Stickman Readers' Submissions September 16th, 2003

Racism In Thailand

By Damon

I was quite interested in one of your emails from your column from last week concerning the negative nightlife experience of one African American New Yorker who visited Thailand. That email was intriguing because, like that writer, I am also an African American man who just happens to live in New York City. I wonder why that writer felt he was treated so badly on his first trip to Thailand. I'm pretty sure that there must have been some other reasons, besides his being simply a black man. My own experiences in Thailand have been for the most part very positive and enjoyable. I met many people there who ranged from not only various hill tribe villagers in the north to even "Hi-So" Thai Chinese in Bangkok, and I found that they for the most part treated me very well. As for the bars and nightlife aspect of Thailand, I for one I had no problem being dragged and begged into various bars! And I usually had no problem having ladies coming up to me there, etc, sometimes even being surrounded by them!

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Many African American (and other Americans, for that matter) usually vacation close to home (Hawaii, Florida, California, Caribbean, Mexico, etc.) The African Americans blacks that do make it to Thailand are mostly there courtesy of Uncle Sam (I was often asked if I was part of the Cobra Gold military exercises when I was down in Pattaya and other places in Thailand). Few go there as tourists or on business, but hopefully, that will change in the future. When I first told other African Americans that I was going to Thailand, they warned me that Thai people were very racist (maybe they considered Thai having similar xenophobic behavior as Koreans, Japanese, or more or less, the Vietnamese). Even though I was told that I would be OK by my NYC based Thai friends, I still braced myself for the worst when I arrived in Thailand, expecting the usual "American-type" racism that most Black people in the U.S. usually have to deal with. But I was very pleasantly surprised by the warmth and friendliness of the Thai people. I felt like I was treated no differently than all the white Europeans and white Americans walking around Pattaya, Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy (which I once read, was actually named after an expatriate African American Vietnam veteran who opened up the first go-go style bar on soi 23, and who dressed up as a cowboy!), etc. So I wonder what was the real reasons for the treatment of that other African American writer, why he felt he was being ignored. Maybe there were other factors besides race that accounted for his treatment?

For example, what kind of clothes was he wearing? As you know, Thais judge others, especially foreigners, by appearances. EVERY time I went out in public in Thailand, I wore good clothes that ranged from business casual to nice evening clothes – the same as when I go out to the clubs and bars in New York City. I guess by the way I dressed and carried myself, most Thais assumed that I was rich, and it seemed that I was saying mai aow krup every five minutes to everyone!

But then again, maybe The Thais somehow thought he was a native African?

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Thai people tend to have not that much experience with foreigners. Especially the ones that grew up in Post-Vietnam war era Thailand, those not in the tourist industry, and the ones that are very new to the "Entertainment Nightlife" sector, usually cannot tell the difference between an African-American and an African. And any bar girl new to the scene would most likely not be bold enough to go try and talk, in an unfamiliar language to a very strange looking foreigner. Also as most everyone knows, Americans whatever the color, usually rate much higher, as opposed to Africans, Cambodians, etc. in the money / social scheme of things in Thailand as well. The more experienced and worldly Thais, not just experienced bargirls, can quickly tell the difference, especially if money is involved!

I do hope that the writer has a far better experience on his second trip to Thailand than his first. Maybe he should learn the phrase Pom bpen kon Amayrigun Krup! Mah jahk New York City so there won't be any mistake!

So is there racism in the Land Of Smiles? Of course, just as anywhere, in some forms or another, but just not the same kind that is still very much still endemic in American and other Western European based societies. There probably is no country in the world which consists of different populations is free of the problem. Yet I believe that Thailand on the whole is probably one of the few countries in Asia, (definitely far better than Japan and Korea), and probably on Earth, that has very good race relations at present. Of course, ethnic and class relations is another totally different matter, unfortunately. Thailand is not a perfect paradise. But all things considered, I find that it is much, much easier for a black man to get a cab in Bangkok, than it is in New York!

Stickman says:

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I really like your summary. I hear from some black guys that they have had a fantastic time and others who have had bad experiences due to racial issues. You make some good points. Let me add that if you are a nice guy and walk around with a smile on your face, the Thais will generally like you.

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