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August 29, 2002

White Worship as Tolerance?

The NY Times has this story on how half-white Thais now dominate that country's fashion industry:

Increasingly, the round face, arched eyebrows and small mouth of the classical Thai look have given way in popularity to the sharper and more pronounced features of the West. There has been a similar easing of prejudice in other Asian countries, but nowhere has the look taken over quite the way it has in Thailand.
While it's a positive thing that the hatred against half-breeds that was common in parts of the East has eased, the writer confuses the opposite situation as tolerance, when it sounds remarkably like a racial version of self-hating anorexia-- the promotion of an unobtainable Western ideal -- by the global commodity culture.

Posted by Nathan at August 29, 2002 06:44 AM

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This has been common in Latin America for ages. In our culture, we are expected to marry a mate whiter than ourselves, so that we may continue to "improve the race" (mejorar la raza). It's sad that this trend is extending to the Far East.

Posted by: Kos at August 29, 2002 04:39 PM

The fact that a certain look is trendy in Thailand right now doesn't necessarily mean that Thais are abandoning their culture to some "western" ideal. Thailand, unlike other Southeast Asian countries, was never invaded by Westerners and was never a Western colony. Instead, Thailand has a history of being something of a military and economic regional power, both before and after the advent of Western influence in Southeast Asia. These facts lend the Thais a palpable resistance to "west-worship" that I remember quite well from my childhood in Thailand. Don't forget this is the country whose government *still* enforces a ban on showing "The King and I" (either version) because they consider the notion that some Western woman came and taught culture to a presumably uncultured Thai king highly insulting, both to their constitutional monarchy and to their culture.

Being light-skinned, "anglo," western or whatever has *never* been a source of economic or social privilege in Thailand. Far from it. The NYT article is quite correct about the discrimination that mixed-race kids historically have experienced in Thailand. I have no doubt that "farang" (a word I remember well) is one of the nicer things said about them. And if their moms were Thai, you don't *even* wanna know what their moms got called. In light of that, the fact that certain mixed-race Thais are enjoying success in the Thai entertainment industry doesn't mean that Thailand is succumbing to a "Westernizing" influence -- maybe it just means that Thais are starting to loosen up. Kinda like the U.S. was loosening up when Jackie Robinson finally got to play for the big leagues, or when white kids started dancing to music created by (and sometimes even performed by) black artists.

Don't let the fact that mixed race Thais are enjoying popularity as entertainers (and that kids are mimicing some of their styles and looks) make you think that somehow Westerners and Western culture have taken over Thailand. In fact, be wary of even thinking that it means that Thais have given up discriminating against mixed persons. Back to the Jackie Robinson analogy -- the fact Jackie Robinson finally got to play major league ball (or, say, Michael Jordan got to make a ton of dough on the basketball court) doesn't mean that white Americans had suddenly dropped all their issues with respect to race.

I'm hoping the fact that there are mixed race Thais succeeding in the entertainment and fashion industries means that it's easier for other mixed race Thais to get decent jobs, and be treated nicely by other people. But I'm certainly not betting that the average mixed race Thai woke up to a brand new world the day a mixed race Thai woman won a beauty contest.

I remember Thailand fondly, to be honest. And in an odd way I feel like I'm defending Thailand and its culture by pointing out that it may be a good sign that Thais are going through a fad for mixed race fashion models and entertainers. Thais, after all, do have this nasty history of ethnic discrimination -- a bad part of their culture that they would be well-served to be shed of. The good parts of their culture, however, are certainly robust enough to survive a craze for blue-eyed contact lenses. It's actually a little patronizing to immediately assume otherwise. After all, they managed not to get colonized by Western imperial powers back in the day when Western imperial powers colonized with armies, rather than ad campaigns.

Posted by: brenda at September 18, 2002 03:48 PM

White worship is raging among asians. In asia, in the U.S., in Europe -- all over -- a white spouse is a prize. Take a look around you-- you'll see that asian women in particular prize white men. So you shouldn't be surprised.

Posted by: netrat at September 27, 2002 10:18 PM

I can't believe it, my co-worker just bought a car for $30878. Isn't that crazy!

Posted by: Betsy Markum at February 14, 2006 10:05 PM

i am 'half' asian/european, it sucks that i have to describe myself as that, the word 'half-breed' is fucking insulting nathan, check your language terms.

Posted by: tara at March 26, 2006 05:59 AM

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