By India-Mae Alby, THAILAND
As a black person, it was when I visited Thailand in 2014 that I realised my dreams of travelling the world would be somewhat hampered by the fact that I wasn’t a) white and b) a female. I’m here to talk about a).
I went to Bangkok with my family and we stayed in an apartment in the financial district for a month. Bangkok is crazy, those roads are nothing like English roads. The people are very interesting – more women than men going to work, dressed impeccably in nearly 40 degree heat, women sitting side-on on mopeds driven by men, their legs nearly crossed. Such a foreign, fascinating environment. I did not realise how foreign and fascinating I was to the Thai people.
The staring was constant. Every day, all day, people would stare and gape at my black skin and plaits. Looking me up and down, from head to toe. Turning around to stare as I walked by. A whole bus of people looking and looking at my mum and I. I later saw, shopping in cosmetics stores, how pervasive skin lightening was. It took me a week to find deodorant that did not have lightening chemicals in it. I read around the issue and found out that light-coloured skin is widely desired by Thai people. Those who work in the fields cover their whole bodies to avoid getting darker. My family and I must have been a bit of a shock to them. I couldn’t help but guess that they thought I was very ugly with my dark, dark skin.
I became somewhat accustomed to the staring, I had to. But one day, we had taken a weekend trip to Ko Samet, an island, and my sister and I were walking on the beach. A group of three Thai women came up to us with a camera and started motioning, trying to communicate. I thought they wanted me to take a picture of them. I reached out my hand to take the camera, but at the same time, the woman trying to speak to me started backing up, with the camera at her eye. Her friends had positioned themselves to pose for a picture with my sister and I in the middle. I don’t know if I smiled, I was too confused. They said thanks and ran away, giggling. I turned to my sister and said, “what the hell just happened?”. I felt like a spectacle, I felt like I had been tricked. It’s just a picture, but I don’t like the idea that there’s some random picture of my sister and I out there, maybe framed in a Thai lady’s house, who knows. “Look, I saw some black people at the beach!”
Going to Thailand made me hyper-aware of my skin colour. I had a great time otherwise, my dark skin got a lot darker under the sun, I noticed that Thai women generally didn’t shave their legs and decided to do as the locals do (liberation from Western ideals imposed upon women yesss), I rejoiced at the ubiquity of french toast as a popular dessert cafe choice and I ate extremely cheap street food. But I felt black in the worst way possible, like walking entertainment, like some freak show act. I wish I would have known beforehand.