Sharing the Black Experience in Taiwan

Sharing the Black Experience in Taiwan
Photo Credit: Reuters / TPG Images

What you need to know

Since the Black Lives Matter Rally in June, opportunities for sharing Black experiences in Taiwan have multiplied.

The George Floyd protests of the spring were neither an exclusively American affair, nor were they a temporary outburst. Solidarity rallies around the world, including in Taiwan, closely followed the events in the United States. Large gatherings like the Black Lives Matter Solidarity Rally and Taipei Is Listening's call to action brought hundreds together in June to raise awareness of the state-sanctioned violence that kills Black people in the U.S., and also to share experiences of racial discrimination in Taiwan.

These events clarified that Black people in Taiwan have values and stories in common — stories that aren't often heard. Since June, the new connections made through these large events have turned into extended conversations, leading to more public gatherings to show that Black lives do matter in Taiwan.

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Photo Credit: Ellery Hamann
Te’Qin Windham helped organize the Black Lives Matter Solidarity Rally on June 13, 2020.

Community Convos

After the Black Lives Matter Solidarity Rally in Taipei, Te'Qin Windham, one of the organizers, has continued community work in Taipei. Windham created a space for discussions on race and other important, yet taboo, issues through her Community Convos event series. “Community Convos is a space for safe, meaningful discussions about topics you may be reluctant to discuss,” Windham told The News Lens.

At the discussions, she stresses the importance of acknowledging each other by name, along with other guidelines to encourage respectful communication. Windham then provides an introduction to the topic, with time for the attendees to reflect on what they already know and how it applies to them and their own identity. Using several activities throughout the evening, Windham attempts to break down stereotypes attached to subjects like cultural identity, appropriation, and racial representation.

“I created this series to be an environment that fosters understanding before judgment, listening before speaking, compassion over conflict, and connection alongside the community. It’s important to have this safe space because the only real way to connect and understand others who may be different from you is to talk openly, honestly, and respectfully, and learn to listen with empathy and love,” Windham added.

While many people agree that racism is a problem, the challenge of effecting change lies in organizing people to come together. Windham believes that social issues are best processed and resolved through discussion. Her next event, on sex and gender, will be on Saturday, October 17th, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Café Dalida. (More information can be found on the Community Convos Facebook page.)

In addition to Community Convos, Windham is hosting the first queer femme, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color float at Taipei Pride on October 31, 2020. She is also co-organizing events with the organization, VIBE (Versatile Individuals Building Empathy), whose mission is to nurture racial, cultural, and social awareness in young people so that they can reach their fullest potential. Their first youth event will be in November.

Black in Asia Book Launch

Both in Taiwan and East Asia at large, the diverse experiences of Black people are often unheard and unseen — both to Black people and non-Black people. It's nearly impossible to address issues if they are invisible. Without knowing what Black people go through, how can anti-Black racism, microaggressions, or racial discrimination be understood?

These questions unsettled Tiffany Huang, a Taiwanese-American publisher, particularly after she became aware of police violence towards Black people in the United States. Huang decided to use her Spill Stories publishing platform to share the experiences of Black people living in Asia.

The idea came to fruition in the book Black in Asia: A Spill Stories Anthology, a collection of stories from Black people from across the world who have been living in East Asia. The book launch in Taipei was held at vegan restaurant Ooh Cha Cha on September 12. Taiwan-based contributors to the book, Bernise Springer and Whitney Cele, facilitated the discussion and shared their experiences, both positive and negative. Explaining why she shared her stories, Springer said, “as someone from the Caribbean in Taiwan, being able to contribute my pieces was very important to me. I believe that the diversity of stories present in this book allows readers to reemphasize the fact that the Afro-diaspora is not a monolithic entity. Moreover, through the personal penning of our experiences, one encounters the 'human' aspect which quite often gets discounted because of the color of our skin.”

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Photo Credit: Spill Stories
Whitney Cele and Bernise Springer signing books at the Black in Asia: A Spill Stories Anthology book launch.

I have been asked, “What is it like to be Black in Asia?” Instead of sharing my own experiences or second-hand stories from my friends, I can refer people to this book. Although there are similarities and mutual experiences, Black people and the Black experience are not all the same. The diversity of stories in this new book can break stereotypes about where Black people are from, how they live, and how they are treated.

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Photo Credit: Spill Stories
Copies of Black in Asia pictured alongside a promotional poster for the event

Mama Africa Heritage Festival

On October 3, the first Mama Africa Heritage festival took place at C.C. Work in Taipei. Using art, music, dance, performance, and food, the festival exposed people to the diversity of culture from Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States. Organizers Jenny Pierre and Anita Kyalo issued a statement to The News Lens on their motivations to host the festival: “We hope to make every African, Caribbean, and African American person in Taiwan have the feeling of being home, and to share the culture with Taiwanese people; to promote understanding and acceptance of cultures different from your own; to encourage others to experience new things and promote open-mindedness.” By engaging with and supporting the Black community in Taipei, the Mama Africa Heritage Festival challenged stereotypes, increased understanding of our differences, and celebrated the diversity of cultures in Taiwan.

Racism and anti-Black violence can seem overwhelming, impenetrable, and disturbing. By building community and increasing awareness of what is going on locally, as these events have accomplished, we all can create positive change for society. These are just a handful of recent events taking place in Taipei. The hope is to see more around the capital and the rest of Taiwan. As racial diversity is normalized through more Black representation, a variety of different experiences and stories can be shared. These previously unheard stories can allow the residents of Taiwan to better understand the Black people living both in and outside Taiwan.

READ NEXT: Black Lives Matter Rallies in Taipei

TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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