11 Observations of a Black World Traveler

Observations of a Black Traveler

I am a black woman. Not mixed, other with a smudge of Indian too small to self-identify. Just black. And no, I have no illusions about being more than that or feel I am less than that. No problem saying I am comfortable in my skin, which if I say so myself is pretty damn beautiful. I’ve made a lot of observations as a black traveler because I talk to everyone. I am careful not to label this behavior as prejudice. Just a bit of overwhelming curiosity.

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  1. Staring
  2. Touching
  3. Speak So Well
  4. That’s not my Name
  5. Pictures
  6. Are you, Janet Jackson
  7. Assumptions
  8. Skin Color Questions
  9. My Hair
  10. I’m Not Rich
  11. Representin’

11 Observations of a Black Traveler

There have been times when the only other black person I saw all day was the one I saw when I brushed my teeth that morning. I expect it as a black traveler. I’ve been vexed, cursed, ignored, and called out my name more times than I’d like to recall. Because I like to travel outside of my country and far outside of my comfort zone. Here in Korea, the locals prize fairer skin. And all beauty products include a bleaching agent.

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The Stares

It never fails to surprise me that when I think I am going to an event or attraction, I become the focus of attention. Sometimes, I feel like I have two heads and those two heads have four crossed eyes. People stare at my hair, my skin, and my butt. They act as they have never seen a black traveler before. I try not to notice when someone walks into walls or stumbles over the sidewalks. But I’m used to it now. More times than not, a smile or a nod elicits one back. I remember being stared at so hard in Poland, he walked into the side of the building. A few moments later a little old lady stared at me as we crossed paths in the street. Then she did something I wasn’t expecting. She blew me a kiss.

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The Unstoppable Urge to Touch My Twists

It’s just hair, people. Mine is a little thicker than yours, but they still need to figure out how it’s done. My hair, I suspect, accounts for 50% of #1. So many women hung over mY shoulder that I thought I was giving a twist tutorial in the bathroom at the Daegu Airport. Oohing and ahhing like I was spinning gold.


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Being Told I Speak So Well

… or that you are so different from other black people they know. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this. someone, please tell me what a white girl “sounds like”. It’s not a compliment, it’s proper English. No one fits into a one-size-fits-all size box. I speak well because I love words and speech and it had nothing to do with the melanin in my skin.

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Being Called Out My Name

I don’t use the n-word, but I remember the first time I was called out my name just as vividly as the last time. The first time I was a little girl playing on the playground in California and the last time was two years ago as I strolled along the waterfront in Split, Croatia. And your right, the first time hurt the worst because she was supposed to be a friend. The second time I felt like those kids thought we were on the set of yo MTV Raps. One day they will say that word to the wrong person and learn the error of their ways. Some words we just should never use because it suggests its ok.

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Being Photographed

I am going to start charging for this one. I would have made a killing the last time I was in China. There is something unsettling about being such a novelty when traveling. It’s hard to believe that there a large segment of the population that has never seen a black traveler.

Did you know that the number of passport requests in the United States holds steady, but the number of requests by the African American population is on the rise? Why do you suppose that’s the case?

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No, I Am Not Janet Jackson

Good grief people, I’m not a rapper, actress, or heiress either. I’m not even Janet Jackson although I can understand the confusion. lol. I’m just a female black traveler. And even though that can and often is a rarity, I don’t deserve the attention I receive. You imagine being chased down the street for a photo. One person will ask for a picture and before you know there are ten Asian people touching you on all sides. Contrary to belief, all black people do not look alike, but it’s a compliment all the same. Y’all know she’s almost 50 years old, right?? Just call me Ms. Jackson, cause I’m nasty!!

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I Must Work for the CIA

Yup, stop laughing. I was asked this along with a laundry list of other questions when we sat at a long table in an Ireland pub. I’m not mad though. That was the night I discover Jameson and ginger ale… now that’s my jam!!

