Saturday, May 10, 2008

black person toothpaste?

Getting on a crowded train for Yuanli from Hsinchu, Taiwan, with my wife, we squeezed into a spot near a rambunctious boy, his big sister, and grandmother. The kid immediately began staring at me. And then when I smiled he began saying, "Black person toothpaste! Black person toothpaste!" Apparently my teeth and foreignness reminded him of nothing closer to home than Heiren Yagao, or Black Person Toothpaste. The kid was so outrageously rude but yet so squirmingly uncomfortable in my presence, I could not help laughing. He would stare at me, but if I looked back, he would hide. My wife was totally annoyed and uncomfortable, so she left.

The toothpaste used to be called, in English, Darkie. I saw it in Hong Kong in 1985. When I saw it again in Taiwan in 1999, I realized the black man had been "cleaned up" and made less of a caricature. Also, one letter had been changed in the English name: it was now "Darlie," a nonsequitur to those not knowing its history.

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