Are Thais Racist?
The family of my significant other operates a beauty parlor. I use the term “significant other” because it makes no difference for the purpose of this submission whether she is my girlfriend, wife, mia noi, or perhaps even a katoey. My exposure to Thailand has taught me to keep my cards close to my chest, and not to reveal irrelevant details. For brevity, let me call her my fan.
It is relevant that she is Lao Loum, which is the dominant ethnicity in Isaan. On the average, Lao Loum are darker complected than Chinese, but a little lighter than Khmer, which is important to note, given the Thai obsession with whiteness.
Her family’s business plans weddings, prints invitations, rents suits, puts on makeup, and assists with beauty pageants. Close to 100% of her clients are ethnic Lao as well. A major part of the beauty business involves making girls appear whiter than normal, and consequently Thai women apply makeup differently from farangs. Wedding pictures are always altered to make the bride’s and groom’s skin lighter than natural. Women frequently bleach their skin.
The Thai concept of beauty differs from the average Westerner’s. I have never attended a beauty pageant or other modeling event while my fan is working, but she shows me photos of her standing next to some of her clients, all of who are either amateur or professional models. For some reason, I find my petite, dark fan more attractive than the tall white pigs next to whom she is standing. Maybe she’s showing me only the ugly ones. Or perhaps a girl should never trust another female to apply makeup or take pictures.
Naive farangs don’t seem to realize how irrelevant they are to the average Thai. In my fan’s family nobody besides me speaks English: not her, not her parents, not her siblings, not the vast majority of her clients. All my communication is in the Thai language. Less than one percent of her clients marry farangs. I recall only one case in a different province a couple of years ago. Most Thai girls don’t consider farang men as potential husbands, and might never have met one. In fact, according to my fan, I was the first farang she had ever spoken with. Thais are parochial, and I believe they view farangs as they look at anyone else from a different tribe: with a combination of suspicion and curiosity.
Thais may be parochial, but are they racist? For that matter, what does racism mean when Thai-ness itself doesn’t constitute a race? Many or most Thais are part-Chinese mongrels. We all know that hi-so Chinese run the country, but what about the lo-so Chinese? Before I met my fan, I knew a lo-so pure bred Chinese girl, though only while she was in a fight with her different-race lo-so Lao Isaan boyfriend. She worked at a menial job at Yaowarat, and as she didn’t have much money, her most prized possession was her white skin. I’m a pale farang, but next to me she appeared white as a ghost. Her parents were farmers from a province near Chiang Rai. There exist many other dirt-poor ethnic Chinese living in northern Thailand, and even around Yaowarat. This being the case, how could the class-based system be considered racism? By the way, she didn’t speak any English.
Westerners in Thailand who don’t speak the language live in a small world. I can understand how such a farang who relies on the PC press for news would think that Thais are racist. After all, they are obsessed with whiteness and the poor among them appear dark, particularly those who work in the sun all day. The problem with that argument is that darkness is not itself a race.
Against whom would racism be directed? Perhaps against farangs. Some Thais do have an overly negative impression of farangs, but maybe that is because the farangs who come for the P4P scene are not the best ambassadors of their home countries. I’ve talked with Thais who view farangs in general with contempt, but they don’t seem to hold my race against me, and I think this is because I speak their native language. What about dual pricing? This strikes me as an example of opportunism, not racism, at least not directly so. As far as I know, visitors from Singapore, Japan, and Korea are subject to the same pricing scheme. One can usually find easy ways around this scam. Hide from view, and have your Thai girlfriend buy the tickets, clothing, food, or what ever else you need to purchase. Maybe if tourists weren’t as dumb with their money, then this wouldn’t be such a big a problem.
Farangs who shout RACIST come from a hypocritical PC culture, which uses the term as an eptithet. White on black racism is condemned, while black on white racism is generally tolerated. No less hypocritically, though not itself racist, the same culture condemns perceived misogyny but encourages misandry.
No culture is immune from racism or hypocrisy, Thai included. However, the problems that the naïve attribute to racism simply aren’t that, no matter how you define it.
Your second to last paragraph says it all to me and hits the bullseye.