It's not the 'Land of Smiles' for us
Facing challenges as a black teacher in Thailand
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.
You might be interested in....
Black teachers in Thailand - Does racism exist in The Land of Smiles?
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Hi Ajarn AJ, I think the question of prejudice goes way deeper than skin color. I am a Malaysian with fair skin. I consider English my native language, though I also speak Thai, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Malay. I have only taught English in Japan but that's a whole different story. I have been coming to Thailand for many years and is now married to a Thai from the heartland.
One of my best friend is a Puerto Rican American(one of the most unprejudiced most liberal person I have met in this world). I totally understand your feelings and appreciate you sticking to it and staying back to embrace only the good. I agree, the land of smiles also shares the same racial prejudice behaviors as all other countries throughout Asia. I think the prejudice issue in Asia may be much more subtle than in America but interestingly, I have to say, I have never been mistreated in anyway anywhere in America. Very interestingly, not in Nebraska, not even in Wyoming. But this was back in the nineties. It may be very different now.
I have also travelled quite extensively in Thailand back in the nineties. I remembered making friends with many people from various countries and was also very well accepted by the locals being from a neighboring country(I have to admit, I did not see or had a chance to meet any African decent person here back in the days). Fast forward back to 2017/2018, I now see a very different Thailand. I am glad to see more black folks now traveling in Thailand. I also see an urban Thailand that idolize anything Japanese/Korean. A rural backpacking industry that segregates and caters to different race and culture. It is now obvious to see hotels that is only visited by upper class urban Thais and Chinese. And there are businesses that only want to serve Caucasians. Shops that are plastered with Chinese characters and some restaurants that only have menu in English(not even in Thai).
And believe it or not, my partner and I were frowned for walking into a Reggae bar ordering a beer. I am a huge reggae music fan. Global village? Maybe true in a way. It looks like we are all moving closer together living and visiting the same cities/townships but only prefers segregation.
By Kdub, Bangkok (19th December 2017)
You're absolutely right but it's not just limited to Nakhon Si Thammarat. I am so called "fair-skinned", Asian origin with PhD, yes PhD in English from England and I have been told the same things maybe twice a week here! Twice....a.....week, at least! from many Schools, colleges and even Universities I apply them (mainly in Bangkok!). Without even bothering themselves to check my academic qualifications, they simply say "you don't look like faragns!"...why? Because I'm not blond with blue eyes! (even though I'm white categorically!!)
By Amir, Nakhon Si Thammarat (2nd May 2017)
Hey AJ, any high schools in Nakon si Thammarat or Thung Song you know of that you could recommend in particular? Thanks. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I get so tired of people talking about racism in America. In my experience America is one of the least racist countries I've lived in. As you've discovered, if you want to experience racism, go to Asia. They're racist against Blacks first and foremost, but also whites, and also one another (as in who's got the lightest skin?). It's hard to laugh at injustice where that comes into play (you losing a job to a less qualified Swiss), but as for the rest, I just laugh at it the way I laugh at so many other absurdities in Thailand.
By pestolover, USA (2nd March 2017)
Please be patient and it's not the end of world because everywhere got good and bad people so I advice you to apply at chullalongkong branches and 100 % they will accept you because I know some african from Cameroon who teach there for almost 6 years. (I feel you but this is the fake land of smile ) so what does mean Land of smile? They smile on your face when you have money but they hate you when you work with them because you know their level of jealousy so please be patient and stay cool because there's no one who defends the foreigner teachers here.
And one more things &don't be surprised that those native speakers who give bad image at the other teachers (Talking bad at them to Thai teachers ) plus some Filipino and filippinas.......!!!!
But life is going on on on on ......................................
By Jerome, BKK (18th March 2016)
AJ, thanks for sharing this. I understand every single word, and really appreciate your courage in saying speaking out. I was not as strong as you and have been overwhelmed by the overt racism I've experienced here.
I'm not a teacher, but I'm sure that your students are lucky to have you. If nothing else, you are expanding their horizons, and showing them that the world is a beautiful and colorful place, and we're better off for it.