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Skin Color Questions

Do you tan? Nope, I burn. Next question. I guess I should feel fortunate, not too long ago people used to rub our skin to see if IT came off. Even though I am often made to feel like I should be concerned with getting darker. I watched a Korean friend apply sunblock while we sat inside at a restaurant for lunch like we were at the beach.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised in a country where ladies cover themselves from head to toe. They wear gloves, humungous head visors and carry umbrellas all summer long.

More Hair Stuff

How do I do it? Do I wash it?  Can I get my hair to do that? I once spent 30 minutes finishing up my twists in a Korean airport with 10-15 women over my shoulder watching my every move. There were so many ladies oohing and ahhing while I twisted my hair, and the space was so tight, I could barely put my arms down.

I’m Rich

Nope, not even close. I am just a black traveler. Although… even though I am NOT rich, I may be the only black person they meet and I want to leave a positive impression. I often feel the need to over tip or otherwise over-compensate for my skin color. One totally unnecessary habit is straightening up the room so the maids don’t see any mess. I tend to say lots of “pleases” and “thank you’s” trying to avoid negative stereotypes from television or movies.

I Can Speak for All Black People Everywhere

This situation is amusing because I recently had a conversation with a Korean American who expressed that he never felt more American than when he returned to Korea. His Korean friends expected him to explain the American experience to them, and he chuckled and said, “How am I supposed to articulate or comprehend why every American does or says what they do? It’s a diverse country with countless perspectives and cultures making it impossible for one person to represent them all. Exactly!”

I cannot speak for all Black people either, as we are not a monolithic group, and our experiences vary widely. Black people come from diverse cultures, hold varying perspectives, and have different backgrounds. Since we live in America, a country with numerous time zones and regional habits, my opinion represents just one of many.

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  1. CA

    I think prejudice will always be there regardless of race. However, being Asian and a Filipina at that, people already put you in a box of what they already generally know. There are only but a few open-minded people, unless you are able to open it up for them.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I agree, I think it’s important to get to know people that don’t look like you for this very reason.

  2. Taty Pradilla

    Its great to always be positive, no matter where you are or who is staring! Have fun just being you!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I agree, it doesn’t help anyone to be anything else and in the military there is a well known fact that the last place is always the best place. lol

  3. Bobbi

    I totally think that what is different is going to get questioned. So many cultures around the world have olive skin and have dark hair. So even fair skinned women would probably get some stares. Great to be different though!

    1. Stacey

      I totally agree. I love not being able to fit into a box. And I tend to seek out people who are interesting and allow for free thought and behavior. Imagine if we all looked the same, wore the same color, ate the same food and wore the same scent. No, don’t imagine that– it sounds like a nightmare.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Yes I agree, I have definitely encountered more friendly people than unfriendly ones. I am ok with curious, just not ignorant.

  4. Sarah Harris

    I don’t even know where to start with telling you how much I love this post. It’s crazy to be the “first” or the “one of a few” in a new country I’m sure. My naturally blonde with freckles friend said the same when she was one of the firsts in China (we’re talking like 1981). Thank you for being such a great goodwill ambassador. But your post also has such great lessons for how to treat people at home as well – wherever that may be. Love it!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thanks Sarah, I agree completely. I always tell people we really learn all the things we need to know to treat other people in kindergarten if you think about it. Something happens after that that makes us treat people poorly.

  5. Sondra Barker

    I love your post. It’s amazing how people from around the world still have many of the curiosities that American’s have. Obviously some more direct than others haha.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Very true. I don’t mind curiosity at all. I can even deal with rude and ignorant when I have too. I just don’t do hate very well.

  6. Sauumye

    I’m an Indian living in Poland and I can say that there are not a lot of black people in Poland so it draws a bit of attention. Even I draw some attention at times especially when I’m talking in my native tongue on the phone.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      The worse travel experience I ever had was in Poland. They stared at me with mean intensions. A man wouldnt give me directions and another one walked into the side of the building staring at me. But its also where the little old lady blew me a kiss. I will never go back to Poland again. I wrote about it here.

