Showing posts with label racism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label racism. Show all posts

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Schools in Taiwan bear more responsibility for racism and native speakerism than "market demand"

Untitled
There is no reason for these doors to be closed. 


When I first moved to Taiwan, I worked at one of the big chain cram schools. Every Friday, I had a class of rowdy upper elementary school kids. I wasn't very good at my job - frankly, I should not have even had that job - and they overwhelmed me. My co-teacher was an Indonesian woman who was simply amazing. Better than me, for sure. She probably still is, even though my teaching now would be unrecognizable to anyone who knew me then. The kids were awed by her; they listened to her. 

That school treated her well, though I will never know if we were paid equally (I can't be certain, but probably not). In the years after, I came to realize something: such respect is rare from schools in Taiwan, for both teachers of color and non-native speaker teachers.

These are two distinct groups - non-native speakers can be White, and native speakers are often not - but the way many schools in Taiwan think about both groups is rooted in White supremacy. Many will prioritize hiring, or only hire, White teachers. Others will hire only native speakers, but not native speakers of Asian heritage. Or they will define "native speaker" ridiculously narrowly - as though the term is possible to define at all.

Native speakerism is as wrong as racism in language teaching, an issue I've gone into before. The qualities of a good teacher include experience, quality training (which may not be the same as a certification, though some certifications are better than others), an appropriate level of English, the ability to plan and execute useful lessons well, preferably over the course of a complete syllabus, and who has good classroom management practices, and an open-minded, hardworking, growth-oriented mindset.

This is already well-known in Taiwan. However, when confronted with the issue, these schools will say it's "the market". "The market" demands native speakers. "The market" prefers White teachers. "The market" will take teachers who are not White, but no Asians. "The market" wants native speakers, but will take a European non-native speaker over a native-speaker teacher of Asian heritage.

The schools never examine their own role in how discriminatory the entire system is.


However, starting from that first year in Taiwan, it has become clear the market is not the main problem. Yes, one will meet racist or native speakerist parents and students; I don't deny they exist. But good teachers - wherever they come from and whatever language they learned first - tend to build strong relationships with their learners. Good teachers are usually successful in the classroom - even more so when the schools that hire them stand by them.

While some parents and students are unreasonable, for the most part, when asked to open their minds to a teacher who looks different or has a different accent to what they expected - they do.

The biggest problem, then, is likely the schools. Why do they insist that students and parents will only accept a certain type of teacher, when that's not necessarily the case?

For some, it's simply that they're businesses and don't prioritize education. As such, they're not willing to stand by quality teachers and take a leading role in changing the minds of the "clients" who do make racist or native speakerist demands.

For others, I suspect it's a manufactured preference: selling your "clientele" on the idea that White or 'native-speaker' teachers are somehow inherently superior, even though they aren't.

By the way, there's research to back this up, too.

You probably don't believe me yet, so instead of droning on about it, I'm going to turn my platform over to a group of teachers with varied stories, but who have all experienced some form of marginalization in English teaching in Taiwan. Note the key commonality: when their employers stood by them (and even sometimes when they didn't), these teachers all managed to build strong rapport with their learners, and in some cases the learners' parents. The so-called "market" was often open to instructors from a variety of backgrounds.

Let's start with T.'s story of a new colleague:


At the [school] a few years ago, they had a [private] practice of not considering Asian Americans for English teaching positions. Not that it was public. As the only female instructor, I felt it was essential to replace me with a woman, especially since three-quarters of our students were female: it's hard to prepare adult students to socialize in international settings without access to a female perspectives, experience, or role models.

I was disappointed--and incredulous--when someone told me, "no women have applied." Another employee showed me that several women had indeed applied, but that they had Asian names. I wrote an email to the entire office celebrating the fact that women had applied for the job and explaining why it was so important.
Because of the nature of the organization, and  Taiwan's constitution forbids racial discrimination, and because the director was a humane man, the administration took it seriously, interviewed Asian Americans/Canadians, and hired one.
Conventional belief had it that students would be dissatisfied with Asian-looking teachers, doubting the quality of their English. Instead, the new teacher was extremely popular with the students who valued her perspective of being of Asian descent in Canada and the U.S. The fact she looked Asian probably made it easier for our female students to imagine themselves navigating international business environments in English. So the belief that "customers" will be dissatisfied with teachers who are of Asian descent is outdated.
Even if it isn't, it's unethical and cowardly to give in to that as a business strategy--even when the problem is that parents of kids going to buxibans are unable to assess the authenticity of someone's English. Management needs to educate these "customers" and support their teachers, not cater to racism that sometimes exists primarily in their own imagination.
"Market demands." It seemed people were assuming they know what the "market demands," and were mistaken.
People will justify racist decision-making by saying they are doing it because someone else asked them to, as if they have no responsibility themselves for perpetuating racism when they enforce such "demands." It's not their own racism, it's someone else's that they are enforcing. It doesn't matter what they do or don't think if they enforce racist requests.


P. is from India, and holds a Master's in English Language and Literature. He's a native speaker just as much as I am; the only difference is the variety of English that he speaks.
Having completed by BA Honours in English Studies from a top university in India (2nd for Humanities and Social Sciences), I interned at a school through AIESEC in Taiwan in 2013. I was asked to teach some English lessons and share insight into Indian culture for a primary school in the outskirts of New Taipei City. It was a great experience and I got along really well with fellow colleagues and students overall. I was subject to occasional comments from students about how “black” my skin is and got questions asking me to clarify.
Wanting to pursue teaching in Taiwan, I started looking out for job opportunities. I was a young graduate, who was well travelled and spoke English as a first language – I thought the world was my oyster. I was reminded very quickly in all these ESL jobs forums on FB that I’m a “non-native” speaker of English, I have no knowledge of the “culture” to teach it and should go back to where I came from. These harsh attacks from both Taiwanese and White people in Taiwan.
I found myself a scholarship to do my MA in order to stay, and then looked for jobs. I was so disillusioned for 2 years. There were no opportunities. When some interviewers spoke to me on the phone, they would be so thrilled to hear about my qualification and experience. But when they saw me in person, they were surprised that I was not white. “We didn’t know you were black. Sorry we don’t hire black people.” 

The kind of racism I faced from White teachers was even more shocking. I expected them to be better allies, but they merely saw me a rat coming in to destroy the ESL market and reduce their wages. Even people I considered friends refused to let me help them cover their classes when they wanted time off – they too told me I was Indian and non-native so not good enough for the job.

I tutored math to a kid; I wanted to tutor the kid English instead, but they said I’m Indian so I should teach math, and they chose a white French woman with questionable English to teach him instead. Then I got an online teaching gig where I had to lie that I was Canadian or British. That was my entry point into teaching – I already had a student visa so they were happy to give me the job after a demo and a blatant lie about my father being a Western man. I did this for a few years.

After completing my MA, I started a PhD [but still had trouble finding a teaching job]. This gave me an entry point into universities as a lecturer. I must add that I only got this job because a White female friend left her post there and recommended me. I cried for hours wondering if it was real.

While students took some time to get used to me, we shared a really special bond every semester. They appreciated that I had a unique outlook to my teaching, brought creativity in the classroom, taught ESL through literature and had a more communicative approach in my teaching. Soon I found another part-time gig at another university. I was doing very well there too. I think I can say for sure that I was probably the only, if not the first, Indian to lecture at an English department in Taiwan. While this felt really amazing, it also came with its challenges. There was no scope for development, full time jobs at universities are non-existent, and no PhD means goodbye, eventually. They paid terrible wages for such a position.

This is why I eventually left Taiwan after 5 years. While I saw some success, the cost of it was much more than I could handle. Having moved to Vietnam, I make twice as much money, have professionally developed so much and work at an international organisation where my identity is seen as an asset rather than a liability or something to cover up.



R. is a teacher from Southeast Asia who speaks Mandarin, and whose English is indistinguishable from what some would define as a 'native speaker':
[I experienced discrimination at] one of those big high school chains. I had to take a test (which I aced) and an interview and the other two people they hired they literally just grabbed from the street because they look foreign. The job was to grade essays and we finished early. The two were allowed to leave early. I had to assist the front desk until my time was up. 

[In another job], I was told I spoke English too quickly at the interview. Then they went and called me a “bilingual” teacher and offered me 550 (with my 10+ years of experience) and said to my face that if a white person rolled in fresh out of college they would be offered 600. This was the moment I decided to stop speaking Chinese unless necessary. I made it my goal to be indistinguishable from a native speaker, a goal I reached maybe a decade ago. 

I don’t get repeat students too much because I teach mostly test prep so it’s usually one shot and done but I do get some students through word of mouth. And my business English students requested more classes when we were done with our first round.

Basically, the students I’ve had seem to like me. The problem is getting through the interview process because I’m often vetted for my ethnicity and passport.

C. has had issues with parents preferring White teachers, but once in a teaching position with school support, was able to be successful, showing that it is possible to fight the racism that exists in the market if schools would take a leading role:

I was born, grew up, and graduated university [in the USA]. I don't know how anyone could argue with me being American after that.

The first school I worked at I didn't know better, but I later found out that white teachers were often paired with a Taiwanese local teacher so that there were two adults to wrangle 30 students. Since I spoke Chinese I had to juggle my class on my own. I also discovered that the White teachers were paid an additional 20,000 NTD per month. I quit.

I worked at a language school as the administrative staff at [a well-known school for teaching foreigners Chinese]. Initially the school was hesitant to hire me because they said students wouldn't know who to go to if they had questions to ask in English. I suggested I should have a sign that read "English secretary". One more than one occasion the parents of a fellow overseas Chinese would come with the student to the office and demand to speak to the 'white lady' they'd spoken to on the phone. It sometimes would take me about 5 minutes to convince the parents that was me.

I have had parents and students quiz me about my English. One mother insisted my English wasn't adequate because she walked into the break room to see me eating a [typical local food] and a real native speaker of English would never eat that.

My current school generally doesn't print my last name on our public roster because of security reasons and because they've discovered my enrollment is higher when parents and students don't see the last name is [a common Chinese name]. My problem wasn't always hiring. My problem was staying the job, typically once the parents met their child's English teacher (me) and complained to the school about my Asian-ness.

Currently, I'm employed at [a language center at a major university] where my clients are the students themselves with minimal parental interference.

I got along great with my students. Currently I would say my students like me a lot too, I have several who have continued on with me for 4-5 years. It's a continuing education class so students can continue to enroll as long as they like.

In previous jobs my problem has been more parents, but it's also schools being too lazy to defend their teachers and just bowing to parental pressure. I mean, if a teacher (me) can help students score well on the TOEFL or win speech contests the school should go to bat for this teacher. Instead they let me go and hired a White teacher because that was the parental demand.


B. is a qualified non-native speaker who was denied opportunities as a non-native speaker, but whose nationality and first language were not an issue once hired:

I've faced this a couple times in person in my years in Taiwan. I'm from Mexico and that was enough to be denied opportunities.


My story is not particularly shocking or entertaining to retell, but living through it felt surreal. The contact person at one school (a private primary school, if memory serves me correctly) and I had exchanged a few emails, she had seen my CV, I went to the school for an interview, and she was very happy with our meeting. Everything pointed to me getting offered the job. Then she went away, left me in that office for a while and when she came back she said she could not offer me the job. I asked why and she matter-of-fact blamed it on my being Mexican. 

Alas, I couldn't get answers. It didn't matter when I pointed out my perfect [English proficiency test] score, my education at an international school, my experience teaching for many years, my teaching certifications - nothing mattered in the slightest. I was told one time at a teaching job interview, almost certainly at this one but I can't be sure, that it wasn't the hiring person's choice but the parents’.

I told her that her reason was insulting and absurd. She didn't budge. She didn't seem nervous or ashamed. Just matter-of-fact. This insensitivity was more than anything, what I found most confounding. I tried to keep my share of the dialog exchange short and calm to give her a chance to explain, to coax a better rationale, but I couldn't take the conversation anywhere. It was as if she simply couldn't muster enough empathy to stay present in our conversation.

I'd had many jobs before and since. I loved the two teaching jobs where I worked for the longest (at least six or seven years). I have experience teaching at all ages, kindergarten to high school, children and adult language centers, large class rosters and small, individual tutoring of children and adults, almost always English because that's where job offers are in constant supply, but occasionally was happy to accidentally land Spanish gigs too.

I first taught at that buxiban when I subbed for someone else. When they were ready to offer me a permanent part-time position they were unsure about my nationality. They asked me to take a test, perhaps it was the the GEPT, and when the perfect result came back they put aside all their concerns — if any customer ever asked they could proudly show them my score. So my nationality really was only ever an issue during job seeking.

Relationships with parents were rare but when they existed I always felt we had good rapport, and when we weren't in complete agreement about something it might be because they're surprised when I tell them their kid's participation in class is an asset. "my shy kid? That’s the first time I’ve heard that!" Perhaps people underestimate how different we can be in another language. I can't think of a single instance where a conflict with a student was at all related to my native-speaker status or nationality.

I tried hard to give them cross-cultural perspectives on linguistic prescriptivism, emphasizing that certain pronunciation of grammatical differences are normal for different communities, but I don't feel like they needed to listen to that from me in order to recognize that whatever linguistic differences were discernible in my own speech didn't take away at all from the quality of the education they were receiving.



S. is a Black American woman and talented teacher who has faced discrimination from "the market", but has been successful and popular with students when working in more professional settings:
I haven't worked at a school that was racist against me for the same reason I don't have friends who are white nationalists. They kinda already exclude me from their lives. [Years ago things were worse], but most schools that discriminate against black people nowadays tend to be [low quality] schools that are below my standards.

[In some cases] I lost performance points for things like "not smiling enough" and for losing students from a class where the parents were actually racist. [I know that because] they sat in the back of my classroom, chatting in Chinese so all the children could hear. They got pissed when I reminded them it was an English immersion classroom, even though I didn't comment on the fact that they were bitching about the Black teacher.

There were schools where kids came back to the school or skipped grades just to be in my classes, and where school owners put their kids specifically in my classes. There is optimism about good schools. But unfortunately it's not easy to find them - not unless you know what to look for.

And for non-white teachers - we don't have the freedom to walk into any job and play glorified babysitter while nursing a hangover like a white person can because those kinds of schools tend to be only about appearance over quality.

Fortunately, however, many of those schools closed down when parents and schools realized that schools that put effort into an effective English program were better than some place whose entire "curriculum" revolved around hitting flashcards with sticky balls and squeaky hammers.

As the quality and expectations of parents have risen, especially under the fact that parents now tend to only have one or two kids who they invest a lot of time and money into with the dropping birth rate, they are seeing through the façade of some unqualified dude who looks like he just stumbled in drunk from an all-night pool party (which more often than not was the case) to wanting to know the results and seeing more professionalism.

