I am 18 years old. When I was six, Abhisit Vejjajiva became Thailand’s prime minister. My parents sang praises of joy for the former Eton schoolboy with a shiny Oxford degree.
How wonderful would it be if their daughter could also graduate with a prestigious Oxford degree and eventually become an influential Thai society figure?
My family fits the social category of “upper class,” which many people may call “elite,” the measurement of which is simply wealth. Similar to other families of the same social class, the unspoken terms and conditions that my parents had laid for me were clear from the beginning. They would invest obscene levels of money into my education, and in return, I would eventually graduate with a degree from a respectable, if not elite, university abroad.
After our “contract” is complete, I would supposedly be set… for life.
However, our seemingly simple “contract” came with the complexity of various subsections. For example, from as young as seven, I attended approximately ten cram school hours per day on weekends and during school holidays. Whenever I felt tired, my mother would encourage me by saying that completing mathematical equations and reciting poetry was “the most elite form of fun.”
She was very convincing because I continued to participate in “elite fun” for many years. In my family, academic success was the only option.
I am expected to live up to the family legacy and empower the family name.
Thus far, I’m living up to the legacy with strong grades and extracurriculars and acceptance to Stanford University. I was even told, in the frankest way possible, by my parents, that a large portion of pride that they felt towards me derived from my academic achievements.
For a while, I was the golden child. I say this in the past tense because I grew up eventually. I started reading the news, and I became heavily involved in social activism, and my parents became concerned.
“Just don’t get into politics,” they said. Politics is seldom mentioned in my family, and in the rare occasions when they were, it was always because the “poor people” or the “young people” were causing an “unnecessary stir.”
Political activism is for “other people,” the best demonstration of elitism is detachment, they would say. But with the ongoing anti-government protests, the toxic culture of elitism in Thailand rears its ugly head. It’s not just detachment, but passing judgment and waving dismissal.
In recent weeks, I’ve read an array of angry posts on Facebook against the pro-democracy protests led by students. They are mostly from upper-class parents, who believe the youth don’t know any better because they have lived too short of lives to understand the world, including not understanding their own political demands.
There exists a preconception that their demands are automatically unreasonable and ignorant. Furthermore, they believe “someone” must be behind this. After all, how could these kids think for themself?
The main worry for elite parents is that their children might be “bullied” into joining the protests. Many elite parents also feel relief because their children are in international schools, which are bubbles of privilege untouched by the reality of Thailand’s political and social upheavals.
It makes me sad to see the voices of my generation so dismissed. I have grown up with the mindset that I am the future. After all, I’m meeting the terms of the “contract” set by my parents.
But therein lies the problem. My parents set the contract. I never had any say in it. I may also assume it’s a similar contract in most upper-class families. It’s a contract expected of our social class. From grades to schools to careers and future husbands or wives, make sure to attach the term “elite” to everything; this is what separates “us” from “them.”
The term “elite” defines the mindset and values, which is why former PM Abhisit will always be our social class’s darling. Eton, Oxford, the last name, and yes, that accent.
On the other hand, farmers and workers in the streets, students from middle-class families shouting “death to dictatorship, long live democracy” are not for us. In fact, the elitist mindset fears that it will jeopardize the privilege and prosperity of our families and social class.
The toxic culture of elitism fails to understand that Thailand belongs to us, all of us. It’s all our responsibility to stand up for each other, regardless of the social construct that divides us by the size of our bank accounts.
We all should demand democracy, a political system based on equality, transparency, and accountability, not ignorance and submission.