Kara Anthony, 130 TESS
I wondered the same thing a year ago before making the big move to Thailand. I remember specifically reaching out to other people of color whom had spent time in Thailand living and working, in hopes of getting a taste of what my life would be like for the next two years. Based on their experiences alone, I formed my own idea of what my life was going to be like as a black female living and working in Thailand. Already knowing the challenges that I could potentially face, I came with the mindset of hoping for the best, yet expecting the worst. However after having been in Thailand for a year now, I realize that every person of color’s experience is completely different. Consequently, I cannot answer this question on behalf of every person of color and their experience in Thailand. All I can do is paint you a picture of my experience and what it’s been like to be me, a black female, living in Thailand.
It’s being the center of attention wherever you go. It’s receiving stares from the time that you step foot outside to the moment that you come back home. It’s constantly being called a farang/foreigner. It’s being asked, “Where you from?” It’s telling someone you’re from America and them giving you a look of disbelief. It’s being told not to exercise when the sun is out because of the stigma and fear that comes with being darker. It’s having long hair and constantly being asked if your hair is real. It’s sitting alone at the bus station and having people touch and feel your hair without your permission. It’s holding your arm up against mine and comparing skin tones for comfort, personal gain, and/or validation. It’s people sneaking pictures of you. It’s traveling with your American friends that have a lighter skin tone and drawing attention to them, more than ever before. It’s being asked what color your blood is. It’s being asked why you sleep in a scarf at night. It’s being asked how often you wash your hair. It’s children tapping their parents’ shoulder and then pointing at you, hoping that you don’t notice. It’s having the police stop you and question your reasoning for being here. It’s having men constantly tell you that you are beautiful. It’s being told that you look like Serena Williams. It’s integrating, speaking the language, living in the village and doing as the locals do but knowing that no matter what, you will always stand out. It’s frustrating.
It’s crossing paths with another person of color and instantly locking eyes because of the obvious commonalities. It’s smiling instantly when crossing paths with another person of color. Sometimes it’s being alone at the bus station, waiting on a taxi and another person of color coming to stand next to you without having to exchange words. It’s having group messages with volunteers of color and together, navigating how to deal with situations and occurrences that we endure because of our melanin. It’s not being able to find any skin care products without whitening added. It’s sometimes making others uncomfortable and not even realizing it. It’s being uncomfortable in crowds, big or small. It’s being included in a group picture and then finding out that the picture has been edited to make you appear 3 times lighter than you actually are. It’s educating everyone about the diversity in America, especially people that look like me. It’s realizing that Thai people have never been exposed to black magic. It’s not being able to talk about colorism with your friends who are not of color because they cannot fully understand it. It’s showing people that black of any shade is beautiful. It’s taking a step back, acknowledging that people in Thailand have never seen a person of color before and acting accordingly. It’s a process.
It’s loving the crap out of the parts of myself that others shy away from so that other people learn to love it too. It’s being patient and being kind. It’s not becoming aggressive when people comment ignorantly on my blackness. It’s picking and choosing my battles wisely. It’s answering questions and challenging curiosity. It’s asking my own set of questions. It’s showing my students Princess and the Frog instead of Beauty and the Beast. It’s sharing pictures of me in America with my friends. It’s helping Thai people realize that they too, are people of color. It’s allowing my students to ask me how I braid my hair, and then showing them how to braid their own. It’s enlightening.
In close, my experience in Thailand has been troubling and empowering — a range of negative and positive. It’s been frustrating, it’s been a constant process, and it’s been enlightening. The constant unwanted attention, the stares, and the pointed fingers, you never get use to it. I’ve come to realize that it’s an ongoing process, adjusting to the attention and letting go of the frustration that stems from it. It’s a process of gaining an understanding of why people act the way they do. It’s a process of being willing to perceive the staring differently, the touching of my hair differently, and the nonstop questions differently. With a better understanding of the people, their curiosity, and the culture, I deal with challenges a lot more differently now, enlightening people of the goodness of diversity, the beauty of melanin, and the magic of being unapologetically me.