N. turned down a job with an online tutoring service because of their discrimination against others, a "business decision" that appears to have been made based on exactly zero market research:
I had a job interview for a curriculum director job. It was a tech company that was developing an online tutoring service. In the interview, I was told I would also have to find and hire teachers. The following conversation won't be 100% accurate, but it is a faithful representation of what happened. 

(Keep reading past the British bit. I'm including it because the racist bit appeared to be a lesser concern for them.)

“There is one problem, we can't use British teachers, only Americans.”
“Because of the accent?”
“Yes. We're launching this service in China, and they're not familiar with British accents.”
“OK, I understand that.”
“Oh, and we can't use Black people.”
“Sorry?”
“Yes. Because we're targeting second-tier cities in China, we're worried that people won't accept Black teachers.”
“Right, I can't do this job.”
“We know it's not...polite, but we have to do it.”
“It has nothing to do with being polite. This is wrong.”

I forget what I said, but I tried to explain why it's wrong. The interview ended.


The same company, but different person, contacted me last year to see if I could teach for them. I couldn't but asked about the policy. They said they had no idea what I was talking about, but more importantly, told me they hire people of all different races.


These stories all point to the need for schools to examine their own role in perpetuating racism and native speakerism in language teaching in Taiwan. The demand for White, native-speaker teachers exists, but it is not a given and is certainly not immutable. I do believe if these traits were to cease being advertised as some 'special' qualities of teachers in various schools, students would adapt.

If the focus were instead on hiring quality teachers, advertise that and stand by their staff, language education in Taiwan would improve overall. Market demand for White, native speaker teachers would reduce considerably. Schools could take a leading role in this change, and the success that good teachers who don't have the right 'look' or 'sound' have found in their roles shows that such a shift would be largely successful.

Instead of excusing away racism and native speakerism with "but it's the market", we should all call on schools to change the part they play in perpetuating these prejudices, and call on ourselves to be aware and reflective as well. 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The CCP uses social justice language to advance an authoritarian agenda: Part 1 of Zillions



First, I apologize for not blogging much. It's dissertation time. I said blogs would be more rare, and I meant it. It'll be like this through June, if not longer. But, every once in awhile I can catch a breather, and today is one of those days.

Now, with that aside...

There’s something I want to talk about, which has a lot of associated bits and pieces, which begins and ends with the CCP adopting the language of the social justice left to advance an authoritarian, right-wing agenda. This is the first part of that, let’s see how far I get into a series of posts exploring it further before my dissertation takes.

As everyone in Taiwan knows by now, the Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, accused Taiwan of online attacks that included racism and death threats. I won't summarize: there are plenty of sources for that (New Bloom includes a video link with relevant comments). Some say the director - whom I'll call Tedros as that's how he's referred to on Wikipedia despite (I think) being his given name - accused the Taiwanese government of being behind the attacks. Or, in his exact words: the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) knew about the attacks and "didn't disassociate itself" from them.

Which of course it didn't, because why would it need to "disassociate" from the comments of thousands of angry Taiwanese? You only need to do that when the attack is organized. You can tell the difference between this and organized 'cyber armies' because the language used in various posts was novel, not copy-pasted or the same arguments, almost verbatim, again and again. The memes, too, were new and creative in ways that organized troll armies simply cannot (or at least, do not) replicate.

It's almost as though he can't fathom why tens of thousands of Taiwanese people would be furious with him, after he repeatedly denied the existence of their country, ignored early-warning data Taiwan provided, excluded Taiwan from most proceedings, and then peddled (false) Chinese data far too late.

Tedros is not a stupid man. Incompetent, yes, but not stupid. He is capable of understanding the very reasonable explanation behind why he is so reviled in Taiwan. His insistence that this is something else is a choice. It is intentional. It looks quite similar to the tactics the CCP employs when it decides to ignore plain truth and push the narrative it has decided is most convenient.

Were some comments from Taiwanese racist? Almost certainly. I haven't seen them, but racism exists everywhere. However, I've witnessed racism against Southeast Asians in Taiwan and heard stories of racist treatment in Taiwan from friends who are people of color, and I can tell you that the majority of comments were not that: they were attacking Tedros and the WHO for their treatment of Taiwan and poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak - two issues that are now deeply linked.

A lot of the racist comments, it's worth noting, were in Simplified Chinese (or from accounts that only interact with accounts that write in Simplified). A wave of "apologies" from "Taiwanese" (all using identical wording, and all in Simplified) has also since appeared. So, while there was certainly some organic racism in the comments against Tedros, I wonder how much of it was, in fact, organized and planted...by the CCP.

Of course, the CCP has figured out that accusations of racism can, in fact, be weaponized. A person accused of racism defending themselves who is actually guilty of racism sounds exactly like someone who was falsely accused speaking up about it.

Let’s admit it: when you have to defend yourself as definitely not racist!  - very often that just convinces people that you are racist. Only a racist would have to insist they weren't racist, after all. If you're not, it should be obvious. You might be tempted to reach for trite right-wing cliches like "you're playing the race card!" which, honestly, just makes a person sound more racist. Even pointing out that an innocent and a guilty person defending themselves against accusations of racism sound exactly the same, and that such accusations can therefore be weaponized, sounds like a right-wing talking point! There is literally no way out of this discursive cesspit: the only way to go is down.

There are also very reasonable calls for Taiwan to do some self-reflection on the racism that does exist here (both by Han Taiwanese against non-Han Taiwanese, and against foreigners, especially directed at Black and Southeast Asian residents in Taiwan). However, that shifts attention away from the fact that Tedros is intentionally lying about the attacks being 'organized' with the blessing of the Taiwanese government.

Of course, these baseless accusations only take away from the very necessary discussion on real issues of race in Taiwan, but that's also the point.

It will be very difficult indeed to make this point to Western audiences, because generally speaking, racism isn’t weaponized in quite this way. If someone in the West says they are the victim of racist attacks, generally they should be believed. (Exceptions exist: Clarence Thomas comes to mind). You get the occasional White person who insists they’re the victim of racism, but the left usually doesn’t take the bait. They know that racism is prejudice plus power, and that White people have the most power.

I’m not at all sure that this same Western left knows what to do with accusations of racism that don’t involve White people, however. And accusations by a Black person, against a population of Asians, who themselves are marginalized in Asian discourses, supported (and quite possibly created, or at least helped along) by a repressive Asian government that claims to represent a dominant group but in fact doesn’t, in order to attack the democratically-elected government of the marginalized group? When racism exists in that marginalized group, but was not the issue in this particular case? Yikes.

This brings me to the point I really want to make: if you haven't noticed that the CCP has been adopting the language of the social-justice, post-colonial left in order to push what is essentially a right-wing, neo-colonial agenda, you aren't listening. This is just one bomb lobbed from that particular trebuchet.

The point is to deflect the media attention from all the good work Taiwan is doing, pushing their success out of the spotlight by creating a new firestorm for people to pay attention to. This was highlighted by former Sunflower Movement and current DPP member Lin Fei-fan:

我認為理由無他,正是因為台灣正積極協助更多國家的防疫工作,而台灣的防疫成果也正被國際社會肯定。我們不僅輸出手術口罩協助其他國家第一線防疫人員,陳建仁副總統也在昨天接受了國際媒體BBC的專訪分享台灣的防疫經驗。 
台灣正在被國際看見,也被許多國家肯定和感謝,這是中國想要摧毀的一切,也是中國的傳聲筒之所以要攻訐台灣的原因!