By Lidiya, Bangkok (23rd November 2015)
'As an African America/Puerto Rican' lol...I never get that...Does it say that on your CV? What's wrong with being 'American'...
By Daniel Harris, Bangkok (14th November 2015)
Glad to hear you stuck it out and proved them wrong. As a fellow American I am fully aware of racism there but in Thailand I don't believe it as much racism as it is more about class and skin color. For example a Thai woman could be the most beautiful woman in all of Thailand but if she has dark skin any opportunity for modeling, acting, advertisement, or even winning a beauty pageant will not be available for her just soley based on her skin color. My Thai girlfriend who has dark skin has experienced people she knows and even complete strangers telling her she is not beautiful because of her dark skin, even though she is actually a beautiful woman. I think for this prejudice and discrimination to change for both Thais and non Thais who have dark or what Thais would call black skin, even if it's actually brown, is a Martin Luther King type of movement. One big problem and why it probably will not happen is most Thais wth dark skin have been so brainwashed by the media and their culture that they also believe it's true to. Sad to say but most Thais would be completely puzzled by the slogan"black is beautiful " and would probably think it's some type of joke.
By Thomas, Thailand (11th November 2015)
This is very true and it is a shame that these people turn us blacks down when we walk into schools or apply for advertised English-teaching positions just because of the colour of our skins;yet we are as qualified as they come. Like you said, we are supposed to grow tougher skin and tackle this disease head-on,because we know why we left our countries and what we hope to achieve here. I was actually on the verge of giving up on my job-search but I read your story and I know if I just stick to it I will soon see positive results. I salute you!
By Eve, Singburi,Thailand. (10th November 2015)
To Rob, I wonder if you ever lived in Thailand but what your ex wife said is justified. Sorry for this comment, but most tourists in Thailand from African countries are scammers. I'm not Thai but this is the very reason why it is so difficult for Africans nowadays to get a visa in Thailand, they even stop issuing visas from nearby borders. Again I am not saying that African countries are bad, it just happened that most tourists here from that continent are'nt the good ones. I do say that Thais are racist but they are friendly once you get to know them. They believe Thailand is the centre of the world and I feel sorry for those who are offended by their ignorant ways.
By Mac, BKK (9th November 2015)
AJ,wait until they call you a 'gorilla.' I get that all the time,I get called King Kong and occasionally I have been compared with Shrek. Nope, I'm not black, I'm not American or African. I'm a Maori fella from NZ,who just happens to be a bit bigger, and have a fantastic tan. In Thailand,in Korea this happens, you get a thick skin, to be truthful it doesn't bother me,you just get on with it, AJ. I've been turned down for jobs based on my color, but this is how it sometimes goes in Asia. But you're also right, that once the students or parents get passed the color thing, then everything falls into place. Is it wrong,probably but it isn't going to change anytime soon. Fact is,my side profile makes me look like a SilverBack and so I get what some people see, I just roll with it. Remember AJ, those of us who come to Asia,we made that choice and we have to accept everything that comes with that, whether we like it or. And we always go elsewhere if we don't like it.
By Martin Steeman, Christchurch, New Zealand (9th November 2015)
I lived with my Thai National ex wife in England for a while. We lived next door to 2 Ghanaians, and were friends with them, they helped my wife, gave her some money and gifts. Also, her favourite footballer was black, and her favourite pop group was JLS. I tell the following story for the sake of enlightenment.
After about a year, out of nowhere, my ex says "black people are very bad people".
I pointed out to her that she only knew 2 black people, and they had been very nice to her, so she had no basis for her statement at all. Also, our area was quite black, and she never had any problems from anyone.
"They are the exception" was her reply. "My mum has told me they are bad people".
We continued to be friends with the 2 exceptions, and nothing more was said.
By Rob, Thailand (9th November 2015)
Ok, not everyone in the world is color blind. I get that, but it might be a stretch to conclude every trouble a black teacher has in Thailand is due to racism.
