaphysical domains of our minds and spirits. These are some of the same losses that I’ve incurred as a child of diaspora from a colonized nation and which I perpetuated during my own time abroad as an English teacher.
This is the ugly face of the colonization and destruction that links and binds so many of us together across space and time.
I will just end with this quote from Chimamanda Adichie which encapsulates these ideas so well, as it’s so important that we all understand what colonization “looks” like and the tremendous damages and losses which are incurred under any and all colonial regimes:"[He] was dangerously wrong to quantify the effects of colonialism and to reduce it to land. This does not diminish the enormous practical and emotional significance of the loss of ancestral lands. But the truth is that the losses associated with any unjust government— and colonialism was an unjust dictatorship—cannot be limited to those things that we can measure. The losses are more nuanced: the loss of language and stories, the loss of a way of being and a way thinking, the loss of dignity, and the loss that comes when succeeding generations inherit those losses."
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Commonwealth Lecture 2012
Those more nuanced losses are arguably the most damaging and lasting legacy of colonization, and those were the same scars which my dream self found on my former student hidden right beneath the surface.
And that is what colonization looks like.
By Daniel Hung
What’s special about this special election is that two of the five candidates running are Taiwanese-American. This is perhaps the first time in American history that this has happened, and we may not see such a ballot again for quite some time. Currently, Angie Chen Button is the only Texas State Representative of Taiwanese descent, and only two other Texas State Representative, out of 150 Texas State Representatives, are of Asian descent at all. This special election provides a rare opportunity to elect another Texas State Representative of Taiwanese descent.
"A Gradual Shift in Public Loyalty" in Taiwan. An Infographic from the Washington Post.
(Source: Washington Post)
Now known as the “White Shirt Army,” the young people have become the biggest, most surprising social movement in Taiwan’s recent history…
“We don’t support any side or leader,” said Liulin Wei, a lanky, soft-spoken 30-year-old who sparked the movement with a short online post four months ago. “We are for civil rights, common values, democracy. And we made it very simple to join. You just put on a white shirt.”
As with the U.S. Occupy movement, there are no formal leaders or members among the white shirts. And similarly, there have been some signs that its decentralized approach could cause the movement to eventually peter out.
*Image from Facebook.
Gracing the front page of today’s Taipei Times is a story about singer Deserts Chang (張懸) who *gasp* brought an ROC flag onto the stage during a concert in the UK at the University of Manchester.
The conflict broke out in the middle of the show at the University of Manchester when Chang took an ROC flag from a group of Taiwanese students in the front row and unfurled it on stage, saying: “I see there are also people who bring a national flag to the concert. I have not felt so patriotic for a while … and I am from Taiwan.”
The singer’s gesture apparently enraged the Chinese fan, who shouted: “There are students from mainland [China] here. No politics today.”
To which Chang said: “It’s not politics, it is just a flag that represents where I am from.”
The argument continued on the blogosphere on Monday, when a user of the Chinese social networking site Douban.com who identified herself as the Chinese woman who was shouting at the concert, posted an article defending her outburst.
“I just want to point out the fact that she [Chang] did use the words ‘national flag,’ which, according to Wikipedia, means: ‘A flag that symbolizes a country,’” the woman wrote.
She went on to say that she respected the opinions of Chang and everyone who comes from Taiwan, adding that she could not care less what they said about such a “sensitive subject” in private.
“However, as a star whose words carry significant weight, she [Chang] went too far when she brought the subject to the table,” the woman said, adding: “Deserts Chang is dead to me now.”
The woman also criticized other Chinese fans at the concert for not backing her up when their “bottom lines were being challenged.”
Sigh. This is not a story. This concerns one solitary chinese fan who felt the need to dictate to Deserts Chang (張懸) what she can or can’t say or do about her own country and flag. For her part, I think Deserts Chang’s (張懸) response was self-respecting, diplomatic, and tolerant. Which more than can be said of the fan. But then, Taiwanese have suffered international humiliation of non-recognition and Chinese attempts to silence and absent them from the world stage for so long that they have learnt to turn the other cheek, a strategy that I think is long past time for an overhaul. I would not have blamed Deserts Chang (張懸) if she had responded more forcefully and with a degree of indignation and outrage appropriate to such authoritarianism from her ‘fans’. I would however point out that her claim that she was not being political is technically hollow: when you associate with political symbols such as national flags then you are being political. But then, such is the victory of right-wing Fukuyama-esque ‘end of history’ ideology that people have come to regard ‘politics’ as a dirty word and pride themselves on their ignorance and disempowerment and disenfranchisement when in fact it is ‘economics’ that should be treated with a similar level of disdain.