My translation:

I think there is no other reason, it is precisely because Taiwan is actively assisting more countries in their epidemic prevention work, and Taiwan ’s epidemic prevention achievements are being recognized by the international community. Not only have we exported surgical masks to assist frontline epidemic prevention staff in other countries, Vice President Chen Chien-jen also accepted an exclusive interview with the BBC yesterday to share Taiwan's experience with epidemic prevention. 
Taiwan is being seen by the world, and it is also being acknowledged and appreciated by many countries. This is everything China wants to destroy, and therefore the reason why China's mouthpiece is attacking Taiwan!" 

Since then, MoFA released the letter it sent to the WHO, and that too has been attacked (either for MoFA “overstepping”, or for them overstating the case that they “tried to warn the WHO” when mostly they were asking for more information, or...whatever.) I’m not particularly interested in this saga (and I’m not the only one). As far as I see it MoFA generally does an amazing job, the letter did raise alarms about what was going on in China, and it shows that Taiwan attempted to use the channels available to it and made no headway. That people are making a big deal over it honestly just feels like more of an attempt to cut down the amount of positive coverage and praise Taiwan is receiving.

The honest truth is that the WHO has done an awful job dealing with thecoronavirus and its refusal to acknowledge Taiwan hinders efforts at protecting global health, while trying to convince the world that it’s done an amazing job. This follows the exact same narrative trajectory of China, and that’s not an accident. While China is still recovering from the outbreak, it continues to try and confuse and destabilize the narrative on Taiwan so the world doesn’t notice that Taiwan has done the best job in the world of handling the pandemic. While the WHO should be focusing on the ongoing global crisis, it’s spending its time challenging Taiwan to fisticuffs because it can’t handle sincere criticism. Again, these matching narratives are not a coincidence.

I want to explore this a lot more, but I’ll save that for the next post.

A lot of people have since pointed out that there’s growing anti-foreigner (and specifically anti-Black, anti-African) racism in China. In fact, it’s always been there but it’s been getting worse thanks to the coronavirus. In Guangzhou, there are reports of exchange students from Africa and other African residents (the city has a fairly large African community) being evicted from hotels, not allowed to buy food, and reduced to sleeping under bridges.

The CCP doesn’t seem to have offered a coherent response, and I tend to agree with those who say it is likely incapable of doing so. Considering that these actions are directly related to the aftermath of coronavirus (plus suddenly forcing people to sleep on the street doesn’t seem like a great move public health-wise even when there’s no global pandemic), you’d think the WHO and Tedros, who are ever so sensitive to issues of racism, and seem to care very deeply about how African people are treated by Asians, would also offer some sort of response or acknowledgement.

You would be wrong.

Compare that to Taiwan, the country accused of  “racism” against Tedros. I spoke out recently regarding businesses in Taiwan discriminating against foreigners. Then, as now, I want to point out that the majority of these businesses changed their policies when approached. Some resisted and had to be complained at rather strongly - calling the discrimination what it was, being told their policies would be publicly blogged about - others were receptive after an initial polite request. Though not all listened to reason, most did.

I didn’t say anything at the time, but while this was happening I reached out to a few friends I have who work in government after one business insisted that “a visiting police unit” suggested such a discriminatory policy, to confirm that this was not a government policy. It certainly was not. (A friend in the Taipei City government actually said, “first, these businesses should be happy to get customers, business is down everywhere. Second, that’s stupid.”)

In fact, I missed it at the time, but it seems Mayor Ko specifically tweeted, asking businesses not to discriminate. Whoever wrote the tweets did not thread them, so I’m just going to post an image:



Although I’d love to have a statement from the national government specifically calling on businesses not to discriminate, this is fantastic, and the issue (mostly) seems to have died down. A few people were denied Airbnb or hotel rooms, but nobody had to sleep under a bridge. Nobody was unable to buy food.

Over in China, reports are that the treatment of Black residents described above is not only not being stopped by the government, but in some cases actively carried out by the police. The Chinese government has offered a few stock phrases - “we treat all foreigners equally” - but not much more than that.

That’s the difference. Those are the facts.

Speaking of “facts”, there’s more I want to say about the CCP using the left’s tendency toward subjectivity and (total) cultural relativism as further excuses for its authoritarian agenda, but I think that’s the subject of a future post.

In the meantime, facts are facts. Don’t be distracted.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Immigration and racism in Taiwan: it's not about who you are when you come, but who you become after you arrive

IMG_9736 2
Silhouettes of a visitor and a foreign resident in Taiwan

Perhaps an explosive title, but hear me out. I'm going to talk mostly about Taiwan in this post, but the ideas I want to express can be applied to more or less any country (there may be a few exceptions that I'm not aware of  - but by and large this is a global problem). Otherwise, let's just jump right in.

In Taiwan, it's fairly easy for professionals to immigrate and gain permanent residency, at least compared to much of the rest of the world. If you are a professional with at least two years' experience in your field or a Master's degree in any field (which has to be a face-to-face program and in some cases, excludes part-time programs) and someone will hire you, you can come to Taiwan with few problems. If you stay for five years, you can get permanent residency. That's actually not bad by global standards. It's much harder to get a visa to work in most Western countries, and permanent residency (e.g. a green card) can take ages. Of course, some are easier than others.

But it is discriminatory - if you're from a family that is middle class or wealthy, you're more likely to have access to the education you need to get hired. You're more likely to speak an international language (such as English, though for Taiwan, Mandarin is a huge help), because you had access to that same education which probably included it. You probably also come from a worldlier 'family culture' that would have encouraged knowing such a language: families where parents and relatives speak a foreign language are more likely to have offspring who also grow up to speak that language.

So, off the bat, any sort of points-based or 'professional' based visa system is automatically classist, because mostly people born into certain social classes have the access to the education and training they need to get hired and obtain a visa in a country like Taiwan (or Australia, or the US, or...etc.)

If you come from a 'developed' country, many (or most) of which are majority-white for historical reasons that are deeply unfair, you are far more likely to be born into such a family. What is the likelihood of, say, a European being born into circumstances that would allow them these advantages, compared to, say, someone from Southeast Asia outside Singapore? A lot greater. So what are your chances of meeting visa requirements calibrated to attract 'professionals' if you already come from a developed (and therefore more likely - though not necessarily - majority white) country? Comparatively speaking, how likely are you to be able to meet those same requirements if you come from a developing country that is almost certainly not white? Anecdotal evidence does not count. "I'm white but my life was tough" does not count - that's not statistical likelihood. "I'm from Vietnam but my family was rich" is also not statistical likelihood. On average, what are your chances?

Since race intersects with class - the color line is the power line is the poverty line - and you are simply more likely to be from a privileged background if you are white - such a system also gives an unfair advantage to people who are white. There are exceptions for sure, but again, we're talking averages here.

In Taiwan's case, I simply don't care if the goal is to attract certain kinds of professionals, in part because doing so is simply inherently classist (and therefore racist) - and that is exactly how Taiwan's immigration system works, both in terms of getting visas to come here, getting permanent residency, and getting citizenship. If you qualify for a professional visa, permanent residency is fairly easy, but if you come here to study - say, you are one of the Southeast Asian students that Taiwan hopes to attract - that doesn't count, and it can be difficult to transition. If you are a blue-collar worker, there's no path at all. To be a citizen, you have to be even more 'qualified', which probably means coming from an even wealthier background, or have 'Chinese ancestry' (which is a law that's obliquely about race).

You can come here and seek a better life, but probably only if your previous life was comparatively privileged, and you can stay forever, but you're probably already really privileged if qualify just isn't a good look.

