For the sensitive minded people who live in utter oblivion about skin color, this is probably not the article for you. This is the cold hard truth of being "black" in a country that's not particularly fond of anyone who's colored.
"Do you have a photo? Thanks."
"We requested a photo. Can you please send it to us, thanks."
"Can we see your passport, please? The data page. Thank you. Regards"
These were replies from job prospects when I initiated a three-month long search from Nakhon Si Thammarat (with the intent to move to Bangkok). Unfortunately, after sending them my photo, I never heard from these jobs again.
As an African America/Puerto Rican who was born and raised in Las Vegas, Nevada, I was completely unaware of the prejudices and stereotypes within these borders when I first visited the apparent "land of smiles."
My first two months in Chanthaburi, I kind of shoved what I was seeing with my own eyes under-the-rug. The waving off at pick-up basketball games to the repugnant looks I was getting just by people in Tesco Lotus. It wasn't clicking.
I thought it was a typical foreign thing, until I found out how the Irish teacher was being treated over me. There were times during gate duty where the parents would walk away from me and unwittingly give their child's hand to one of the two fair-skinned teachers. I continued to ignore and ignore until the massive turning point at a typical bar in Muang.
I won't go into great detail, but the mistreatment left me in a state of state of animosity and a 6 inch in diameter - wet spot on my bed from the tears of anger. This was reality. The boldest unwelcoming in a country that's supposed to be the "land of smiles." All those times in America where I got blank stares from "white" Americans is now a microscopic fraction to what I was experiencing and soon to experience all across Thailand.
Let's move forward. Nakhon Si Thammarat. The South...which in most countries always has a reputation of racial divide and segregation between the light and the dark. Granted....in Nakhon Si Thammarat, I've met some marvelously wonderful people, but I've also seen some of the ugliest racism I'll probably ever see in my lifetime.
Student's calling me black, a monkey - to deplorably terrible service that comes with all the bad slang in Thai........I witnessed it all. It was the battle of my lifetime to say the least.
I was denied a job because the foreign teacher (yes, foreign teacher), "oh, we don't accept blacks at this school." This came from a foreigner. In addition, I've been told this far too many times from other schools as well - "we don't accept blacks"
And I quote
A quick list of what people have said to me this year alone....
"If I was him, I would leave...but he's probably just saving up money."
"Why are you still here?"
Thai woman said, "if you don't like Thai women, leave this country."
One woman said to me online this past March, "Ewwwww! Black guy! Low-class! Pimp!"
Another one blatantly told me, "black men are the men I hate the worst."
When did the disease of racial hatred become imbedded into the minds of Thais?
Not all, I have met some incredible students and have great partnerships with Thais THAT HAD the opportunity of studying overseas.
On the other hand, Thailand has never been colonized; therefore, they beat their chest running around saying Thai culture is such a great culture. I've always asked, "the same culture that isn't accepting of black people?"
The "skin" whitening cream has sent shockwaves across the plains of Thailand for more than a decade and consumerism has gotten much higher in terms of buying these products which they believe will put them above those who have darker skin.
I always try searching for the genesis. I ask an insane amount of questions and I've gotten ugly responses saying, "I don't give a **** about skin. Stop asking me these dumb questions." Again, someone who retorts in an uncivil way has probably dished out a free-flowing cesspool of hate towards blacks of all kinds.
Now, with that being said, I'm African American. I'm from America which I thought was the father of everything in terms of racial discrimination (given the vile history of Willie Lynch and so many others that perpetuated for centuries), but when I got here....everything was a massive punch in the face.
How Africans are treated within these borders are some of the most sickening, dehumanizing antics one could ever see (stories that I won't even mention because it's simply soul rupturing). People have told me many times to leave.....I can't. Why? They TOLD me that I CAN'T have it.
My personal Everest
My friends and everyone ask me "why do you do it?" I retort by asking them, "why does anyone climb Mount Everest? Why do people continue climbing Mount Everest, knowing that their bodies can completely fall apart after 6000-7000 meters which risks the fatality rate past 50%?"
Why are there over 200 frozen bodies on Mount Everest? Why did Nelson Mandela give up 26 years of his life? Why did Martin Luther King, alongside Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, James Farmer Jr and Sr and so many other prolific activists march against racial segregation and implemented one of the greatest civil right movements in the history of mankind?
Purpose. I have to do what it is I'm suppose to do in achieving success. In anytime during the unfolding of your soul and song, those hard times will come. It's not easy.
It's hard going into a school one day and having the head teacher come in and say, "sorry, we're replacing you today because we have a white teacher from Switzerland." (Who doesn't speak English). These rough times are going to come, and when they do, it's important that you keep your mindset rather than seeking revenge.
The 332nd fighter group (Tuskegee Airmen who were the first African American pilots in the US) didn't seek revenge to those who were verbally lashing out at them during WWI. STAY FOCUSED!
For all African American and African teachers wanting to come to Thailand to pursue a professional career in teaching....just know that this may be the biggest emotional and psychological battle of your professional lives.
There will be days that you wake up and say "why me? Why is this happening here? Why in this country?" You will read stories and be in schools where embassies come in to extract sex offending teachers from the western world out of classrooms in front of students (happens occasionally in Bangkok)....and you will ask yourself, "wait, and this will be ignored in the news?
It's a tough society, but they don't know any better. They can't distinguish between brown and black, African and African American, knowledge and perception.
To wrap this up, I loved a quote from Les Brown, "what you become during the process is more important than the dream. It's far more important. The kind of person you become. The character that you build. The courage you develop. The faith that you manifested. You wake up in the morning and look yourself in the mirror and you're a different kind of person. You walk with a different kind of spirit. You've got to have that type of determination and courage. If you wanna make it happen....it's you."
Embrace the good
Since then, I've achieved greatness. I've gotten some students into the top universities in the world. I instilled an insurmountable amount of confidence in some of the most shyest students to the point they were able to initiate conversations with foreigners.
I've been able to show students the mastery of writing (writing and conversation being my strongest points as a teacher) and they've gotten into the top universities in Thailand.
You see, a lot of people will dislike you, but a hell of a lot will appreciate you. To see the smiles and reviving of some of my students over the last year was by far the most rewarding experience in my life.
I had no idea I would be in this position now. Yet, I'm here and at this highest point in my life after going through some rough times for 18 months.
I'm sorry? What was that? You don't accept black people at your school?
That's fine. One school's loss is hundreds of university/graduate students gain.