Interestingly, note how the ‘fan’ says that she ‘respects’ the opinions of Chang and everyone who comes from Taiwan and doesn’t care what they say about such a ‘sensitive subject’ in private. This is the classic ploy of giving the appearance of tolerance whilst practicing the exact opposite (you can choose any colour you want as long as it is black). Clearly the fan thinks that Taiwanese are like children in the Victorian era: to be seen but not heard. That kind of mindset is speaks to the ahistorical nationalism propagated by the Chinese education system and the arrogance of a people who consider themselves exceptional. Such attitudes are common in imperial and colonial societies facing internal atrophy - the British during the Empire and the USA currently.
Most amusing though is the broadside against other Chinese fans at the concert who said and did nothing. Perhaps this indicates that aside from some 50 Cent’er PRC ‘students’ ‘studying’ abroad, many Chinese don’t feel the issue of Taiwan, Tibet, or East Turkestan, to be that sensitive or even interesting, and certainly not a ‘bottom line’ or ‘core interest’.
Growing up, I got all sorts of mixed messages.
First it was “she’s so skinny. better put some meat on those bones or no good Chinese guy is ever going to want to marry her.”
Then it was, “You’re so fat, you need to lose weight, no Chinese guy is ever going to want you. No family is going to want a fat ass daughter in law.”
At the same time there’s a bombardment of ridiculous and contradictory and racist messages from the media. The whole Madame Butterfly and Pocahontas dog and pony crap about how Asian men view Asian women as objects and surely white men don’t except they do the very institutions that produce these pieces of media do just that.
So you’re so fat, you’re so fat, no guy is ever going to want you, and maybe you try and date some Asian guys and sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes people tell you things like “I remember when you went to prom with him, you were so fat, you were so fat for an Asian and the fattest in our group” and you see the pictures you were so happy to be in and you stop noticing how nice you looked and start noticing the flaws.
And maybe you date some white guys, too, guys who claim to see you as a person and not an Asian at all and they watch too much anime and they don’t get it, they don’t get why you’re angry all the time, their gamer friends clap them on the back and you feel like a trophy. And people tell you you’re letting yourself be objectified, like when someone objectifies you it’s because you gave them permission.
And all the while you get all these conflicting messages about self worth and your weight and who you are and whether the boy is white or Asian (because surely no other types of boys, or certainly not a girl, would ever be in the question) you’re told by your mother if you don’t lose weight your boyfriend will leave you.
And when you do meet the guy you finally feel comfortable with, the guy you feel like you can be yourself with, a guy who can check his privilege and figure his shit out, a guy who is willing to put in the work, people say then you must hate yourself and that’s why you’re with him, that you must hate yourself for being Asian, that you’re not down with the cause, that you’re not a real advocate, that you’re like a Nazi sympathizer or a vegan dating a butcher. That they could never date someone like you, that you’re fat anyway, that you’re letting yourself be objectified, that you’re some Asian man’s leavings.
You’re told that your worth is built into your weight and your worth is your value to a man, whether he is white or Asian. That white guys won’t value you because you’re an oriental object, that Asian guys won’t value you because you’re a white man’s fat object. But really, you should be some white man’s madonna whore, but really, you should be some Asian guy’s skinny validator.
And I am so tired of this shit because there are so many wonderful guys—many of them Asian, some of them even white—who get this, but sometimes it’s hard when that one asshole doesn’t. Somehow, my choices become about him. Who I date and who I don’t date. “She thinks she’s too good to date Asian guys” and then “She’s too fat and ugly for Asian guys” in the same fucking breath. That there must be something deficient with my partner to have ended up with a fat Asian girl or he would be dating a leggy blonde. On top of all the white racism and objectification I have to deal with this bullshit on top of it, as if that’s what I’m here for and what I’m worth.
Why I care about Taiwan.
This is really fucking intense. It’s weird being from the generation that they are referring to.
Taiwan as seen from the International Space Station - a shot taken by NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg on the 22nd of July 2013.
As You-Chen Liu stood on the podium carrying his country’s flag, he was serenaded with jeers and boos from some players representing mainland China: “F**k your mother!” “Was his mother a bitch dog?” “What kind of trash flag is that?” “You are not Chinese!” “Do you know that this will result us being banned from the competition!”This guy is a badass and China sucks. Seattle police had to be called to defuse the situation.
the mainland Chinese players were reportedly told that if the Taiwanese flag was ever raised at the World Cyber Games, they would pull their players out of the competition for good.