I also believe that it doesn't actually achieve Taiwan's goals. The birthrate is falling, and while I don't necessarily think "we must unceasingly increase our population so the young can support the old" is a good long-term plan - Taiwan's easily habitable areas are already densely populated and there is finite space and resources - the best way to ensure population stability is to loosen immigration requirements. A lot of these immigrants will marry and have children locally, which is a huge bonus for Taiwan. Not just  professionals: everyone.

In addition, I'm not at all convinced that the visa requirements and citizenship, plum blossom and gold card requirements actually meet Taiwan's needs. Taiwanese media routinely talks about the need to train more vocational workers, there is an oversupply of local workers for white-collar jobs (which is one reason wages are low, though not the only one), and with a low birthrate, Taiwan's labor force depends on immigration. Yes, this is true even despite the brain drain due to low wages and stressful, borderline-tyrannical office culture. And yet, it's especially true for blue-collar workers, because local vocational training is not particularly good and not highly-respected.

It would simply be smarter and truly meet Taiwan's needs, then, to relax rules for blue-collar immigrants, not just white-collar ones. So why have white collar workers been specifically prioritized? (That's a rhetorical question. The answers are racism and classism.)

And, of course, that's not even getting into what white collar workers Taiwan actually needs compared to whom it is trying to attract. With an initiative to become "bilingual by 2030", you'd think they'd want more qualified teachers and teacher trainers who can train up newly-hired local and foreign teachers, and yet for the education sector, only "associate professors", not regular teachers, qualify for dual nationality. That makes no sense at all.

And finally, it's simply the right thing to do. A place - whether that's a country, region or city - prospers when it is open to everyone seeking a better life, and the drawbacks are few. Yes, an influx of labor may cause short-term drops in wages, but those tend to recover. Yes, increased multiculturalism can cause friction, but it doesn't have to be that way, and the advantages of being exposed to people whose backgrounds and worldviews are unlike your own outweigh the drawbacks. Plus, it's a super great way to not be racist! They bring talent and creativity as well as hard work. They open businesses, get married, start families. They fill needs and niches in society. They matter, even if they don't come with a pre-fab education or specific work experience.

In other words, it's not about who you are when you come. Or it shouldn't be. It's who you become after you arrive. 


I want to insert a little story about how I came here and taught English with very few qualifications (some teaching experience in a variety of settings, from children to adults, from monolingual to multilingual, in the US and outside of it, both English and native-speaker literacy, but no formal training.) I want to talk about how the only way I got to where I am now - the person who trains people like my former self - is because of the opportunities I could only access after I got to Taiwan. I want to talk about how I could never have afforded my subsequent training and education with the low purchasing power my American existence felt like it was dooming me to. But I won't (I mean, other than the fact that I just did). I grew up with English as my first language, and standard American English at that. I'm white. I was privileged enough to be born into a family that, with some difficulty, sent me to university. I'm already privileged, so my story isn't the point.

Otherwise, if you say you support immigration to Taiwan but you only mean immigration for the already-privileged, you don't really support immigration. You support classist, and therefore racist, immigration policy. You support people who look and sound like me, but not anyone really different from you. I mean that for Taiwanese as well: yes, we are different, from different backgrounds. Yes, this might lead to some differences in worldview. But, educated Taiwanese readers who can read this in English, you and I have more in common because of our class background than either of us have in common with someone from a truly marginalized community. Especially if you are Han Taiwanese - Han privilege is absolutely a thing, and you know it.

If those other people like us are Asian - say, Hong Kongers, Singaporeans or Japanese - then they are just that much more similar to you, coming from the same region, though not the same culture and society.

Do you really want to support only people who don't seem so different - people like me - or do you really want to support Taiwan being an international society where everyone can seek a better life?

Taiwan is already a multicultural society - though the rate fluctuates, the number of Taiwanese children with a foreign parent has always been higher than a lot of people realize. After all, most of the time, those foreign parents are Asian, so it's hard to tell. For the past few centuries, this country has had foreign travelers, residents, colonizers and spouses interwoven into its cultural and historical fabric. Although there's a 'majority' culture, it's only a monoculture if you want to believe it is (and if you think 'monoculture' includes other foreigners if those foreigners happen to be Asian).

I see no reason why that can't be reflected in a better, more egalitarian, more welcoming and less racist immigration policy. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Bad reporting, Han Kuo-yu, and racism against Filipinos in Taiwanese society

Screen Shot 2019-03-11 at 12.02.45 PM
This meme - not established Taiwanese media -  is the most accurate translation of Han's actual remarks that I've found. 

So, I'm sure you've all heard by now that Kaohsiung mayor Han Kuo-yu is a racist crapsack, but you might not be entirely clear on exactly how much of a racist crapsack he actually is, because it's impossible to figure out what his exact words were from print media. 

In looking for Han's direct quote, I found three different versions in United Daily News, Liberty Times and Storm Media, and decided none of them could be fully trusted. So, I found a video. Here's exactly what he said, with video evidence:


我想高雄市民跟台灣人民的心理狀態一定很大衝擊,怎麼瑪麗亞一下變成我們老師了?

My translation:


I think the hearts of Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese would be greatly shocked, how can a Maria become our teacher?

'Maria' is a pejorative for a Filipina woman, connoting a woman of humble means who performs domestic labor. It's equivalent to calling them maids - referring to every woman in the Philippines as 'the help'. This particular insult is well-known in Taiwan, where many workers from the Philippines perform blue-collar labor in Taiwan. It's not just a racist word, it's a sexist one too as it specifically denigrates the domestic labor done by foreign women.

That word, "shock" (衝擊) can also mean an assault or lashing - it could just as easily be translated as "would assault the hearts of Kaohsiungers and Taiwanese".

The "...because how can a 'Maria' become our English teacher" is also important to understanding Han's meaning, it implies unlikeliness, impossibility, or mockery. How could The Help possibly teach us?

This is what he means and an accurate translation of his remark makes that clear.

Han goes on to say (from the video linked above, translation mine):


往菲律賓取才我覺得這個在一個克服的過程。... 如果我們從菲律賓引進教英文的師資,高雄的家長能不能接受? 所以我才會用瑪麗亞三個字,來做一個表述,所以我用瑪麗亞三個字不是有其他的意思在。...你為什麼不找美國,澳大利亞,英國的,你為什麼找隔壁菲律賓的?我的意思是說,家長心裡會有一個障礙。可是呢?菲律賓外語人才的輸出,已經很成熟,這個兩個這間,怎麼樣說服高雄的家長? 
Filipino talent, I think this is a process of overcoming....if we introduce qualified English teachers from the Philippines, would Kaohsiung patriarchs/heads of household/old-timers be able to accept it [with the implication that they would not]. So, I can only say 'Maria' it's just an expression, so when I say 'Maria', there's no other meaning....Why don't you find American, Australian, English ones, why do you find people from the nearby Philippines? My meaning is, that's a mental obstacle for these 'patriarchs'/old timers. But? The Philippines sending out foreign language speakers is already very common. Between these two [extremes], how can we convince those old-timers?

This sounds like a reasonable position to take, because it's surely true that there are many racist people in Kaohsiung and Taiwan who would be bothered by or opposed to having teachers from the Philippines in positions of authority and respect in Taiwan, because to them, they are just "Marias".

That doesn't absolve Han of his initial comments, though. First, to say "I didn't mean anything other than that by the word 'Maria'" is about as tired an excuse as "I only used the N-word because I heard it in a rap song, not because I meant something racist."

