How racism, and the refusal to acknowledge it, destroyed my dream to work in Thailand

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Seven weeks ago I packed up my entire existence in the Mother City and set off for Thailand. I figured I might as well deal with my quarter-life crises in the Land of Smiles.

Upon arrival I took an instant liking to the place. The people, the budget-friendly prices, the markets and the food! I swear the pork sticks quickly become a daily staple. Like a vitamin I had to take to get through the day.

But man oh man, my Eat Pray Love fantasy was not only crushed, it was fed to wild dogs.

Thailand was a place where I saw myself living life to the fullest. The perfect destination to best ignore the problems I ran away from.

I was going to be an English teacher and make some money to travel and cross off a few destinations on my bucket list. But, man oh man, my Eat Pray Love fantasy was not only crushed, it was fed to wild dogs.

I planned my one-way trip to Thailand with a Western organisation that has “helped” other travellers who were looking for a new start in a different country. There’s a reason for the quotation marks, but I will write in-depth about these exploiting organisations another time.

Anyway, I did extensive research, as one should, since you’ll be dealing with a different space and a different culture. I read blogs, asked former explorers about their experiences and had several arguments with myself about the pros and cons that come with making a decision like this.

One of the biggest cons was Thailand’s obsession with whiteness. I didn’t realise how intense the obsession was until I moved here. For instance, most of the beauty products sold there have skin bleaching properties. The only way to get around not using this was to buy baby products as these were still safe and untainted.  

The first few weeks in Thailand were spent with a bunch of other foreigners, or “farang” as the Thais would say. These humans also came to the country through the same organisation. The group was relatively mixed, with a handful of black people and people from all over the world who left their lives behind to start anew.

Having done the research, most of us black people were wondering whether or not it was going to be harder to get placed at a school if you are not white. We asked time and time again if our colour would be a factor. We received vague responses and were told that not everything was about race.

Okay.

So here’s the typical process in becoming a foreign teacher in Thailand:

1.         The placement team from a not so helpful (Western) organisation finds you an agency.

2.         The agency then finds a school that’s willing to hire you.

3.         If said school likes you, then boom boom pop you have a job!

Yet our experience was a little different… 

On Monday we went to work. On Tuesday things were a little awkward. And on Wednesday our agent came with the news that we had been fired. Naturally we were curious to know why we had to pack our bags and prepare for the ten-hour ride back to Bangkok.

But it’s one thing to read about something and it’s another to actually have it happen to you.

Sidenote: One thing about Thai people is that they are very honest. They speak their minds and have no time to flip flop.

With that said, our agent was upfront and told us the three reasons why the school didn’t want us:

1.         They don’t want black people

2.         They want people with degrees (we all had degrees)

3.         They had changed their minds

I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t even that shocked. Having done the research, we (myself and the other black girl) were pretty aware that white is preferred. Also, the town we were placed in was a small one. Foreigners were already rare there, so you can imagine how intense the stares got when they saw a darkie wondering around the streets of Amnat Charoen.

But it’s one thing to read about something and it’s another to actually have it happen to you. 

I’ve come to a point in my life where racism does not shock me anymore. But it disappoints me that people are capable of doing and being better, but choose not to.

My main issue with this entire experience is how the “super duper helpful” Western organisation handled the situation.

Instead of acknowledging what happened, they told us “not to take it personally”.

Instead of acknowledging what happened, they told us it was because we are not native speakers.

Instead of acknowledging what happened, they told us that we need to work harder because we have to prove ourselves.

In case you missed it – I needed the organisation to acknowledge what happened. I needed the organisation to step out of their “we don’t see colour” mentality and acknowledge that myself and white Mary-Ann are not going to be treated the same. 

I’m writing as a disappointed black woman because most times it is about race.

Because let’s face it: if they don’t deal with this accordingly it’s bound to happen to another black person.

Dealing with the issue is not telling me to “prove myself” to the school. If anything, I should be working hard for myself and for my students. Not because the colour of my skin is “not” capable.

Organisations like these that want to “help” travellers need to address the difference between people and inform them from the get go what they should expect while travelling black.

I’m not writing this as an angry black woman that likes to make everything about race. I’m writing as a disappointed black woman because most times it is about race. My BLACK is still not good enough. My BLACK constantly has to prove itself. My BLACK needs to work ten times harder to be seen as something. My BLACK is not being addressed. My BLACK is still fighting to be seen as important.

My BLACK exists. Acknowledge it!

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on W24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of W24.

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