I have never felt like a popular person - you know - in the high school sense. It’s totally okay, I promise, I am - pretty much - completely over it! However, my lack of popularity in high school failed to prepare me for so much unwanted attention. People watching, and seemingly scrutinizing, the minutiae of my day is a very new experience. Being constantly noticed due to my skin pigment (or lack there of) makes me feel like I should always be “on” a little bit.
When I am out, I am making the effort to smile and to nod to people to acknowledge them, even if I am in a bad mood or not feeling well. Other than my self-imposed requirement to smile all the time, the only negative I have recognized about being white in northeastern Thailand seems to be that people will charge you a little more for things. They charge you more because they are poor and they think you can afford it - and they are right . Even on my small stipend, their assumption that I can afford it is absolutely right (this is why I am not comfortable bartering).
But what is worse than being charged extra for goods and services, for me, is the fact that I am an American. As a conscientious American, the attention has revealed a sobering glimpse of what my friends, whom were not born with the privilege of light skin-pigment, go through on a daily basis. An experience shared by a massive proportion of the U.S. population. However, it is abundantly clear to me that my experience is nothing like theirs, but this experience has already helped me have a deeper sense of empathy.
Imagine that you are walking along a sidewalk and people regularly cross the street as you proceed toward them. Imagine riding the train home on casual Friday and as you enter people instinctively put their hand in their pocket to protect their phone or wallet, clutch their purse closer to them, or continually eye you over their shoulder trying to determine what is in your bag or if you are a threat. I’ve been that person. Sometimes I call it being cautious, vigilant, or urban, but sometimes that is just me finding a way to rationalize my own disheartening actions.
Now, as I mentioned before, if it is difficult for me to be ‘on’ enough all the time to smile, nod, and make a good impression, how hard is it to be ‘on’ when people overtly or accidentally make you feel like a threat? How hard is it to go to a party and enjoy friends without being distracted by the bouncer or person across the room who seems to be keeping a close eye on you? How hard is it to focus in school after a negative experience that morning?