I was amused to notice this unusually large anti-littering sign in central Taichung 台中 the other day. White men are occasionally portrayed as villains in public service announcements here in Taiwan 台灣—see here and here for two examples from this blog—but seldom with as much absurdity. I mean, just look at how few fucks are given by this business cowboy, lasso in hand as he throws trash everywhere while riding, inexplicably, a balloon version of planet Earth, with cigarettes, wine bottles, tin cans, and other refuse strewn all over the place. Yee-haw! A friend joked that this is basically how she imagines most white men—and indeed, this is basically me, all of the time.
Certain elements of the western expatriate and immigrant communities in Taiwan are sensitive to negative depictions of white people in news and media—and not without reason. Although we enjoy plenty of privilege systemic racism against white people in Taiwan is also a demonstrable fact; consider the Nationality Law 國籍法 for a clear example of this ethnic bias. In short, there are different rules for those with Taiwanese or Chinese ancestry and those without. And, of course, popular media is quick to turn any non-story into national news as long as some hapless white rube is involved.
Ah, but I am setting things up for a bit of a plot twist: it isn’t always about white people. Actually, given that westerners are a distinct minority among foreigners in Taiwan, we would do well to replace “white” with “non-Taiwanese” when discussing these issues. Broadly speaking, westerners typically make more than the average Taiwanese while working fewer hours, but the situation is entirely reversed for the vast majority of other foreign residents—most of them from Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines. We hear little from the other side of this privilege gap in English language media for what should be obvious reasons—but we would do well to remember that systemic racism against foreigners in Taiwan is far more severe for non-westerners.
Now what if I told you that this sign faces First Square 第一廣場, a notorious meeting place for Southeast Asians in Taichung 台中? The immense building is filled with daytime discos and karaoke bars catering to the large foreign worker community in this part of the nation. You won’t find similar signs in Taiwanese majority areas—and I am certain that the placement of this sign is not accidental, though I can’t say the same for the choice of clip art.