I once asked a fellow expat (a white colleague of mine), why he chose the Ukraine for his study abroad. He told me that he wanted to go somewhere he could blend in. I’ve never had that luxury.Black girls know that no matter where they go, they are, in fact, a minority, and have to bear the unshakeable burdens that come with it.If you go to any mono-ethnic country, it’s possible that you’re the first black person a local has ever met.
Oh, and if you go to Africa, you’re still different. So how come so many blacks visiting China are shocked at the blatant ignorance?
There’s nowhere to hide.
Living as an African American means that you will be an outsider almost everywhere. For a lot of us, it’s why we travel in the first place. After years of watching black bodies shot down on T.V., I had my reasons to leave. (Let’s demand a better future.) So I picked China. As a recent graduate and language enthusiast, this is where I wanted to perfect my Mandarin.Studying abroad in Beijing gave me an idea of what kind of behavior to expect from the monocultural Middle Kingdom where 92 percent of the population is of the same Han Chinese ethnic group.
But my first week there, a friend and I quickly learned that we drew less attention (and cameras) if we walked separately. She had pale skin with fiery red hair, and me, well—I’m black.
The two of us could stop traffic.
Patience, patience, patience.
Years later, I was sent to a much less developed area. Chongqing, though China’s largest municipality, still has massive rural land with people who hang-dry their clothes in the mountains.I had absolutely no idea what I was getting into—and I loved it.But my patience started wearing thin pretty quickly. Every taxi ride was the same conversation: “Why are you black?” or “How is Africa?”
Eventually the days came when I pretended I couldn’t hear, or flipped the bird to those poor souls who stared too long.
I caught myself fighting my own prejudices, reducing the local people to poor, uneducated, and ignorant.
The novelty does, in fact, wear off.
The truth is, I really was the first black person my entire neighborhood had ever seen. Every morning on my way to work, people would stop what they were doing and stare with mouths wide open. But eventually, they started waving and smiling.The next thing I knew, neighborhood parties were being thrown in my honor just because I was a foreigner. I became a cherished part of their community.
You’re a trailblazer, remember?
Many visitors forget that China is a country where the lives of 1.4 billion people are closely restricted. This is an ideology breeding ground where children grow up only seeing people that look like them.I’m not saying they shouldn’t get a slap on the wrist, though. If you saw that racist laundry detergent ad, you’re probably ready to fight like 2015 me.We should, however, make a collective effort to understand the type of ignorance we send ourselves to when we board certain flights. It is a natural undertaking as pioneers of globalization.
Racism is everywhere, but it has never stopped me from traveling or putting myself in uncomfortable situations.
So if you find yourself being the first black person a Chinese person has ever met, tell them how lucky they are.
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