And it doesn't hold up to even the barest scrutiny as an explanation: he's not quoting anyone in particular when he calls Filipinas 'Marias'. The word came out of his own mouth. He used it offhandedly, like a normal word anyone would use. He didn't adequately signpost his remarks as a quote or description of an attitude, because that's not actually what they were despite his "clarifications" later.

If Han had really meant to describe what Taiwanese think, and make it clear that he disagrees, he wouldn't have said 'Maria' so casually in the first place. This marks him not as an ally, but a concern troll: defending his words as describing what the other side thinks, but showing through his unconsidered language choices that, on some level, he is a part of that 'other side'. Someone who truly wants to change racism against Southeast Asians in Taiwanese society would simply not say "...how can a Maria become our teacher?"

It boils down to his meaning being, "I don't hate Marias, I'm just worried about racism in Taiwan, what with everyone used to them being so poor and being maids and all, it's sad to me that nobody wants those Marias to be their English teachers. I'm just concerned!" 


He didn't say "many Taiwanese unfortunately have an obstacle in their thinking to accepting the idea that teachers from the Philippines could teach them, and that is wrong. We need to persuade them and overcome this obstacle, because there are many qualified professionals, including teachers, from the Philippines." He didn't even say "many Taiwanese think of workers from the Philippines as 'Marias' and that is a problem", which, while a bit gasp-worthy, is at least kind of an accurate description of what some Taiwanese people think.

He said, and I repeat, "how can a Maria become an English teacher?" as casually as an American racist might say "How'd a ________ like her get a nice car like that?" 

(And see how I made it quite clear that such horrid language describes views that exist in the world, but does not reflect my own views? It's not hard.)

At the very least it didn't occur to him that unthinkingly tossing off the 'Maria' epithet might be a problem. That only happens when someone already thinks of a group of people that way, not when they are signaling disagreement or condemnation of an opinion others hold.

And if a leader is caught in such a gaffe and tries to insist that they don't personally feel that way about a particular group, but they're just worried that everyone else does, that's simply unacceptable. Leaders should not inflame societal prejudices, even if they are common; they should be examples of a higher, more forward-thinking standard. 


Let's keep in mind as well that he tows the same 'concern troll' line with marriage equality, saying his real concern is "the next generation" (won't someone think of the children?), not that he is anti-gay, while fraternizing with anti-gay groups


And he didn't even bother to defend his remark until later in the meeting when directly asked about it, or show awareness that 'Maria' is more than 'just an expression'.

If you look at reporting of Han's comments, you get distortions of what he said all over the place (all translations are mine). Some make his wording look a lot worse - from UDN:


引進菲律賓人才,這恐怕對高雄人、台灣人心理衝擊大,因為瑪麗亞怎麼變老師了?
Introducing Filipino talent, I'm afraid (as in, scared - not regretful) that this will be a shock to Taiwanese and Kaohsiung residents, because how can a Maria become a teacher? 

From Liberty Times:


這恐怕對台灣人心理衝擊大,因為瑪麗亞怎麼變老師了?
I'm afraid that this would be a shock to the Taiwanese, because how can a Maria become a teacher?

And from Storm Media, inexplicably making him look better:


韓國瑜認為,確實能夠借重,但必須先克服市民及台灣人民的心理障礙,讓「瑪莉亞變老師」,很多人內心會有衝擊。 
...「我覺得我想高雄市民跟台灣人民,心理一定有很大衝擊,瑪莉亞變成我們老師了,這要克服的過程,這可能心理衝擊很大。」 
Han Kuo-yu believes it is indeed possible to take advantage of /get benefits from [talent from the Philippines], but the psychological barriers of the people of Taiwan must first be overcome - to let "'Marias' become teachers", a lot of people will be shocked.  
"I think / I think that Kaohsiung residents and Taiwanese will be very shocked, Marias become our English teachers, we need to overcome this, this can be a huge shock." 

Storm tried to soften the impact of his words by mashing two quotes together - "Marias become our English teachers" and "we need to overcome this", making it seem as though he said these two things at the same time, when he didn't (which the video makes clear by his different positioning). It also erases the "because how can a Maria become our teacher?" by selectively cutting his quote and replacing "because how can..." (怎麼) with "let" (讓) outside the quote marks. 

In English the reporting isn't much higher quality.

From Focus Taiwan, which offers the most accurate translation:


Responding to a proposal that Taiwan could hire bilingual Filipino white-collar workers at a conference on Wednesday, the mayor said employing "Marias" as teachers would be a psychological shock for Taiwanese.

There's also this from Taiwan News, which is far worse but just translates the garbage from Storm Media above but does so in a way that make Han's comments sound erudite in English, when they weren't particularly eloquent in Mandarin:


In response to this, the Kaohsiung Mayor admitted the Philippines’ abundance of skilled labor could benefit the city, but said its residents would first need to overcome some “internal conflicts.”
“I believe witnessing ‘Marias’ become teachers would cause a clash in the hearts of the people of Kaohsiung, and Taiwan’s population at large. This is something that needs to be overcome; likely a huge internal conflict,” Storm quotes Han.

And the Taipei Times, with what I think is the most inaccurate translation:


Han on Wednesday told a meeting of the Chinese National Association of Industry and Commerce in Taipei that he feared that hiring educated employees from the Philippines as English teachers “would cause a psychological shock for Taiwanese, as people might wonder: How has our Maria become a teacher?” 


Focus Taiwan accurately placed the 'Maria' comment within the attitude of Han, which is the context in which he made it, and not as a description of what he thinks other Taiwanese think. The other two make him sound much better than he actually did, and situate the 'Maria' quip not as Han's own word (which it is) but as a description of something he disagrees with (which is not what he said until pushed - which outs him as a concern troll.) Some translations (like Taipei Times' work) add connotations to the translation - e.g. "wondering" - that are simply not there in his actual words. 

All of these seem so odd to me, because the video of his remarks is publicly available. I'm not even a native Mandarin speaker or a perfectly fluent one, and yet I found and translated it with little problem.

So why do some quotes - like Liberty Times and UDN - make Han's remark seem more shocking than it was (and to be clear, it was quite shocking on its own and did not need to be sexed up)? And why do others - like Storm Media - make it sound like not much at all? How is this unclear and inaccurate media reporting of Han's remarks affecting how Taiwanese think about the incident, and is it distorting public discourse?

In English at least, it is having a distorting effect. Several posts on social media have pointed out that Han's remarks should not be considered offensive, because that's what some Taiwanese really think, based on the Taipei Times and Taiwan News translations.

This makes me wonder how can we even have a real conversation about Han's remarks and racism in Taiwanese society if what we read isn't quoting him correctly.

I'm not sure why Storm Media - which I've found to be typically more reliable - made Han look better than he deserved, and why a pan-green and pan-blue rag each made him look worse. But because the inaccuracies are present across the entire media-political spectrum, it doesn't point to an attempt to polarize the Taiwanese political cleavage.

Rather, I think it's just plain old bad reporting.

I'll finish off with something bad, then something good.

Something bad:


Kaohsiung Mayor Han Kuo-yu (韓國瑜) on Saturday apologized for a recent remark in which he referred to Filipinos as "Marias," saying the term, considered by many to be a racial slur, was a slip of the tongue.
Han was sorry for the misunderstanding caused by his misuse of the term and said he looks forward to future cooperation with the Philippines, it added. 

No, Focus Taiwan. NO NO NO NO NO.

