I think we have to get a clear definition of racism. Is it merely being aware of race? Because that is not going away. Race exists. If it is a problem, it is when it leads to the nearly automatic stereotypical prejudice being applied to individuals without
regard to them as individuals. It is a self-preservation instinct and though more valid in tribal and clan based cultures, it is nuanced in many ways in more modern Western cultures. In the US, walking into a bad neighborhood no matter
what the racial component should raise one's hackles. Race is only concomitant to this. It happens to be an Irish, or black, or Latino, or ad infinitum. It's a bad neighborhood that happens to be predominately, whatever.
I think race and class are too often confused or conflated. Speaking as an American, I find class to be the more prejudicial injunction to be on one's guard. I find this true in Thailand, also. Stereotypes of race are shorthand for cultural types, that often prove false, particularly as regards class. The middle and particularly upper middle classes of most cultures are very similar in their outlooks to others of their class. The grinding poverty of many people around the world makes for suspicion about all the classes above them, and for good reason. Why should the poorer classes not believe the wealthy of whatever race to be targets of recrimination for all the evils of which they suffer, particularly where class structure hinders their advancement? The easiest target, meaning less recrimination from their own elites, is the foreigner. This does negate the fact that class is the major division. Only that another race is an easier target in the given environment.
The awareness of race is often confused with an awareness of cultural differences. The Japanese are a culture and a race. Japanese Americans are not, they are Americans and whatever class they are. In Thailand, race definitions among the Thais seems to tend more to the class differences with race as an extrapolation of the conjunction of class and race. Bangkok Thais are generally mixed Chinese inheritance, but at the middle class level, these differences tend to meld. At the upper levels of society, I think we are seeing the real division within this class along racial lines, but that is heavily nuanced by political and economic affiliations, also. Among my Thai friends, virtually everyone has some Chinese-Thai ancestor which they either promote or not as the situation dictates. But it seems there is no real separation based on this racial division. Their class affiliations trump this. I believe this a good thing.
Looking back on the racial outlook in my country, I think this is the way forward. In our presidential race, Obama will lose votes among white Democrats because of race more likely than a black Republican candidate. Ideology and class will trump race among conservatives. Cast McCain as a black man with his record of service and how many conservatives would cross over to vote for a white socialist, son of a demented wife-beating, alcoholic Dane? Virtually none. Obama's defeat in this election cycle will show that the supposed liberals will desert him. What does this say about our supposed liberal Democrats and their views of race?
In Thailand, I am perhaps more aware of race, because it is more obviously referred to in negative terms. But, a lot of this is cultural and class bias. And this is true of most stereotypes, it holds a germ of truth. People are products of their culture, and to the degree that culture and race coincide, it is valid. This is not to say I find this true on the individual level, but we have only so much time to meet and understand others. In short, it is an efficient shorthand, but often inapplicable to individuals. Our lives are much richer for those who we do meet and gain access to as individuals. Unfortunately, that is a limited experience and our class, cultural and racial shorthands are basically means of judging quickly what may be life threatening situations. It is instinctual. And for good reason.
We live in a changing world, and in our global society, class will come to trump race. As more people around the world define themselves as middle-class, an essentially Western term, people will tend more and more to forego racial distinctions as judgment on another's character. This process has a long, long way to go. If merit is used as the criteria of who should belong to what class, then I do not think it such a bad thing. Class will never disappear as a means of judging others, but I believe race will. This will be a long process, also. What I do think we notice as farangs is how the Thais view race, and perhaps among Asians, and Thais it is more extreme. But, in Thailand all white foreigners are farangs. This is changing. I point out to every Thai, I am not simply a farang, but an American and all Americans of whatever color are Americans first. It's merely a germ planted, but I usually see in their eyes that they get the picture. Americans are largely past race, and the Thais can be, too. They still have the problem, but the country is called Thailand now, not Siam. Siamese now is like an exotic, the old pure and ancient Thai (Siamese) and not many claiming it in Bangkok. The Lao, Khymer, Meo, Karen, ad nausem many other ethnicities are the ones who now need to break the class barrier and really join in Thai society on an equitable class basis. Long time in coming, too, I'm afraid. I think they'll make it though. Merit over race and class is my hope.
Very interesting indeed! In fact I liked it so much I read it twice.