“How was Thailand?” I’ve been asked that question at least 50 times since I’ve been back from Thailand…and I’m not using hyperbolic liberties. The question itself is not bothering, it just puts me on the spot to summarize amazing experiences and moments in a way that I haven’t really had an opportunity to completely process and articulate. I usually just recap about what I saw and mention the food, and that seems to suffice.
I think I’m still processing the awesomeness which traveling to Thailand meant for me…but one thing I’ve come to realize, is the complete dichotomous treatment my black male American identity received in Thailand versus how blacks (men and women) are treated in America.
As a black American man, I’m not always expecting to be treated like a full-human being, or I’m often reminded of how my social-cultural identity has historically and presently been diminished and preyed upon through the victimization of my black American brothers and sisters. I don’t even think I need to give examples to support this point…it would be disrespectfully redundant and insulting to your intelligence.
While in Thailand, I was consistently treated with respect by the locals and tourists alike. In Thai culture, there is something called “wai” which consists of a series of respectful greetings and gestures. Every day while either in my hotel or while out at a restaurant I was the recipient of a non-submissive but rather polite head nod and/or bow with a genuine smile. My blackness was noticed, but not stigmatized through damaging perceptions or cultural cues which prompt feelings of inferiority. In one instance, my blackness was celebrated while on a tour of the Kanchanaburi countryside. Several of the tour guides innocuously asked for photos with me and my black male friend Moe, because to them, it was an exciting opportunity to interact with a black man. Moe and I often made jokes where we said we could introduce ourselves as Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Brown…which is hilarious in itself because neither of us are tall (Shaq) or light-skinned (Chris Brown), but in the eyes of the Thai…we were black men, and we were made to feel that our blackness made us special, not something to be feared or dismissed. The worst treatment I heard in regards to my race in Thailand, was a local cab driver asking me, “Where you go chocolate?” But I actually thought it was really funny, and was able to discern that his question towards me was based on seeing me as a black American with money to spend, not an intimidating “where are you going darkie/boy” that many black American men have historically heard on the soil of a country that claims to have “liberty and justice for all.”
While over in Thailand, the Alton Sterling and Philando Castile deaths had just gone down and as summers have traditionally been in American history, blacks were having to confront this notion of wanting to enjoy and celebrate our American heritage, while still being conflicted with the harsh realities of black Americans at the hands of oppressors.
I’m not going to lie…being in Thailand during those undeserving deaths of my black American brethren gave me an opportunity to escape the American obsession and consumption with racial injustice. Not to say that I took on the veil of Americans who treat black lives as irrelevant and act as if it didn’t happen. What I really mean is…I saw and felt that the deaths of those black men, the racial tensions that followed, and all the other pain that ensues from their deaths were an American problem…and being in Thailand gave me the privilege to say, "I'll deal with that when I'm back in America." I recognize how that sentiment can come off, it is definitely rooted in a place of trying to hold off pain rather than denying its existence.
Since I’ve been back…some shady stuff has gone down most recently in Chicago with respect to police brutality and another unarmed black man being gunned down. I am feeling the weight of the American racial and socioeconomic injustice problems. I’m not saying Thailand doesn’t have issues with injustice, but as they are tied to my black male identity, it was nice to feel free of those things. I now learn from my Thai experience and bow my head with a genuine smile towards the respect and legacy of black men and women who have most recently lost their lives on American soil, who may have not ever experienced what it was like to feel the admiration and respect for their black beauty.