The following was inspired by a recent comment by Alan Reid on ANOTHER RACIST DAY IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD (A Day In The Life Of A White Chick In Buriram, Thailand). Alan describes instances of discrimination he has encountered in The Land Of Smiles then concludes with:
I try to smile and be friendly to the Thais everyday, however I have this bitterness and hatred built up inside, the same as you.
This struck me deeply, not only out of empathy but also due to the fact that eleven weeks after leaving Thailand, what remains and what I continue to combat is negativity within. Negativity towards other people. Negativity towards myself. The forms of this corruption were not in my heart before leaving Canadian soil in 2009.
I’ve questioned whether or not to confront my post-Thailand rage on MBSB. It’s a topic that I’ve approached with trepidation amongst friends. Despite how dark and at time of writing, taboo the topic is, it’s part of my process and I feel it should be addressed. What do I hope will come of it? Perhaps the effort will effectively illustrate how discrimination, thus feelings of powerlessness, can profoundly change someone. On a larger scale, perhaps the effort will convey how my situation is but a drop of the greater poison that holds us collectively down. At the very least, those of you reading who can relate, wherever you are on the planet and whatever the circumstances, perhaps you’ll find comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.
Indications that things were not alright after my arrival in North America:
- I’m at a festival in Windsor, Canada, my hometown. I see a group of South East Asians. I notice them because a woman in the group makes stoic eye contact with me. I am enraged. Shame and confusion follow; my reaction shocks me.
- I meet with a friend for dinner. As time passes in the restaurant I become increasingly withdrawn. Silently panicked. I try to focus on our conversation but something inside me is screaming. Screaming like a small child’s desperate shrill. My confidence evaporates. Softly, I utter my words. I apologize for my demeanor while being angered that I feel the need to apologize. What has become of me? Bees of mixed emotions battling one another within. We remain in the restaurant for more than two hours. After some reflection, I realize the source of my uncharacteristic behaviour; the near empty restaurant was staffed entirely with South East Asians. I felt unsafe, not physically, but on a level recessed somewhere within I was anticipating crushing cruelty. This in addition to the re-entry shock I was experiencing paralyzed me. I felt powerless.
- Currently and at eleven weeks in, I catch myself worried about my appearance in ways I never had on North American soil. This reflects how I began to feel in Thailand. I fear ridicule. Not by one, but by many. Not due to what I wear, but due to how I look. My genetics. The thought to cover my arms and thighs, the measures of judgement and mockery in Thailand is fleeting, but powerful. I attempt to eradicate the notion to hide my appendages as it arises. Nonetheless, it continues to influence what I will and will not wear. I remain a North American size 5/6 and reservations about wearing a sleeveless shirt persist.
It’s difficult to relay to you how I perceived myself prior to my extended stay in Thailand. All I can suggest is, I never thought that anything could push me to this state. In fact, I wouldn’t have had the capacity to even conjure the possibility and initiate the question.
- Wouldn’t leaving an environment I felt was unhealthy for me be enough of a cure?
- What was it deep within my brain that feared, sometimes to the point of defensive rage, groups of South East Asians (not contained to Thais) outside of the environment that changed me?
- What triggers it? Why doesn’t this uneasiness, in whatever form, manifest each instance I encounter someone of South East Asian descent?
Little of it is linear to me, but it hovers. Deep in my psyche. A negative force I neither welcomed nor consciously entertained, yet a force that powerfully shoots past what I thought was a barricade against becoming that which I despise. Thankfully, as time passes, its power wanes.
Where does this leave me? Ten months after writing my initial piece on the racism I encountered overseas, I’m continuing to battle its residual pestilence: as a recipient of it and now as a provocateur. How do I combat this? I identify the poison as it arises. I push until I understand it without judgment. And most importantly I do whatever it takes to not propagate it willingly or unwillingly. For me to do anything less is akin to calling those who treated me with malice and disdain due to my genetics, Master.
I’d like to leave everyone with a piece forwarded to me by my friend Greg. It’s the story of how Jane Elliott, a school teacher in late 1968 small town Iowa, USA implemented a controversial program on racism, initially with her 3rd grade class, later with New York state prisoners and lastly, a group of prison guards and parole officers. It’s a captivating piece on humanity and worth setting the time aside to watch in its entirety.
As always, your thoughts are welcome.
“The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
Wednesday, August 16, 2012
For Thailand solo travel and safety tips, in addition to Thailand information you won’t find in traditional tourist guides, please visit my post Tips For Women Traveling To Thailand.