No, I don’t mean “black” in the local sense, which merely means “copper colored and darker than the usual Thai person.” I mean Black in the American sense of the word, the people that were once referred to as “Negroes.”
Black Americans are as rare in Thailand as hens’ teeth, but there are many, many Blacks in Bangkok. My neighborhood in particular features a great number of Blacks. Africans they are, many are students at the two local international universities, but not all. A business in the area just started a professional football team and seems to have hired all Africans to man it, they have been installed in my condo building. Then there are the “businessmen,” boy to the cops keep an eye on them, businessmen my ass.
Disclaimer: You don’t see many of Americans in general over here. Some American ex-pats, true, but most of the White people that you see are tourists and very few of them come from America. Do Americans take vacations anymore? Only the Europeans can afford to go somewhere for a few weeks at a stretch, and a trip any shorter than that is bloody inconvenient when the travel time is twenty-four hours or more in each direction, and then there’s the jet-lag.
Africans come in many varieties, and most of them are perfectly reasonable people. There are some countries in Africa though where the people have some funny habits. Evidently those countries are well represented in Bangkok. Just ask any Bangkok cab driver, he’ll be happy to share some of his experiences. I never bring it up myself, but every few months a driver will see Blacks on the street and spontaneously start to complain. “They just get out and run!” is a common one. “They hand you some bills and one in the middle is folded over!” is another. “The fare is eighty-five Baht and they throw forty Baht at you on the way out!”
No surprise then, that many drivers will not stop for Blacks. On the surface, this is like the situation that obtained in Old New York back when I was driving cabs. (Not guilty, me, I stopped for everybody.) This is very different though, because here the terrible side effect of this prejudice is that American Blacks, and they do exist here, are being tarred with the same brush, and without having contributed to the problem in any way. For that matter, most of the Africans in Bangkok haven't contributed to the problem either. My friend Professor Salifu (Mali; PhD German Linguistics) would, I think, put his hand in a fire before he tried to cheat anybody. It's always the few that ruin it for the many.
I always take the time to explain to the drivers that American Blacks are not like Africans at all anymore, and certainly not like these rude Africans. They’re much more like Americans in general. With probably a greater feeling of worker solidarity if anything, and no shortage of fair play in their hearts. In my experience, which I share with the drivers, Black workers were better tippers than rich White people in New York, and maybe even more appreciative of the ride than White workers because they were a little surprised to be picked up in the first place.
It is hard from a distance, however, to differentiate an American from an African, or tell what is in the heart of any individual. Even for me, and I know what to look for. Many African men, I can tell you, will leave the house in outfits that no self-respecting American Black would wear to a rock fight. Hard to pick it all out driving down the street. To a Thai cab driver the challenge of telling them apart is insurmountable. It’s a shame.
Black American Expats
I know that they exist. I’ve heard of some; I’ve seen others. Sorry to say that I have no friends among their number, but like I say, they’re very, very rare. The guys that I occasionally see who appear to be American don’t, I’m sure, want me running up to them asking, “are you American?” Perhaps, dear reader, you could introduce me to one?
From what I’ve heard, Thai society affords them the status of “Americans,” minus the qualifier “Black.” As though a rich foreigner was a rich foreigner, irrespective of the color of his skin. If Thai women discriminate against black skin it is in such small numbers that it doesn’t seem to hurt the Black man’s chances in the least. Even the Africans are considered prosperous, they made it over here didn’t they? They’re paying tuition at an international university, aren’t they? Americans even more so, we are all considered prosperous-to-rich.
Free Advice, Worth Every Penny
I’d recommend it, I would, to my Black American compatriots. Anyone with a bachelors’ degree can easily get a job teaching English over here, for about a thousand dollars per month, which is enough to live on very well in Thailand. People are very nice, a few words of Thai and a genuine smile buy a lot of good will in this country. If my experience is any indication, I can tell you that I feel less alienated here than I do in our own miserable country. At least here I am actually an alien. Who knows? It could work for you too.