"Maria" is not "considered by many" to be a racial slur. Jesus F. Christ. It is a racial slur. Period. Han Kuo-yu said it, and only tried to insist it was a description of what other people think after he was called to task for it, without ever explaining why he'd throw it out so casually (because there is no explanation that absolves him).

It was not a "misunderstanding". We all understood him perfectly. People in the Philippines understood him quite accurately. And he didn't misuse the term - he used it exactly as it's meant to be used in racist speech.

Just as when my (dearly departed) grandpa referred to "those people" and then insisted, when I pressed him, that he hadn't meant it as an insult but "they're just a different community", I knew perfectly well that that's not what he'd meant. 


But then there's the good thing: when I moved to Taiwan 12 years ago, I don't know that a comment like this would have caused this kind of uproar in Taiwan. I passed more than one "Foreign Labor Go Home" protest, with old men carrying signs. I don't even know if such language was common then, because my Mandarin was crap, and I never heard of anyone raising a fuss about it.

But in 2019, despite some attempts to justify Han's language, the overwhelming response of Taiwanese public discourse is that it is not acceptable to talk this way, and racist speech and actions should not be tolerated.

If Han is correct about how many Taiwanese might think of English teachers from the Philippines - and he is, for some people - the fact that the backlash has been so swift and damning proves that not all Taiwanese think this way.

That said, it doesn't seem to be hurting his approval ratings, although I have long suspected something is really weird about whatever force underlies those ratings which is propping up Han. 


Taiwan has a long way to go - we need to treat immigrants from Southeast Asia better, end discrimination and give them the same opportunities for permanent residency and citizenship that white collar workers (who are largely Western) have - but this is real progress. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Improve English education in Taiwan with this ONE WEIRD TRICK!

My work in Taiwan is dominated by adult students who ask for help with accent training. They need to do business with Koreans, Japanese, various speakers of Southeast Asian languages, Australians, Latinx people, Indians or various Europeans.

You see, all their teachers have been from an "Inner Circle" country (UK, Ireland, US, Australia, Canada, New Zealand). They are therefore most used to those accents, North American ones in particular. They might meet people with those accents, but for business, there is a real need to better understand other Englishes.

My life in Taiwan is unfortunately punctuated by people bloviating about how racism in the English learning industry is somehow acceptable because of "choice" or "the market" or something (their arguments don't make much sense, because they are constructed mostly to avoid confronting uncomfortable issues rather than as stand-alone opinions).

They might try to say that this is acceptable because of some sort of subjective "clarity" of certain accents, although of course how clear an accent is depends in great part on how exposed you are to it compared to other accents (these people are not exactly experts in second language acquisition).

Some pontificate on how it is preferable to be taught by a "native speaker", usually with a very poor understanding of second language acquisition or what being a "native" or "non-native" speaker might actually mean. There is even less recognition that many people in India, Singapore, Nigeria, the Philippines (and more) are, in fact, native speakers, let alone questioning why they aren't recognized as such.

(The answer is racism, by the way. But that's hard for Johnny McBackpacker to admit when it casts doubt on his strongly-held opinion that "the market" is the Fairest Arbiter Of Them All.)

My life in England is characterized by mostly non-native speaking classmates, all of whom are fluent in English, and all of whom know more about the pedagogy of how to teach English than the average Johnny McBackpacker.

Sure, they have accents. But many of them have the accents that my adult students say they need to better understand for their work. Every last one of them is qualified to teach in Taiwan, but many if not most would struggle to get hired here.

We talk about all sorts of things, not least of which is the idea of English as a lingua franca (ELF) or English as an international language (EIL). Most English learners speak regularly with other non-native speakers, some perhaps almost entirely so, especially if they are using English in business or academia.

Back in Taiwan, the consequences are not surprising - all that learning of English from Canadians, Brits and Americans (the so-called 'preferable' native speakers) has actually put those students who tell me they need help with accents at a disadvantage. They get to work and realize, oh, all that time I spent with Teacher Becky listening to dialogues between Tim and Karen, but I actually have to communicate with people who don't speak like Becky, Tim or Karen. I have to do business with Sandeep and Cheng and Fumiko and Nnedi and Abdurrahman and Lupa. 

Of course, most people making hiring decisions are not educators. Even if they realize that they are actually disadvantaging their learners by not providing the English education many instrumentally-motivated Taiwanese learners are likely to need, they don't care. "It's the market." And the market wants white - even Inner Circle "native speaker" teachers who aren't white struggle to get hired.

And I just can't help but think, if y'all hired fluent English-speaking teachers from around the world, ensuring that most learners through their time studying English were exposed to a variety of Englishes, maybe not so many adult learners would come to me asking for help, which I have trouble giving with my Standard American accent. Maybe if we hired more English teachers whose usage represented the speakers and Englishes our learners would actually be communicating with, we wouldn't have this problem.

I mean, I don't want to say "duh", but...duh?

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Racism in teacher hiring provokes outrage, but sexism doesn't

I'm sure you're all familiar with Facebook Post Seen 'Round Taiwan, in which a kindergarten teacher at Kangchiao (a famous and extremely expensive international school in Taiwan) seeks substitutes, apologizing as they admit that the school won't consider any "black or dark-skinned" applicants.


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Outrage followed. Outrage. Fury. I admit, I also shared the post. With good reason - it's not only blatantly racist, but such discriminatory hiring practices are also illegal in Taiwan.  (Notably, so is working at a kindergarten as a foreigner at all - chances are the teacher isn't aware of this, but the school is and hires foreigners anyway.)

I wonder if any reputable news outlet has asked Kangchiao not just for a comment, not "do you discriminate?" but "what exactly was that teacher told?" and "how many non-white teachers do you currently have?"

But what bugs me just as much as all of that is this:

Over the years, I have taken to task many posters, recruitment agencies and schools for sexist job ads: you know, female teachers wanted, that sort of thing. I've pointed out how many 'better' schools have all male teaching staff. I've been personally attacked for this. I've been threatened ("I'm going to find out who you work for and tell them you're a feminazi", "I'm going to report you to immigration/the tax office because [insert bullshit reason here].") I've been kicked out of and banned from job groups for merely pointing out that an ad is illegal and standing my ground when challenged on that. I've had people try to make the case that sexism in English teaching is okay for whatever (stupid) reasons - usually some tired fugue involving women being more "nurturing" or more professional jobs going to men because there are more "qualified" men, so diversity shouldn't be one facet of the hiring process.

At no point has an ad requesting a certain gender of teacher caused this much anger or made the news in any real way, despite it usually being more blatant than racism in hiring. Of course many if not most schools have racist hiring practices, but they will almost never advertise it openly. But they will advertise sexist hiring practices openly.

That's not to say the blatant racism in this ad shouldn't spark a furor, but that the sexism in other ads should. It's also illegal, it's also discriminatory, there's also no good reason for it, and it's also wrong.

There is no reason why, in a classroom or school situation, that gender should be a factor in hiring a teacher. Some of the most 'nurturing' teachers I know - the best with kids - are actually mostly male. The most dedicated Montessori teacher I have ever met is a man. I can rattle off half a dozen highly-qualified women who could easily teach higher-level classes (Business English, IELTS and the 'prestigious' buxibans) - and those are only the ones I know personally. There are obviously more. There is no reason for the teaching staff at these places to be almost entirely male.

Pretty much the only time I can justify considering gender in teacher hiring is if it is for one-on-one classes which will take place at either the teacher's or student's home. I can understand a female student feeling uncomfortable having a male teacher alone in her home or vice versa.

