I earlier blogged about the racism implicit in the name Thailand. Sanitsuda Ekachai has another article in the Bangkok Post that highlights the racist attitudes in Thailand (link from 2Bangkok.com).
Thailand's entrant in Miss Universe, Fahroong Yutitham, wore a Hmong costume in the section for traditional costumes. This outraged Ladda Tangsupachai, director of the Cultural Surveillance Centre of the Culture Ministry (a most Orwellian sounding department). Quoting Khun Ladda from the Bangkok Post:
The Thai national dress, she stressed, must be Thai. It also must be in line with the official, royal designs and it must be used for proper occasions. She also criticised Ms Fahroong for failing to do her duty as Miss Thailand to show the outside world an authentic national Thai dress.
Furthermore, wearing an ethnic dress but calling it Thai could confuse young Thai minds and set a bad example for the youngsters to emulate.
How many Thais walk around wearing a traditional costume of any sort? These days most Thai people wear jeans and t-shirts. Also implicit in this comment is that people from minority groups cannot be considered Thai unless they conform to a very narrow ideal of Thai-ness, an ideal that doesn't in anyway reflect the everyday reality in Siam.
Ideofact has also blogged on this topic and raises this important point. It seems that the Cultural Surveillance Centre considers the Hmong costume, pictured below, is not national dress.
But their lack of comments regarding the costume below raises some interesting questions about exactly what might be considered "Thai national dress".
I think a picture is worth a thousand words here.
I'll let Sanitsuda have the last words though:
Not only the ethnic groups suffer from this narrow definition of Thai-ness, but society as a whole.
Putting Thai arts and culture on the altar, for example, has killed creativity and trapped them in rigidity and pretentiousness.
Women also greatly suffer from the Thai-ness rubbish which mandates virginity as an indispensable quality of good Thai women. This is why women who are raped or face unplanned pregnancies get social condemnation instead of help. Or why divorced women or widows are considered tainted goods.
A Thai beauty queen in an ethnic dress? Why not? Only when we can equate Thai-ness with cultural diversity, can we hope for an open and more humane society.
* photos from Miss Universe