Aren't the stereotypes presented about the Thais in this article a form of racism as well?
By Jack, At home (8th November 2015)
First and foremost let's just get one thing out of the way. Racism isn't real. Anyone who opposes this, please educate yourself by making an effort to sit through this video:
As he points out tribalism is a real thing, and I think this is where it comes from. And it's not because people are black that they are discriminated against, just being a foreigner here in what is essentially a country centered around its own ideas and their worth.
This could because of your ideas, which, no matter how logical and reasonable or well tested and proven to improve on the current Thai flavour of the month are rejected simply because they came from 'us', and not a Thai idea.
Saying you look like a pimp is no more 'racist' than the other stereotype of all English and American people have blonde hair and blue eyes (a bit aryan for my liking) and I am often angered by Thais making the assumption that I am not English because I have black hair and greeny blue eyes.
But this isn't tribalism, or whatever it is people think they are talking about when they use the word racism, it is ignorance, which can be remedied by education.
The whole black history thing is unneeded and you should remember that this whole skin colour stereotype thing isn't only being propagated by your own American television beamed around the planet, but look at the African and Nigerian people trafficking, sex sellers, and drug pushers operating here in Thailand.
Like someone said, this is the world we live in, and if people judge you by the colour of your skin not realising you are no different than me, or any of your other brothers or sisters, then that't a shame on them for being so retarded.
I wouldn't be so proud on wearing students as jewelry either, saying you got whoever wherever we are here to support and encourage students, I think they should carry the credit for their achievements.
Oh, and one more thing, just a huge bitchslap to every ignoramus who doesn't already know this, we are all African apes, even me, the little white Englishman, and all the Thais that ironically disdain the blacks.
Work hard, live well, and treat others with decency, and let everyone who thinks counter to this go to the proverbial.
By Joe, Bangkok (6th November 2015)
If you are still in / have very recently left Nakhon Si Thammarat, I think I worked with you. If you are, you are a great teacher and many students appreciate you. If you aren't who I think you are, I wish you all the best anyway, and hope you land somewhere right for you.
Racism is an ugly reality here, and those who defend it by saying that it is "harmless" or "innocent" are fooling themselves. It's the 21st century; time to wake up...
By Joe, Bangkok (6th November 2015)
I think you'll find that what Thais say openly, most people think secretly. Thais are no better or worse than any other nation when it comes to prejudices. Try being an Arab in Russia or even better, being white in South Korea... Quit whining about it and get on with whatever makes you happy.
By Mark Newman, Thailand (6th November 2015)
Thanks for this. Unfortunately you wouldn't have got a job at the last school I was at either. I got into trouble for putting a picture of Usain Bolt up on my desk, one of my sporting heroes. Occasionally a black teacher would turn up looking for work, but they needn't have bothered. Remember that most Thais are racist against all foreigners. I am white, and understanding Thai to a fluent level, pick up on the most outrageous comments said about me, within easy hearing distance presumably because they assume wrongly that I don't understand Thai, or just don't care. 'Why hasn't he gone home yet?' seems rather common. 'Ugly old farang' etc, etc.
I can assure you that this problem will never go away, there is no sense of shame of being a racist in Thailand, people just think it is normal. I am afraid that it's just a matter of putting up, and developing a thick skin, or moving to a more enlightened place.
By jeremy, udon (6th November 2015)
AJ, thanks for being candid enough to tell us about your experiences. It's commendable that you have chose to endure--and hopefully enlighten--rather than wash your hands of Thailand.
Racism in Thailand really permeates the country. Although those of African descent often see the worst of it, any ethnicity is fair game at one time or another. To be fair, many Asian countries have similar racist attitudes. My good friend, Brit of African descent, taught in China for a year and it was really heartbreaking to hear how he was treated there. One woman on the street in China saw him and ran over to a policeman demanding he be arrested. Why? Because he was black. No joke!! Shocking to think this is still happening in the 21st century (the incident happened in 2011).
By Charles, Phuket (6th November 2015)