端午安康! Welcome back to my blog. My name is Jackie, and this post covers my fourth week studying abroad in Taipei, Taiwan.
On Sunday, my roommates and I needed to go grocery shopping for our apartment. We were in good spirits, picking out eggs and debating what snacks to buy. Eventually, I broke away from the group to grab my groceries. And I stumbled upon something unexpected. Boxes of Darlie Toothpaste. It was pretty innocuous at first. I barely even noticed it. But something about the mascot was familiar to me. When I doubled back, I realized what I was looking at. The rebranded version of Darkie Toothpaste.
Darkie Toothpaste is a popular brand in East Asia, known for its mascot modeled after an American minstrel actor. Its Chinese name was “黑人牙膏” (hēirén yágāo) or “Black Person Toothpaste”, and the product was branded that way to emphasize how bright your teeth could be, even if you had dark skin. I recognized it due to a project I did in the past, exploring how different East Asian communities understood and consumed Black identities and culture. When I was first researching for this project, Darkie toothpaste popped up pretty regularly. I mean, its mascot is a white man in blackface, smiling wide to juxtapose his white smile against his painted skin. Its name is based on a racial slur. I knew Colgate, the mother company of Darkie/Darlie, rebranded the toothpaste recently due to public outcry. But I wasn’t expecting to have that reaction to seeing it in person.
It was weird. Weird. I mean, here I am! I’m in Taiwan, and having so much fun. I’m doing something as mundane as buying groceries with my roommates and enjoying it. I’m just like everyone else in my program; eating new things, trying new things, struggling through my classwork, and going to my internship. We are all sharing this new experience, and enjoying it so much. And seeing this toothpaste felt like ice water was being poured all over me. Instead of being like everyone else I was with, I was rudely reminded of how different I am. Now, I’m someone being mocked. Across the globe. To sell toothpaste.
Coincidentally, this Monday was also Juneteenth, an African-American holiday commemorating the day enslaved peoples were declared free. Originally, I didn’t have any plans. Especially with my most recent encounter with how Black identities are understood in East Asia, I thought it best to lower my expectations. But through a classmate, I was invited to a Juneteenth celebration hosted by the Black Lives Matter Taiwan organization. Setting aside my surprise at the revelation of a Black Lives Matter cohort in Taiwan, I was excited to attend the event.
Upon entering the venue, I was immediately greeted and introduced to everyone. The group was pretty tightly knit, and they knew I was a new face. The effort put into making me comfortable did just that, and it was nice to be surrounded by people that shared lived experiences with me. The event coordinators cooked Southern food, so we ate as we enjoyed classic cook-out music, dancing, poetry, and just being in the community with each other. It was a heartwarming experience I wasn’t expecting on this trip. I’m so happy I was able to celebrate Juneteenth, even though I am abroad. And I’m even happier to have found a community that I can rely on if I even find myself back in Taiwan.
Other than Juneteenth, and three days of classes, I didn’t spend a lot of time in Taipei this week. Since it was the Dragon Boat Festival (端午節), I went to Tainan, Taiwan! While sitting in a FamilyMart, my friends and I booked an Airbnb, bought our high-speed rail tickets, and prepared to celebrate the holiday. We were able to attend the Dragon Boat Festival and watched the boat race competition (划龙舟) as we ate snacks from the hundreds of stalls that were set up. We visited the Chimei Museum (奇美博物館), which had the coolest interactive orchestra exhibit. We managed to squeeze in a beach day and visited a few of the local beaches in the area. I was even able to convince my friends to watch Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse in theaters. Fun fact: you can get sweet popcorn at a movie theater in Taiwan. I’m not sure why that in particular stood out to me, but it was a new concept to me. I still got salty popcorn though.
Overall, I had an enjoyable week. Although the beginning of the week rattled me, I found a new community and explored an entirely new city with my friends. So, I’ll see you in the next blog post.