BANGKOK — Morris K remembers when he was teased at school for being black. He would come home and scrub his skin in a hopeless attempt to change who he was.
In an interview with a Thai black empowerment group on Sunday, actor Morris K spoke about his experiences of growing up black and becoming Thailand’s first half black celebrity. The event was held to raise awareness over racial discrmination in Thailand following similar protests in the United States.
“I scrubbed my skin with a Scotch Brite because I was teased so much that I didn’t want to be black anymore,” he said. “It took a long time to accept myself and be proud of being a black man.”
Morris K Ple Roberts, known as Morris K, is a 55-year-old half Thai, half-American who was known for his works as an actor and TV show host throughout the nineties and noughties.
“I’m lucky that in Thailand, people don’t attack or are violent towards black people like we see in America,” Morris said in the interview. “But in Thailand, we tease and laugh at people, bullying them so they lose their self-confidence. I wasn’t laughing with them.”
He would often get into brawls with schoolmates, and one day his teacher told him, “‘You’re evil because of your genes.’ “The teacher said it out of anger, but I always remember it because I thought, was I evil because I am black?” Morris recalled.
He said that his peers would call him ‘blackie,’ or ‘black as a duck’s liver,” or “khao nork na” literally “rice outside of the paddy,” a derogatory term for mixed-race people.
‘You have to admit it’s in Thailand’s DNA to tease people. But start with yourself and don’t do it to others,” Morris said.
Morris’ mother had abandoned him at a foster home in Chachoengsao when he was 3 years old – an experience he described as abusive. He also grew up not knowing who his father was.
“I lived with a family that wasn’t my parents. I was teased at school, then teased and hurt at home,” the actor said.
At 17, Morris left his foster home without money and lived at a church. Friends urged him to enter a male beauty contest, which he at first took as an insult. But he ended up placing second at the Domonman contest in 1988, which kickstarted his showbiz career.
“I had been afraid of not having enough to eat,” Morris said. “So I did what I needed to to survive.”
Ironically, the first drama he starred in was “Khao Nork Na” (1990), a soap titled with the same insult he had gotten as a kid. In the show, a Thai actress in blackface plays a half-Thai, half-Black. A 2013 remake with the same plot also used a woman in blackface.
He felt more confident about his identity after seeing black actor Greg Morris star in S.T.A.B (1973), an action film directed by Chalong Pakdeevijit. Greg Morris had come to Thailand to film the movie. After that, Morris K. purposefully sought out black idols he could look up to, such as Grace Jones, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston.
A Thai dubbed version of S.T.A.B (1973).
“When I was growing up there were much fewer, basically no black people in Thailand. I can say that I was the first black celebrity here,” Morris said. “Still, there’s not many chances for black people to get large parts, unless the plot asks for a black person. Still, they often just get someone with white skin and paint over them.”
Morris also said he hopes to see more roles for Thai-black people in showbiz. “Why not? You could be the next leading man or lady.”
In 2019, after living as an orphan for 54 years, Morris found his father, a former Vietnam G.I. via DNA test.
“As soon as he saw me via video call, he said, ‘I don’t need to take a DNA test. My DNA is written on your face,’” Morris recalled. “If it wasn’t for COVID-19 I would have gone to see my father right now.”
With acting jobs scarce at the moment, Morris is now focusing on his satay business, More Satay.