BANGKOK — On his way to film a rap music video, Junior was inexplicably stopped by the BTS guard – who did not stop anyone else.
Clinton “Junior” Okoroji, a Thai-born Nigerian, recalls that the guard searched his backpack thoroughly with a flashlight.
Pointing to the tripod in his backpack, the BTS guard said, “Is this a knife?”
“I couldn’t even speak; I was boiling with rage. I told myself to jai yen,” he said in a live interview with a Thai black empowerment group. “This was racism. There were so many people wearing backpacks, but he only checked mine.”
In a followup phone interview with Khaosod English, the 26 year old talked about his experiences of growing up black in Thailand, fraught with racism and constantly being stopped by police.
“Being stopped and checked by police is like a regular occurrence,” Junior said. “It’s daily life for black people here. Every time I get stopped I have to explain myself so much.”
Once, when he was on a Grab bike on the way to BTS On Nut, his bike was suddenly flanked by three police motorcycles. After parking, speaking in Thai, and showing his passport, the police officer tried to insist that Junior’s visa had expired, even though it hadn’t.
“He kept asking more and more questions such as if I was smoking, until I said, ‘hey, I want to go to the BTS. What do you want?’” Junior recalled. “Some police don’t know how to check visas.”
Another time, the rapper was out with a group of eight friends who took two separate taxis. He saw his friends’ taxi pass through a checkpoint freely since it didn’t have any black people.
“Bro, don’t be surprised if we get pulled over,” Junior recalled saying to his friends.
Sure enough, the police stopped his taxi and had everyone get out. The police checked his Russian, Kazakh, and French’s passports quickly, but not for him.
“‘Ah, Nigeria.’ The police kept saying. I asked back, ‘What’s up with you and Nigeria?’” Junior said. “He asked me so many questions, unlike with the others even though there was no reason to.”
Junior attended a Thai school growing up, where he was the only black person in school. Peers would call him “blackie” and tease his hair having “pot scrubber hair.”
“I tried to blend in but it was very hard. Even making friends was hard,” Junior said in the interview with Thailand’s Black Lives Matter movement. “In the auditorium when the lights were off even the teacher would say, ‘Where’s Junior? There’s just a floating shirt here.’”
“Facing racism or even getting an attitude like that from others for years for so long is really tough,” Junior continued in the live interview. “A teacher even called me a skunk once, comparing me to a hated thing in society.”
The worst teasing, however, was brought on by a 2004 Twin Lotus (Dok Bua Koo) toothpaste commercial.
In the commercial, a black man shimmies up a pole to retrieve a balloon for a child, but the child’s mother, screaming, runs away from him. The black man returns to his room, full of balloons, and lies down on his bed shaped like a toothbrush.
He morphs into black toothpaste, the product. The commercial ends with the tagline, “Appearance [sic] can be deceiving.” The commercial was part of a series that used black actors to promote their black-colored toothpaste.
Schoolmates would tease him by singing the commercial song or pretending to hold balloons when he was near.
“Thai ads keep pushing the narrative that black skin is bad. This should change already,” he said by phone.
But in spite of these cases of discrimination he faced, Junior said he never encountered similar experience from others in the rap industry.
He currently runs a YouTube channel where he reacts to various Thai and international rap songs. He also raps in both Thai and English under the name “The Black Kid.”
In the rap industry, he said he’s occasionally had to tell others why they shouldn’t use the N-word – if they insist on using it, he recommends them to watch “12 Years A Slave.”