Teaching in Thailand…While Black
Everyday day I pray. I pray someone doesn’t try me. I pray someone doesn’t try to make me feel inadequate. I pray that I respond appropriately to situations placed in front of me. But the Lord, is, testing, me. As you can see from my photos I am a brown girl. I love my skin. But Southeast Asia is not a fan of me. And before you get started, YES MANY THAI PEOPLE ARE AS BROWN IF NOT BROWNER THAN I. It doesn’t matter. Colorism is real.
Since living here I have been questioned about my skin and where I come from. Often times they think I am from Africa and I politely say “No, I am from America.” Nothing is wrong with inquisitive minds. My problems begin when I start to work.
A now good friend of mine named Tori (seen below) and I begin our first day at a school in southern Bangkok. The staff notice a difference but it is custom in Thai culture to make jokes when one is uncomfortable. In an effort to make everyone laugh, one staff member begins to mock our skin tone, comparing us to a dark Thai teacher he is introducing us to. He calls her an “ugly black female dog”. She giggles and holds Tori’s arm saying, “No, we are beautiful!” Tori smiles but is not laughing. She is much stronger than me. I do not laugh. I do not look. I stare at the ground in an effort to disappear.
I teach 3-4 classes a day with a Thai-English teacher in every class. Everyone is kind and polite and helpful when I start. There is a head teacher in our department who is an older Thai woman. She’s not our boss but essentially because of the hierarchy in Thai institutions she is in charge. A couple days into work a few of the teachers started treating me differently, speaking to me less, smiling less. I thought it was weird since they were all so friendly to begin with but I didn’t think about it much. The students were all so wonderful I didn’t care. *rolls eyes and sucks teeth* The head teacher told the Thai teachers that our beautiful creamy chocolatey brown skin was “ugly and bad” but that we were good teachers. Which for whatever reason completely changed how people treated me in the work place. This was after she called and complained twice to my company about my “inappropriate outfits” and also called our bosses to tell them they wanted European instructors. Needless to say, I quit. I didn’t want to deal with the crap.
Long story short, I quit before I started. My company offered to move me to another school but I decided against it and I quit the company as a whole.
The head teacher interviewed me and asked about my qualifications. She was pretty nice but refused to give me a contract until she saw how I taught. She told me she would observe my class but never came. I quit, not only because I got bad vibes (which is a good reason) but also because the commute was too far.
I decide to be a substitute for a week at Mark’s job (seen below). The head teacher walks up to me and asks who I am. I reply “Oh hello! I’m a substitute. I’ll only be here a week, my name is…” This woman walked away from me mid sentence. Mark told me to walk out of the building right then and there but I said no, let me get my little bit of money for the week and never come back. Later that day Mark spoke with her. I’m not entirely sure what he said but when I saw that lady later on in the week she was sweet as pie to me. Smiled and everything. Thanks, Mark 🙂
This director took the cake. I decided that I wouldn’t apply for anymore jobs without sending in my photo with my resume. I don’t like surprising people and I would prefer to avoid the awkward stares when I show up. I was interviewed by a woman whose English is very good. She took me into a room and said “I am going to be honest with you. I am very open-minded but the parents at my school are going to be very nervous about your skin. You have black skin and they won’t think you are a native English speaker.” I said I understand because I did. She proceeded to ask normal interview questions. I told her I have taught for 5 years, I have a Master’s in Education and I am currently in school for my Doctorate. I will be a Doctor of Education by 30. She stared at me and asked, “Well what can you do? Can you even lesson plan? Are you a good teacher?”
I have been called a lot of names. But no one has ever called me dumb. Why would I not be able to lesson plan? I taught in South Korea for a year creating curriculum for the school. I taught pre-school in Virginia and was promoted to Lead teacher within a month. I taught in Washington DC for 3 years in DC Public Charter Schools, a job only God got me through. Did you even read my resume? I sent an email and gave you a physical copy. Is it because I am black I cannot lesson plan? Does my skin prevent me from lesson planning? YOU THINK I CAN’T CREATE A LESSON?
All that being said, we finished up with the interview with her saying, “I don’t know if I can hire you. We will have to see how you teach.” Please understand I know how jobs work. But when two white British women walked through the door she told them to come start working for her on Tuesday. No interview. No demo. Oh.
The director placed me in another room with another foreign teacher and he asked me how I was. You guys I started to cry. I cried for every experience that has happened so far. Every time I walk into a new classroom I get pointed and laughed at. Every time I walked through a group of students and someone tried to grab my hair. Every time I tried to teach children a language that I can clearly speak and there was someone there who cared more about my skin than the culture and education I can bring their child.
This is how the story ends:
The foreign teacher (European man) got me some tissues and said “You need to tell her what you told me.” I tried not to but as soon as the director came in the teacher said “Kristin has been crying because…” and he just stared at me. I explained I have been having a difficult time in this country because of my skin tone but nothing is wrong with me. Out of pity, she gave me the job and I started that day. No one observed me. No one even told me what to do. It’s not exactly a good ending but my experience here isn’t over yet. It has only been 2 months and I have a long ways to go.
Take a look at another experience by reading Teaching in Thailand While Black (Part 2: Mark) https://kriswya.wordpress.com/2017/07/08/teaching-in-thailand-while-black-part-2-mark/
Drop some comments on your experiences with colorism. I would love to hear it!
Last but not least, I believe Thailand is full of a beautiful culture with wonderful people. The country is splendid and I am enjoying my time here, just not when I try to work.