Travelling While Black

You don’t have to look at me funny; I do not have Ebola. You don’t have to follow me around your shop; I am not a thief. You don’t have to avoid me; I’m not a prostitute. You don’t have to ask to feel my hair/skin; I’m not an alien.

The frustrating thing is, I know that the majority do not do it on purpose. It’s ignorance, plain and simple. My first time in Hong Kong (in 2014) was my worst travelling experience to date. I was with my colleagues and they would never have known it but I saw all of the sideward glances, I saw the white men in suits regarding me, wondering if I was one of the Nigerian prostitutes that trolled outside of the bar we were in. I noticed the elderly Chinese women scowling as I walked down the street laughing and joking around with my white male colleague.

By the time I went to Istanbul with my manager later that year I was used to it. Plus the kind of attention I received there was different. It was less accusatory and more complimentary. I received countless marriage proposals and many many people asking to touch my hair in awe (to be fair I did have waist length twists at the time so I drew attention from it at home in London). Turkey was even more interesting because I wasn’t the only one drawing attention. The attention my pretty blonde manager got was more or less on the same scale so imagine us together! It was even a little flattering at first. But it soon grows tiresome having to avoid markets and tourist attractions so as not to be harassed.

Singapore was an eye opener. I never know what to expect as I do very little research before travelling, preferring to see and explore it for myself. Plus there’s no website or app that measure’s countries’ tolerance on a scale so it’s pretty much guess-work!

For the most parts Singapore was excellent; I wasn’t harassed, I felt relaxed and at ease. Everyone was very helpful and chivalrous, something I do not experience much of in London. But, and there’s always a but, there was one day I decided (as I often do on these work trips) to venture out alone and just walk, jump on the public transport and explore. I got on the metro (cleanest, most efficient mode of public transport I’ve ever used) and stood within the crowd. Something made me look down and there was a sweet little girl, around 5 or 6 years old, staring at me. Mouth open, eyes wide; this little girl looked like she was seeing a ghost. This shocked me to the core. There’s nothing like a child’s innocence to make you face reality. Yes places like Singapore and Hong Kong are filled with expats but children aren’t necessarily exposed to that. In the week I typically spend in these countries I can count the amount of ‘ethnic’ people I see on one hand; and that’s typically at the airport, in bars or the hotel I’m staying in. When would a child be exposed to expats or visitors? Maybe at a shopping mall, perhaps a restaurant, but that’s about it.

There has recently been an influx of blogs and Instagram pages dedicated to travel. Everyone encourages us to hit the open road, see the world, explore. I wish it were that easy for everyone. I am privileged to have been able to travel to 17 countries multiple times, mostly within the past two years. For someone from my financial and social background it is not typical because let’s face it, who can afford it? But thanks to my job I have been able to. Finances aside it’s still not as easy as it sounds. As a woman I am already nervous to travel alone, add my race into the mix and I have actively avoided going to certain parts of the world and probably always will. It’s sad that something so liberating and inspirational isn’t as liberating for everyone. I couldn’t imagine wandering around Russia alone taking pictures of the beautiful buildings and speaking to new and interesting people, but I would absolutely love to.

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2 Comments

  1. Jun

    Dear Tanya, I’m Asian (singaporean) and I’m sorry to hear about your experience in HK. I also do get quite a bit of stares and I try to take it in my stride but like you said, it does get to me sometimes. Kids can be quite funny. I make funny faces and then they laugh. It is true that singapore sees mostly white visitors and only the occasional black traveller but I’m glad you were brave and went out on your own anyway. We’re a very welcoming bunch and I’m glad you didn’t have any bad life changing experiences in my homeland 🙂 thanks for the reblog too. I’m glad it was helpful. ♡

    1. Tanya D

      Hey

      I love Singapore, and although I had that experience I in no way let it tarnish my feelings toward your beautiful country. I understand that it’s not malicious. Travelling and encountering certain things has changed me and the way I treat people in London. It’s so easy to get caught up in your own life and see travellers as an inconvenience, especially when they stand in the middle of the pavement or ask you loads of questions. Travelling myself has taught me patience and kindness, so as much as I disliked those experiences I’m in a way grateful to have had them!

      Your blog post is great and really helpful. I’m back in Hong Kong now…I will not let it deter me from seeing and experiencing the world!

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