Brown Like Me

*This is an old blog post from my days in Thailand. If you want to read more about a black chick’s adventures in Bangkok, go here*
 

White Dave and Black Charish.

On my last Sunday Session with Dave, we were accosted by a Thai man who wanted to know why Dave was “so white.”

While minding our own business at a riverside park, a not so subtle but very witty Thai man came strolling up to us. He stopped, with his hands held behind his back, he stared at Dave in amusement. “You are you so white,” he said. “Why?”

Dave was more than a little perplexed. I watched in amazement. Could one just state the obvious like that? The Thai can. Things like race, sexuality, and often at times, weight are not at all taboo to discuss directly. I suppose we shouldn’t have been too surprised that a stranger would just point that out.

Dave shrugged. “I’m English.”

The man pointed at my leg. “She is brown.” He pointed to his arm. “I am brown.” Then he finished the circle. “You are white.” Before Dave could reply, the man directed his attention towards me. “Are you Thai?”

“No.”

“Why are you brown?”

“I’m. . .” I was confused, that’s what I was. “African American. I’m black.”

And now he was confused or suspicious. I have had many Thais question my ethnicity, just like some Americans do. They know that I’m not Thai, but I’m not just black either and it must be verified.

A group of my Thai students. So cute!

Another color related issue took place in my classroom. The girls of my level two class are usually a rowdy bunch, but mostly cute and precocious. It was after one lesson that I was packing up my things and about to exit the room, when one of my students pointed out how brown I was. Mai compared me to another one of my students, a cute brown Thai girl named Bell.

“Mother and daughter,” Mai said to us and pointed to our arms. The other students giggled about it and I cringed inwardly. They may not have realized it, but I felt like we had walked into something that was potentially awkward. I looked at Bell who gave me an unusually strained smile.

What I already know about Bell made me think twice about my response. She’s the darkest in a group of light-skinned Thai girlfriends and I think she’s quite aware of it. It might be the reason, she seems to identify with me. She marvels at my fashion sense (truthfully, I hate wearing my teacher’s uniform. I’m glad someone appreciates it) and is always telling me how beautiful I am. I return the favor, not because I feel sorry for her, but because she really is. She’s got lovely burnt sienna skin, dark expressive eyes, and such an inviting smile.

One day, I asked her if she was looking forward to our field trip to the beach (to see those sea turtles), she was not happy. “Too much sun.”

“Yeah? So?”

She pointed to her arm and frowned. I didn’t like hearing that.

I also didn’t like it when her and her friends came to my class, with so much powder, they looked like a gaggle of geishas. It was more obvious on Bell with her being so much darker than the other girls. I don’t understand how she could think she looked better with a pound of powder hiding the skin she was born with.

So as I faced the girls and Bell, I chose my words carefully. “Not mother and daughter, I’m too young for kids,” I told them. “We’re more like sisters.”

They nodded in recognition and Bell flashed me that beautiful smile of hers. Crisis averted.

Race isn’t an issue here in Thailand, but color is. There are no dark skinned models or actresses representing in the media. This isn’t unusual though, many countries and cultures share this idea of beauty. I find it interesting that my experiences here have been eerily similar to the one’s I’ve had as a kid in America. When I was younger, my mother told my sister and I not to play in the sun. She wasn’t as concerned about our safety as she was our appearance.

“Do you want to get black?”
Before I could reply, “Duh, mom, I already am,” I just put on a hat to her appease her.

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