It has always been a desire within me to travel the world. I’m not sure whether that is something that originates from my love of languages or the fact that I grew up in a multicultural society – London – literally the melting pot of cultures and races from every corner of the world. Despite this ambition for exploration, there has always been two intangible obstacles in the way of this pursuit – being black and being a young woman.
It should come as no surprise that being black comes with many issues in terms of the way people treat and categorise you. In England at least I have to been able to evade any large incidences concerning my race. Maybe that’s to do with some progress in terms of race relations, living in such a racially mixed community or possibly I have just been extremely lucky with my timing and place. That’s not to say I’ve never come across many instances of ignorance, but perhaps I can blame that on the young age of the people it concerns.
Be that as it may, I cannot deny the fact that while residing in England, I have been living in a bubble where being black isn’t particularly special.
Hesitant to Travel
I, as of 2019 study Arabic and French with a mandatory year abroad that had been looming over me for two years before the departure date. You can imagine the stress and anxiety I felt leading up to the weeks before I was set to leave everything behind me for a full year to a new and unknown culture. But low and behold here I lay two months later in my one-bedroom apartment slap bang in the middle of Jordan, Amman. In many ways it hasn’t been easy, but I can definitely say that being black has definitely made it a unique experience.
Now when it comes to children I never know whether to associate racial remarks on what they’ve just heard from elsewhere or what just naturally comes to them. In foreign countries they tend to, with me, just be quite inquisitive. I’ve never really taken offence and instead have found it quite intriguing that young souls take so much interest in me, filling conversations with questions about where I’m originally from, my culture and my hair. I find that this is the best way to decimate stereotypical and racist ideologies. With them being so young, I seize the opportunity to ideally stop some new discriminationn being brought into the world.
Naturally, I get stared at, a lot. Especially of course in countries that do not have a large black community. I don’t take offence to this too much unless the staring doesn’t cease. Having being called “hot chocolate” on a number of occasions is something I have never experienced except as a light joke among friends.
The fetishisation of women in general of course is not unknown, however being specifically objectified as a black woman is rooted in both racism and sexism as unconsciously I am considered as an object twice over for the pleasures of man. It is a very insidious form of racism as from the outside it could seem like a complement to be compared to a sweet drink but on the other side it creates me into this exotic other which lacks the same value as people of the opposite gender and colour.
You can imagine the shock and slight uncomfortableness one can feel, especially when alone on the streets. And the combination of being both female and black can make for quite an awkward and distressing situation.
I’m the tourist attraction?
I can definitely say that an experience with the biggest number of racial comments was during my trip to Petra (البتراء) a famous archeological site in the the southern Jordaninan desert. What a beauty it was to see narrow canyons, ancient ruins as well as the tombs and temples carved into pink and brown sandstone cliffs. However soon after I entered the beautiful landscape I realised that the tourists and locals weren’t only looking at the remains, they were also looking at me.
After having been called a “Rasta” on three occasions, asked to be photographed twice and having received the statement “and next stop Africa” I realised that perhaps I had become the main attraction. I seldom let statements like this, especially from the ignorant ruin my experiences in new lands. However, what I do question is when the day will come that people will pass me in any country and not take notice of my dark skin and my thick and curly locks and braids. Is there not enough positive exposure of people who look like me that I can go somewhere without people looking at me like they’ve seen something or someone from their wildest imagination.
Inquisitions and interest in me is all fun and games until my day is filled with a ridiculous amount of comments and staring which can make me feel more like a walking spectacle than a person. As of yet I would say that I have not experienced anything so detrimental to my enjoying my placement abroad.
And I would hope that anyone who was black and female would still continue to follow their dreams, if it is within them, to explore and discover the world. Despite some questionable comments and looks I have enjoyed every adventure abroad that I have set out on, met amazing people who were as interested in me as I was them, and experienced some of the richest cultures ever.
I have been lucky to not experience the types of things my comrades have such as racist remarks or being chased down the street. Thus a possible future where that happens scares me. Moreover, I am ready to take on the challenge and put down or educate anyone who dares to come for me, my sex or the colour of my skin, for the love of travelling.
Because if I don’t do it, and you don’t either, who will?