Showing Black Lives Matter in Taiwan

Hundreds show solidarity with African Americans, Taipei rally asks people to look at their own prejudices

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Emotional BLM protesters in 228 Park, Taipei, on Saturday (June 13). (Taiwan News, Jules Quartly)

Emotional BLM protesters in 228 Park, Taipei, on Saturday (June 13). (Taiwan News, Jules Quartly)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — There was a positive and peaceful vibe at the Black Lives Matter rally held on Saturday (June 13) at 228 Peace Memorial Park in Taipei.

A crowd of about 500 people — black, white, and all shades between — applauded the speeches and knelt to show their respect for George Floyd, the man murdered by police in the United States, whose case kicked off weeks of worldwide demonstrations against police brutality and inequality.

The following interview directly expresses the views of two individuals at the rally and their impressions of the BLM movement in Taiwan:

Carlo JaMelle, who comes from the U.S. state of Arkansas, revealed his given surname as "Harris," describing it as the slave name his family was handed down. He has lived in Taiwan for 20 years, is a Ph.D. candidate at National Taiwan Normal University, and has a passion for hip hop and ancient Chinese literati culture.

Indigenous Youth Front representative Savungaz Valincinan told the rally she was speaking out against violence toward black people in the U.S., discrimination toward indigenous groups in Taiwan and elsewhere, and poor treatment of the LGBTQ community, migrant workers, and immigrants.


Scenes from Black Lives Matter rally in 228 Park. (Taiwan News, Jules Quartly photos)

Taiwan News: Briefly, what were your thoughts about the BLM rally in Taipei?

Savungaz Valincinan: The rally was not the same kind of event as elsewhere [in the world], but it was good to have and to discuss racism. Hopefully, it will have a good effect. Many Taiwanese think there is no racism here, but actually, there is, and maybe this rally will have made people think twice and change some minds.

Carlo JaMelle: It was well-planned and executed — I just disagree with the plan and the execution, which included encouraging support for the Hong Kong protests minutes after an emotional eight minute and 46-second moment of silence for George Floyd. The exhortation to support Hong Kong was abrupt, inappropriate, and ironic considering how the protests in Hong Kong were reportedly canceled in the face of harassment by those seeking to co-opt the event for their own purposes.

TN: Why do you think BLM rallies elsewhere were so violent?

SV: The BLM issue is not in our social lives so much. The context is not the same, so there is not so much conflict — in fact very few cases. After the rally, there were some meetings and discussions and black people did say there was discrimination but not conflict.

TN: Does Taiwan have a problem with racism against black people?

CJ: In my view, Taiwan more fundamentally has a problem with classism and colorism. In terms of foreigners, the less wealthy the country you hail from and the richer your complexion, the worse you'll tend to have it.

It's not as difficult to create opportunities for yourself here if you're "Western black." Aside from that, regardless of your color, you'll be always seen as "other" here even if you naturalize. So what kind of -ism would you call that?

SV: It's a serious issue, there are many micro-aggressions, those kind of things, so it is a problem. It's kinda the same with jokes about indigenous people, making fun of what they think our accent sounds like, but it's not really funny.

TN: Some say adopting blackface in Taiwan is overtly racist. Others say it's a kind of harmless cosplay. Your thoughts?

SV: It's not really acceptable and it's definitely not appropriate.

CJ: The spirit of blackface resides upon every tube of Darlie (formerly "Darkie") toothpaste. The truth about blackface no doubt lies somewhere in between overt and harmless cosplay.

But if the locals who do blackface don't mind foreigners slanting their eyes, covering their faces with mustard, and bucking out their teeth to look more "authentically Chinese" while practicing tai chi, then perhaps we can have some dialogue.

TN: White Americans would appear to be the most stridently anti-racist. Yet their country is the most racist. Hypocritical?

SV: That's true. But in Taiwan, we also do say no to discrimination against black or LGBT [people], but actually there is definite racism against, say, migrant workers at Taipei Main Station because they are noisy and "black.”

CJ: Unfortunately, the nature of BLM is a movement that not-so-racist PNOCs (people of no color) can embrace without much substantive commitment. It was founded with white money, and thus I cannot fathom how its aims must not ultimately align with those of the white liberal establishment.

Even though I do not truly consider it "our" movement (we're a long way from Marcus Garvey), it is still doing a lot of good. I personally am waiting for whites to found their own anti-white supremacy organizations and stage huge nationwide protests that aim to wipe out systemic racism at every level of society. Should I hold my breath?

TN: Does America's racism undermine the legitimacy of its human rights claims? And possibly help China's cause?

CJ: The American military has killed over half a million people since I've been in Taiwan. Iraq was looted and destroyed. Libya now operates a network of slave markets dealing in black bodies.

Egregious war crimes in Afghanistan and Yemen. After all that, I seriously don't see how America's national pastime of shooting blacks for sport will decrease its "moral legitimacy" any time soon.

SV: With the BLM issue, lots of people will try to make it pro-America or pro-China and make people choose sides. But that's just weird. BLM is the real issue.

TN: Any final thoughts about how Hong Kong protesters wanted to hijack the city's BLM rally to support their cause?

SV: It's kinda bullshit.

CJ: Later, I was told that the organizers backtracked on the Hong Kong appeal, so perhaps my real-time vent woke some people up.

TN: ILM (Indigenous Lives Matter)?

CJ: Indigenous voices were included, but I think they should also remain a separate issue in order to keep the message focused. That said, I think the event provided a strong impetus for locals to read and reflect more on global human rights issues.

SV: We don't want to hijack BLM, but outside the U.S., in this social context, it's useful because it talks about discrimination against all people.