BANGKOK — From being fired for her skin color or being mocked everyday at school by teachers and peers, it’s not easy being black in Thailand.
Discrimination and bullying is a daily reality for 25-year-old Thai-Mali vlogger Natthawadee “Suzie” Waikalo, who has been gaining media coverage and TikTok followers among Thais since the Black Lives Matter protests in the U.S.
“They let me go from my job and wouldn’t say why,” Suzie said. “I found out later that it was because they thought my characteristics and demeanor made the company look bad.”
She was speaking at a panel organized by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on Thursday night to discuss the ongoing U.S. protests and how they ignited local conversations about race and skin color.
In Thailand, whiteness, next to skinniness, is the number one factor for beauty. Many celebrities and even beauty queens are half-Caucasian, including both Miss Universe Thailand 2017 and 2019. Soap operas or lakorns regularly employ blackface to play black characters, such as “Khao Nok Na” (2013) where “E Dum” (blackie) is half-Thai and half-Black.
“Thai society still treats black skin as something unacceptable. You cannot shine with this skin color,” Suzie said. “The media, lakorn, and even children’s textbooks are responsible for this. …Beauty pageants should also be more diverse. If you are only beautiful by your own limited definitions, you can’t compete on the world stage.”
It’s an anomaly, then, that there is even a famous Thai-Black star – but Suzie’s TikTok: where she proudly lists herself as a “Blasian ML&TH Chocolate Girl” has more than 166,000 followers with one of her videos reaching 2.5 million views. Her Facebook page, Blasian Chick has more than 114,000 followers, her Instagram, 33,000.
ยินดีที่ได้รู้จักทุกคนค่ะ เป็นลูกครึ่งไทย-มาลี นะคะ ชื่อซูซี่ค่ะ หายข้องใจกันเเล้วนะคะว่าทำไมถึงพูดไทยได้55555 🤣🤣♬ BROWN SKIN GIRL – Blue Ivy & SAINt JHN & Beyoncé & WizKid
Political science professor Thitinan Pongsukhirak said that Suzie’s videos are “more impactful than a thousand laws” in raising awareness against discrimination against black people.
“Thais’ discrimination are from ignorance, rather than hatred as we are seeing in America today. Racial prejudice from ignorance can be rectified easier than deeply ingrained racism.”
Suzie says if she sat next to someone on the bus, they would immediately get up.
“I thought they were getting off, but they just didn’t want to sit next to me. That felt awful,” she said.
Many Thais have limited contact with black people – but almost all in state education will have had to read “Ngo Pa: Romance of the Sakai” (1906), a Romeo and Juliet-inspired verse narrative by Rama V about the dark-skinned Semang people in Phatthalung.
“As soon as they opened [the book], I wanted to go home,” Suzie said. “It made my learning experience at school very bad.”
Suzie said not only students at school, but teachers would bully and discriminate against her and her sisters for having dark skin.
“I would hear new things everyday. After school, my sisters and I would talk over dinner about how we were made fun of, even though it shouldn’t be a dinnertime topic,” she said. “It’s a terrible feeling that you never forget.”
When asked about the discrimination her mother faced in marrying a Malian man, Suzie said, “Everything I faced, my mom faced too. But she fought right back. She taught me that when we are bullied or discriminated against, there’s no one to help us. We have to deal with it there and then.”
In tiffs, either online or offline where people would call her racist things, Suzie said she’s following in her mom’s footsteps.
“If they use nasty words with me, I use it right back as well. But I won’t attack their looks or skin color. I will say something about their upbringing that causes them to be so ignorant,” she said.
The good news is that Thais are more understanding and accepting of minorities and other non-Thais in recent years, Thitinan said. He attributed the progress to more conversation that makes people realize what is appropriate to say.
“As Thailand becomes more cosmopolitan, raw racism has not been eliminated, but there is lot less than there was in the past,” Thitinan said.