My second year in Taiwan began a little over a month ago, and I have had a wealth of wonderful experiences since I know what to expect here and have met many great people through social events, work, and school (and I hope to post about those wonderful experiences soon). It's nice to enjoy life here without having to struggle through culture shock nearly everyday.
However, while things are going really well, there are still issues that get me thinking, namely the common reactions I get when interacting with or being in the presence of other (especially white) Americans here in Taiwan. They often have an air about them that wants so badly to prove their "superiority".
Here's an example of the arrogance I'm talking about:
What? We're all "whitey"? Why do some of these people have to either "otherize" us or make themselves the representatives of all Americans or all foreigners? Don't get me wrong, I laughed so hard when I read this, it's beyond ridiculous.
There seems to be this strain of exceptionalism that some caucasian Americans have that blinds them to the fact that not all Americans in Taiwan are white. To them, if you're not white, you must be from Africa, Asia, or some other location. And even if it's clear that you are from the same country as them, they feel the need to deny the fact that you're living in Taiwan by making comments like "When are you going back home?" or "Enjoy your trip!" or "Sometimes it's hard to get around without knowing Chinese, right?". Or, they insult you and deny the fact that you're in Taiwan through hard work by saying things like "You must have a lot of money to come here!" Yes, I'm a millionaire! And you are too, right? Idiots. Just because you see a black person going abroad doesn't mean they have to be rich in order to do it. It's about determination not money, and determination isn't unique to color.
As with any topic, not all Americans behave in the following ways toward me, but it happens often enough for me to notice a pattern. It doesn't anger me anymore; instead, I just observe with amusement and keep a smile on my face when I know I'm talking to/am around one of these types. It's like living in a social experiment! Therefore, here are the types of annoying fellow Americans I've encountered.
#1 - The Birther: "You're from America? Oh...but where are you really from?"
Naturally, when you get into a conversation with another foreigner here, each other's nationality comes into question. I don't mind being asked where I'm from, it shouldn't really be assumed that I'm American just because I have an American accent. What's amusing to me is when I tell another American that I'm from the States and they feel the need to challenge me about it.
"Oh, so what year did you come to America?"
"How long have you lived in America?"
"But her name's not American..." (This is the latest one that occurred...I turned around an explained that my parents are from Nigeria...and the person then asked me how long I've lived in America! haha)
Sure, like Obama, I was born elsewhere and whisked off to America. Sure. But seriously, why is it that Americans frequently turn into birthers, questioning my American-ness? I'm assuming it's because I don't fit into the stereotypes or preconceived notions they have in their heads, so they must try to make it seem like I'm from somewhere else.
(And we all know how much Americans ironically love to do this in America.)
There was another recent incident I had with a birther type at a social event. I put my name and e-mail address on the mailing list we created, and when this woman saw my name, she made a face and said "Oladipo (mangled it, of course). Huh, okay..." I turned to her calmly and explained my heritage, and she simply said "Oh, that explains it." It's like these people forget that America is a land of emigrants!
#2 - The Deer in the Headlights: "Oh my, I don't believe my eyes!"
I've noticed that foreigners tend to silently size each other up. On the train, in the store, out and about on the sidewalk. We notice people who are different because we stand out a lot ourselves. This is normal, and I don't find it offensive.
What bothers me are the people that see me do something that usually only a person who's here for awhile or is living here would do (buying lots of groceries, working out in a non-touristy area) and stare. That long, drown out, stare like a local would give me.
It's not fleeting; it last for a long moment, or it's a long secession of glances. I pretend to not see these people, but I wish they'd just go on their way. Especially the guy staring me down during my jog, or the one who kept looking at me in the checkout line at the grocery store, and outside all the way to his car. I clearly remember one incident when I went out to eat with two of my friends last year. At the restaurant, there was a family (white father, Taiwanese mother, two kids). The father stared at us the whole hour we were there. It was irritating and uncomfortable!
The deer in the headlights, they all but say "What are you doing here?" Why do these people act like they've never seen a black person before?
#3 - The Bigot: "We're in Taiwan, I'm allowed to be racist!"
This is, by far, the worst kind of American I've run into. I'm not surprised that they're here, Taiwanese society seems to put white folks above even the locals. The general pecking order seems to be (this is simply what I've noticed):
White American males
White males from anywhere else
White females from anywhere
Chinese (from Taiwan)
Chinese from abroad (ABC, BBC, Singaporean, ect.), Japanese, Korean
South American, people from the islands who aren't black
Black American males (basketball is popular here)
Taiwanese aboriginal, Indonesian, Philippino, non-East Asian
Indian, South Asian, Middle Easterner
Black non-American males
Black females from anywhere (unless you look like Beyonce or Rihanna, or you don't have dark skin...you might go somewhere in the middle)
So, as there is a huge social disparity between white males and black females, it doesn't shock me much that I've been treated terribly by some of them unprovoked. This usually happens when the guy has a local woman on his arm and feels the need to insult my looks to impress her. I'll never forget the day I was waiting for the bus, and this guy and his woman pass me by. The guy made a remark about how ugly he thought I was and they both went away laughing in an overly exaggerated manner. I've had a similar experience on the train where they guy said my afro looked like a mushroom. I love how this group of obnoxious Americans at Taipei 101 who saw me and a friend and said it's part of the culture here to dislike black people. Actually, it's something that's been perpetuated.
It's sad that they think they can stoop so low just because it's accepted here. There are so many foreigners in Taiwan that I'd say, in at least Taipei, the look of society is beginning to shift. Too bad some of those at the "top" are working hard to make sure they remain there.