Dream of the Water Children: The Black Pacific

Thailand Blackface

Advertising for making our skin white in Thailand.
Advertising for making our skin white in Thailand.

There is a blogpost posted by UndertheRopes from January of this year entitled: Blackface and Racism in Thailand.

Similar to Japan, China, and Korea, the specter of performing White dominance within a culture by presenting a ridicule and lower-positioned Black in the social fabric is alive across the world.

As anti-Asian racism is often ridiculed and trivialized, the intensities of anti-black entertainment and racism is highlighted as a path for a nation’s people to gain global currency and legitimacy.

The reason it is there is that the global system, created by colonial and post-colonial tools of nation-building, have within itself, wherever it may be, the anti-black, anti-brown, anti-red, and anti-yellow.

So in Asia, what we call yellow supremacy, is the social hierarchy where the East Asian “yellow” (the color assigned by westerners to the peril, danger, and strangeness of “the Orient”) is made close to white and valorizes “white” in their national consciousness.

It is smoothly done by historical power relations, through an Asian nation’s close association with—first, the European encroachment during colonialism, then military and socio-economic colonialism through U.S. Military occupation crafted during the World Wars and post-war cultures. In globalizing and modernizing oneself as catching up with the dominant western nations, Asian and African nations will craft themselves in a power display that must mimic that of a conqueror.  To do anything less would be the enslavement, lowly positioned, and inadequate (militarily and economically) through being told so by the International establishment. As nations are exploited economically and militarily by more powerful nations, the choices for a nation to be included in the international family are quite slim. What makes it more difficult, is that each nation has its own histories and dynamics that may be at odds with, or may not be so easily read as “different from” or “the same” as a western nations’ form of presenting power and using it.

Because of ignorance, most people in the west often view their own nations and cultures as “primordial” and with cultural traditions and ways that are its own “essence.”  In reality, most people who are well-read and thoughtful, understand cultures and nations to be largely fictitious displays of the current system of boundary-making and also are interrelated through centuries of contact, borrowing, taking and stealing, exploiting, using, and trading. This includes what is permitted to be undertaken as entitled to ridicule, entitled to create boundaries, entitled to make legal and illegal, proper and improper.

As with most of Asia, in every direction, the caste systems set-up in most districts, created elite ideas of governing society through downgrading those people who spoke differently, and who worked outdoors, in manual labor, farmers in fields. The elite did no physical labor while the workers were outdoors and physically pushed. Outdoor exposure would naturally lead to darker skin. This is widely known to be the primary intense centerpiece in the Asian nations, from India to East and Southeast Asia, for the lower social position of darker-skinned people. In addition, there were the traders who came through Thailand to trade, primarily from China and Europe, who used darker-skinned people in the same manner.

Like all nations, there are those “conquered” and colonized people that are named “native” or “aborigine” or “indigenous” or “tribal” who are still inside the nation. Those in Thailand seeking upward mobility and acceptance in the world community, will link their histories of desiring whiteness to various Chinese conquerors from the north, who came with “darker” slaves of Persian, Arab, Aboriginal south seas, and Black-Asian (such as those related to Negritos) backgrounds. Then onto this is the later experience with the French colonizers who came with Black servants, conquered and recruited from African territories. Then even more recently were the African-American soldiers who came with the American military to set-up the bases and do business with Thailand before and during the Southeast Asian Vietnam War. It is recorded that over 80 percent of air raids over Vietnam, by the U.S. originated from the runways in Thailand.  The presence of Black-White relations during those times, were more virulently separate and were experienced by the Thai peoples. Separate clubs and entertainment districts for Blacks and those attracted to Blacks, and how whites treated the blacks, was apparent and reinforced earlier ideas of the higher position of white.

So this, as well, intensifies Blackface as legitimate entertainment, and the fear of Blacks and Blackness going largely constant. With this comes growing resentments, sadness and grief, anger, and enforced poverty that fuels the very behaviors, often, of darker-skinned peoples in Thailand and all nations. The darker-skinned are not just “Africans” after all, but local black Asian tribals, Aboriginals from India or the South Seas, as well as African-American soldiers and corporate personnel from Europe or Africa or North America, who have chosen to stay there.  In many cases, French Blacks, who were conscripted into the French colonial army during France’s reign in Southeast Asia, escaped to Thailand to set up there, some marrying local women.

There area a myriad reasons why Blackness is perceived in such a condescending manner in Thailand. Much of it are repeated from colonial Japanese and earlier Chinese anti-black cultural norms. Then there were the white-American soldiers during World War II, who treated Black-American soldiers in lowly ways.  These all serve to intensify the strong impulse of entitlement to being black-phobia and entertainment through Blackface.  Watching Blackface was, after all, a legitimate and constant way in which American soldiers in Asia, enjoyed themselves.  Being told they shouldn’t do it raises feelings of being “children” by the already-powerful Americans and westerners.

Armed with this, as we read UndertheRopes’ blogpost, what can we do, as people, as educators, as activists, as thinkers, in relation to transformation?

Click the link below to read UndertheRopes’ blogpost:

Blackface and Racism in Thailand

 

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