A class in Taichung Municipal Taichung First Senior High School late last month drew a lot of criticism for naming a booth at the school fair “Hsi Huan Na” (烯環鈉) — which sounded like “indigenous bastard” (死番仔) in Taiwanese. A legislator subsequently revealed that an indigenous student at the school was bullied by his peers in a chatroom after the case broke out.
Racial discrimination continues to take place in Taiwan, and the school incident seemingly reflects a culture of complicity that allows it to happen repeatedly.
In 2020, veteran radio host Luo Hsiao-yun (羅小雲), chairwoman of the Golden Bell Awards’ panel of judges, made “hoh, hoh, hoh, hoh” sounds when announcing that Alian Radio (原住民族廣播電台) was nominated for an award, asking indigenous people in the audience: “Shouldn’t you be making this sound?” Due to protests against her remarks, Lou apologized and resigned.
However, one month later at the Golden Bell Awards ceremony, when a Tao boy in a traditional thong accepted his award, mainstream online media mocked him with headlines such as “showing off his buttocks,” “I’m the most visible of all” and “going butt-naked onstage.”
A lot of people also left offensive, discriminatory and sarcastic comments on the live message board of the event organizer whenever indigenous nominees won awards. The organizer did nothing to stop such discriminatory language from appearing on its official Web site.
US sociologist Douglas Kellner has said that a phenomenon may be a sign. A single incident may reflect not only an individual case, but also a serious common problem in society. The school incident, along with the other discriminatory incidents against indigenous people, reflects a core issue: Is society complicit in perpetuating such racial discrimination?
For the students who came up with the disputed name, why didn’t anyone find something wrong with it? When they bullied an indigenous student in the chatroom, why didn’t anyone stand up to stop the bullying? And when online media mocked the indigenous winner, why didn’t any of their reporters think that they have crossed the line?
From Kellner’s perspective, racial discrimination is no longer a problem in competitions, education, workplace or media, but a problem of society as a whole, and many people in our society remain blind to racial discrimination. Oftentimes, they cannot sense the seriousness of the matter until it creates a public stir.
If Taiwanese think that racial discrimination is an important issue, the Ministry of Education should promote ethnic education in high schools and universities. The Ministry of Culture should have cultural interpreters at major award shows, such as the Golden Bell, who can help hosts explain the significance of the traditional costumes worn by indigenous nominees.
The National Communications Commission should require all electronic and online media to bolster on-the-job training on ethnic literacy for reporters.
If the government sits back and watches racial discrimination occur again and again, then we will all become complicit in allowing mainstream culture to keep on bullying indigenous people. In that case, the goal of building a society that respects cultural diversity would only be empty talk.
Hsu Chih-ming is an assistant professor in Shih Hsin University’s Department of Journalism.
Translated by Eddy Chang
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