And yet, nothing - despite the fact that sexism in hiring is not only illegal, but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes (yo if you say I'm 'more nurturing' because I'm female, you'd better get yourself a good strong protective codpiece, buddy. I don't even like kids). It makes it harder for women who want to work with adults - say teaching Business English - to be taken seriously. It makes it harder for nurturing men who want to work with kids to earn parents' trust.

It perpetuates wage inequality as well: those 'nurturing' jobs working with children tend to pay a lot less, too. Surrogate-Mommy-Tracking women into them based on ludicrous notions that they're better suited for those lower-paid roles because they're female, and not bothering about better-paid teaching work being almost entirely done  by men leads to long-term wage gaps.

But nobody seems to be mad about that, and I'm stumped as to why. It's just as much a violation of the law. Every case made for violating the law comes down to "that's what paying customers want", but if what the students (or their parents) want is actually illegal and has nothing to do with who is actually best-suited and qualified to educating them or their children, it doesn't - or shouldn't - matter.

You know, though, about that ad. It doesn't matter either. It won't lead to any real change.

There's a lot swirling around about who said what and why which I won't get into, only to say that I have it on good authority that the problem here is not with the teacher who posted the ad.

The school, as reported in Taiwan News, claims it does not discriminate - but of course they have to say that. They seem to think the teacher "misunderstood" (according to another source) - though (and this is my interpretation here), anyone who has been in Taiwan long enough knows that "you misunderstood" is another way of saying "you embarrassed me/the organization by accurately reporting what I said or otherwise made clear, so now we have to pretend it was a 'misunderstanding' when we both know it wasn't."

And that's just it - nothing will change because if Kangchiao is in fact racist (I don't know for a fact that they are), they'll just try to be quieter or more subtle about it, to ensure that it never gets stated openly again. Even if Kangchiao is not racist, every other school that is (and there are a lot of them) will try to avoid this not by - duh - not being racist - but by trying to ensure that nobody outs them as racist.

The big outrage here as far as the racist buxiban industry is concerned isn't that there is racism in teacher hiring in Taiwan. It's that someone dared to say so openly.

I guess when it comes to sexism they're safe, as nobody seems willing to be outraged about that. And I'll continue to point it out, tell people it's illegal, and be threatened, shouted at and kicked out of groups for simply stating again and again that it's both illegal and wrong.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Book Review: Lord of Formosa

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It is a pleasure for a work of historical fiction to come out on an area of history I am particularly interested in (Taiwan, obviously). It is an even greater pleasure when that work of historical fiction is not only engaging, but generally accurate. Joyce Bergvelt's Lord of Formosa has earned both of these adjectives.

Lord of Formosa is essentially a biography of Koxinga (國姓爺 or 鄭成功), the 17th-century scholar/pirate/businessman/military leader/talented crazy dude, from his early life on the Japanese island of Hirado (off Nagasaki) with his Japanese mother, Tagawa Matsu to his upbringing at his father Zheng Zhilong's (鄭芝龍) estate in Fujian, followed by his rise as one of the most talented loyalist military leaders resisting the encroaching Manchu (Qing) conquerers to his conquest of the Dutch colony on Taiwan. It's interspersed with viewpoint chapters from the Dutch colonial officers as well as Koxinga's parents.

It tells the story, in short, of a man given the Imperial Surname (國姓爺) by a dying empire, a man given the title 'Success' (成功) who was, in the end, not all that successful.

The story itself is somewhat tragic: Koxinga fulfills what the novel depicts as his 'destiny' but pays for it dearly. He has to choose between remaining loyal to the collapsing Ming dynasty or to his father, and watches the devastation of his family at the hands of the Qing.

"He literally died of a broken heart," an acquaintance of mine noted.

But no, to hear historians tell it, he probably died of syphilis.

In this way, the thick novel is cinematic in scope, at times reading like a biopic. It would make an excellent film, and I can only hope someone will pick up the rights and do just that (as long as it's not a Chinese company hoping to use it as a propaganda vehicle for their government's aggressive territorial expansionism).

From the beginning, I was interested in how accurate Lord of Formosa really was. So, just after reading it, I picked up Tonio Andrade's Lost Colony, figuring it would be a good nonfiction counterpoint. I'm partway through that book now, and am surprised more by how much is accurate than the small details which are spun with more artistic license.

However, this isn't even the highlight of the book: the best part is simply how much fun it is to read. Despite being extremely busy, I read Lord of Formosa in three days, staying up late one evening to finish it. You know a book is good when it's 3am and you know you aren't going to get enough rest that night, but you just keep going because sleep won't happen anyway.

I also appreciated how forthright Bergvelt is with her characters' flaws. Zheng Zhilong is, to be frank, a total douchehole both in terms of his defection to the Qing and his treatment of his first wife. If his son Koxinga was any kind of hero, he was a deeply flawed one: often cruel and despotic, suffering from fits of uncontrollable rage which might have been brought about by the aforementioned syphilis. Of course, the syphilis would have been brought about by all the mostly-nonconsensual sex he was having.

What I'm trying to say is that Koxinga might have been brilliant, but he was also super rapey.

His regretting it later (in the novel's telling) doesn't change that. Oh, and like father, like son.

In fact, that Bergvelt successfully created a story that includes a variety of relevant, realistic female voices - not all of them kind, pure-hearted heroic martyrs - in a story and era that is so deeply, unrepentantly penis-driven (my masts are bigger than your masts - let us do naval warfare!) is a literary feat. While she could have done more with the housekeeper, Lady Yan and Koxinga's wife Cuiying, she does enough to show that behind every story of dueling dicks, there are women who also drive the plot. And yet, she doesn't shy away from exactly how those women are treated.

The Dutch, who are portrayed not entirely unsympathetically, still come across as stupid - not really understanding Asia or the goings-on in the colonies they ruled - as well as greedy and racist. This was historically accurate: they did consider Chinese men to be 'effeminate', not a fighting force that could vanquish their (smaller) military might. That's racist. They didn't care nearly as much about the welfare of the people on Formosa, be they indigenous or Hoklo, as they did their profits. This is not only historically accurate, but also racist. 

On the other hand, Koxinga was kind of racist too - believing he had the right to take Taiwan because most residents by that time were Chinese (mostly brought over as laborers by the Dutch, who worked them like serfs) and therefore Taiwan ought to be a part of China, is just a different way to be racist. He didn't 'liberate' Taiwan from colonizers - he was just another kind of colonizer.

If I have any criticism of Lord of Formosa, it's that that point could have been made more forcefully.

Bergvelt takes a few artistic liberties. There was a fortune-teller in Japan who was more of a plot device than real character. I'm not sure how many of the Hoklo characters on Formosa were real people (though at least two - Guo Huai-yi and He [Ting]-bin certainly are). It is not clear how Tagawa Matsu died, although Bergvelt's telling of it is plausible, or even likely. Koxinga is depicted as growing less rapey over time (but still, again, super rapey) due to the effect his mother's death has on him. I'm not sure this would have played out in quite that way in real life - more likely, he was incapable of comprehending that the sex he unilaterally decided to have with women who didn't resist per se but also didn't consent is just as rapey as what Qing soldiers were doing. In other words, he didn't stop being rapey - he was just another kind of rapist.

That said, Bergvelt is a talented writer, understanding seemingly innately where to hew to historical accuracy and where to apply a bit of soft focus or streamlining. The story moves forward when it needs to (although I would have liked to have seen more of Koxinga's childhood in China) and lingers where it needs to.

Whether you are into historical fiction, want an engaging read of a period of Taiwanese history in particular, or just like a good novel, I strongly recommend it.