3/4 Colorism and Racism in Vietnam Impacts Both Foreign Volunteers and Ethnic Minority People

Written August 13, 2019

Published October 23, 2019

Written by Arria Hauldin (former volunteer from USA)


Note: Arria Hauldin was a former volunteer with C4C in Rural Bac Giang Province. Her primary service was as a Teach for Change teacher, but she also spent her time conducting research on the experiences of ethnic minority single mothers in Vietnam. This blog was originally posted on Omprakash's EdGE blog (link: https://www.omprakash.org/blog/who-am-i-). This blog was written towards the end of her volunteer period.



Where do these pictures go that people “sneakily” take of me? Why is this lizard in the bathroom only there when I’m there? Why do my students want to watch Slenderman? Why do most of these beauty products have a whitening component like why does deodorant need to whiten? Why are people afraid of me when I just exist?


I have been reflecting on my experience more so in the last few days than I have in the last few months. Maybe it could be because I notice certain trends and behaviors more now than I did before or maybe because I am leaving in a few days and feel bittersweet about it all. Although I have bought a notebook to journal, I have not actually written anything in it. I have been doing a lot of internal reflection such as thinking about the last few months in my room or in between lessons in class. I have been able to air my grievances and concerns with fellow Global Scholar, Andrew, we have had many discussions about how we are viewed and perceived here. I have also learned to reflect through my blog posts here and elsewhere. A lot of our topics tend to hover around race, ethnicity, color, gender, and traditional values. We also discuss size a lot and how we are just too big for certain things from bus seats to motorbikes. 


Just a few skin whitening products sold in the stores and markets.


I have also had conversations with fellow volunteers about colorism and its prevalence in Southeast Asia as well as Vietnam’s view of darker skin tones. Our fellow volunteers, who are from the Philippines, have voiced their experiences of being mistaken for Vietnamese by Vietnamese people. Fellow volunteers and I have also talked about our cultures and countries and how we live our day to day lives back at home. I often reflect on American culture when we have our discussions and how I am viewed in the US versus in Vietnam. 


With my host family I have talked about how my race and skin color affects how strangers view me and how that affects my treatment. We have also talked about how the majority Vietnamese, Kinh, view ethnic minorities and our province in Vietnam. Some stereotypes given to certain ethnic minorities here are also given to certain ethnic minority groups in the U.S. such as views of being seen as “unintelligent”, “uneducated” or “lazy”. Sometimes I try not to let certain things get to me such as women and children covering their faces and screaming when I would look in their general direction, but these experiences build up and sometimes get me more upset than I could describe. I have also had these same discussions with my family back at home and try to understand the mindset behind certain reactions to me and my appearance. Even though these instances hurt, they do not make up the entirety of my experience here. I have had amazing experiences as well and I hope to look back at the blogs I have posted about the moments I have shared here and remember how I felt in the moment. 


A commercial that showcases the beauty standards for women in Vietnam.



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Coins for Change Vietnam (C4C) is a nonprofit social enterprise that aids disenfranchised women and children throughout Vietnam. 

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