She could not stand to look at me. She walked by with her friend and covered her face with her schoolbook. On her way back from the bathroom I used the broken Thai that I knew and told her friend that her friend was being RUDE. They giggled and walked off into the sun. But then I noticed a red band around her right arm. In Thailand the older kids receive a red band because they are considered top of their class and always willing to lend a hand when needed. In other words the students donned with these red bands were respected not only by their peers, but also by their teachers. A bunch of little kids were surrounding my bicycle and me while talking incessantly and expecting me to answer all of their questions. I had no time to feel hurt, but as I rode away on my bicycle I thought to myself how can she disrespect me, but be so respected in the same breath?
I came to Thailand naive about racism. As I walked off the plane all of sudden I became the exotic creature. People were smiling and whispering as I walked by. I presumed it was because I was a farang. It was not until the Yais outstretched there palms to rub my skin. I would make light of I and say “No, it does not come off”. Or the times parents would meet me for the first time and exclaim to their friends that I was indeed from Africa, but with a quick retort they realized I was an American. Or the time my co-worker suggested that my nickname should be Fai which in Thai means cotton. My mind was blown. How was I going to explain slavery and how ironic the nickname I had just been donned was? And even in the marketplace I frequently run in to Africans because they are teaching English downtown. My co-workers exclaim “Oh your friend is here!” or point with their fingers as if I am supposed to jump up and down because I see another person like me.
I was naïve, but now I am stuck in a light skinned painting like a smudge that can’t be removed or covered. This by no means is easy for anyone, any race, any gender. I was naïve, but now I am just trying to blend.
*Editors note: Please check out these outside links to learn more about the POC experience in Thailand: