How do we face the question of race?
By Amrita Sachdev and Muskaan Narula
We are no strangers to racism, and as Thai-Indians, we can definitely relate to uncomfortable situations with family and friends. The constant struggle between confronting them or letting it slide…we’ve all been there. Read along for inspiration on the different ways some members from our community have confronted racism.
I’ve experienced racism a couple of times, especially here in Thailand. One incident that I clearly remember is when I went to a talaadnat, or local Thai market. I picked up a pair of shoes to try on and the lady just gave me a certain look – as if I were an alien. I knew she had that look because I’m Indian.
However, when I asked her the price in Thai she immediately became friendly and started making small talk. “If I did not speak Thai, would you have treated me differently because I look Indian?” I asked. I realised that in a developing nation like Thailand, a place I call home, the majority of the locals aren’t that exposed to the wider world.
SHIVAM SLAYS STEREOTYPES
I remember being told by one of my Thai peers, “at least you’re not one of those Indians” when referring to first-generation Indian expatriate classmates. At the time, I felt so deeply offended, as I have close family members who live in India.
The important thing in confronting racism is that we need to condemn it even when it is affecting others. In that situation, I was complicit in my peer’s prejudice. When racism is directed outside of our community, for example towards Arab or Black people, or even first-generation Indian expats, we must speak up. I wish I had responded, “What have Indian people ever done to you to make you feel so negatively towards them?” A lot of these attitudes develop not only from prejudice, but also from ignorance, so I should have suggested that person try and spend time with Indian people to see what they are actually like rather than think of them as a racial stereotype caricature.
WOES OF THE WORKFORCE
Prior to my permanent move to Bangkok, I was employed at a corporation in Dubai as a Human Resource Manager. Every year I would sit with management and discuss the employees’ performance rating. However, I noticed that the Indian employees would always receive lower evaluations compared to the British employees.
As an Indian, I decided to continuously question the decisions of the management and the reasoning behind their choices. Over time, I noticed an improvement in the discrimination against Indian employees that was prevalent in the corporation’s annual reports.
SECURITY-CHECK YOUR PRIVILEGE!
Racism and privilege go hand in hand. I was privileged because my parents gave me the Thai name ‘Kevin’ which I think helped me a lot when it came to dinner reservations, job resumés and other things. Despite being trivial, these factors impact everyday life.
A particular memory I have is the classic security check story at a U.S. airport. I was taken to the side for a ‘randomised check’ whilst my sister got to go through a faster pass. I think this definitely goes to show that racism is still prevalent in most societies, and is often something that men in particular face.
We need to confront racism head on, both internally and externally. This has resulted in me creating a website called www.chivalrousgentlemen.com with content curated for men, from style to entrepreneurship ideas and more. The purpose is to focus on stories that men go through, and also highlight male mental health.
NETFLIX & EDUCATE
Growing up in Bangkok, I did not look at my parents as racists. They were welcoming to my friends of other ethnicities and they never directly expressed their hatred of those who looked different from us. However, after attending the University of Michigan and spending over four years in the U.S., I expanded my concept of racism.
After graduation, I moved back home with my parents and noticed micro-aggressions in their conversations, something that never fazed me before. My irritation for their lack of awareness began to rise, and I remember getting angry one time, when my parents and I were having dinner. While discussing the growth of crime rates in the U.S., my father used the ‘n’ word. This enraged me – I told him how wrong and offensive it was to use that term and he began arguing with me. The argument went on for a while, and I didn’t speak to my dad for days.
I realised that, while it was no excuse, this was all he had ever known, not being exposed to diversity as I was. I began addressing this by watching TV shows with him like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and talking to him about the charged history of the ‘n’ word. Slowly but surely, my father is learning to be more aware.
KEEPING UP WITH THE KHAEKS!
I recently went on holiday in Phuket with my family, and I accidentally parked in the wrong space. As I was gathering my things, I heard multiple loud knocks on my window. I rolled it down to find the security guard tell me in English, very aggressively, “Hey! You are not allowed to park here!” and then call me a khaek to the other security guard.
Dumbfounded and offended, I quickly apologised for the misunderstanding in Thai. With the language change, the security guard noticeably relaxed his demeanour and apologised for his outburst. He then told me it was no problem, and even offered to find me a parking spot. With this, I directly asked him why he was rude before I spoke in Thai, to which he didn’t have a legitimate response. I told him I would complain to the hotel manager if he did this to anybody else again. Rest assured, that security guard will now think twice before treating visibly non-Thai people differently.