  7. Glenda

    Sorry to hear rude people are everywhere! I had an Asian company ask me if I wanted to review on their bleaching agent product. I told them absolutely not! I love the tan color of my Hispanic skin and I don’t plan to change it!

    1. duffelbagspouse

      The nerve of people. First of all the melanin in darker skin prevents aging and helps protect us from developing skin cancer so thats a plus not a negative. I have white friends who tell me they have Asians scolding them for not covering their children from the sun, so we all get it. I always thought Asian people were beautiful for their differences, now living here they want to be more like Westerners with bleaching and surgery. I have to be very careful what products I use here in Korea because most of them have bleaching agents.

  8. Cynthia Nicoletti

    I have had a similar experience when I was in a India neighborhood. Everyone did stare and look and I know wonder why I was there. I did feel slightly uncomfortable at first but then just went on my way. I don’t think they are prejudice they are not used to seeing someone with dark skin.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I tell you its noticeable at first, then eventually you don’t notice it as much for sure. And for the most part you are right, its mostly curiosity.

  9. blair villanueva

    I like your honesty and yes sometimes people are like that. all we can do is smile and walk away. Have patience 🙂

  10. Carol Cassara

    There will always be things like this and it’s never easy. Most of the time it really is offensive. I’m sorry that you have to experience this every time you travel.

  11. Elizabeth O.

    I feel so much for you as I get the stares as well. It never feels comfortable especially when you’re in a country that doesn’t speak the same language.

  12. R.C.

    Sounds like you have a fantastic way of “just doing you” despite what you encounter along the way. I like your positivity, and your blog post will hopefully help to create some cultural awareness. Maybe before you know it, you’re blog will be attributed to helping break down stereotypes. Keep it up

    1. duffelbagspouse

      Thank you. I hope so. I feel blessed to be in this situation, if I have to endure a few uncomfortable stares, I’ll take it in stride and keep on racking up miles.

  13. Albert

    You are correct. If you travel or visit the Philippines, you will never experience the negative vibrations, you will be treated as a family or a friend. Not only in tourist spots, in a normal household or establishment as well. “Filipino Hospitality” comes first.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I had a trip planned to the Philippines last year. We had to cancel due to bad weather, but I hope to reschedule the trip one day soon.

  14. Tristan Dennington

    This sounds so incredibly frustrating. I have a friend that experiences these things a lot, especially 2 and 3. Some people may not mean to offend, but they definitely need to think twice before saying and doing these things.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I’ve been with non- ethnic friends who have felt it when they are with me and they get more upset than I do. lol

  15. Richard Bivins

    I’m sure it all gets old at some point. One of my gorgeous nieces is half Korean, she looks Korean but grew up here in South Carolina where she can hunt, fish, and camp better than most guys I know. She has endured tons of racism here but you wouldn’t know it by her cheerful personality. People are always amazed at how well she speaks English… that’s the one that always makes me laugh. My hope is that some day we all see each other as fellow humans instead of the color of our skin or gender.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      That is hilarious. She grew up in America, why wouldn’t she speak great English? That just goes to show you people don’t think before they speak. It does get old, but I stay positive and try to be a good ambassador.

  16. Agentszerozerosetter

    I can understand what you say,I can immagine there are rude people like this in 2017…
    But you are beautiful,positive and intelligent!
    Don’t let them bother you!But I know they don’t!

  17. Shaheen Khan

    Lol, chuckling all the way… Can’t believe people actually behave like that….Sending you virtual hugs for being such a cool sport..Love your positive spirit girl, I bet that’s what attracts people to you:)

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I am over it for the most part. I still get unnerved when people stare at me and do it in my face. Otherwise I feel blessed that I am experiencing so many awesome things. And because I may be the only black person some people may see, its important to me to be a positive ambassador.

  18. robin masshole mommy

    People trying to touch my hair would drive me CRAZY! I hate being touched in general and I would swat them away before they got close enough 😉

  19. Tracy allison

    I know that all experience s are different but I was disturbed and o here some. I am also a military spouse who traveled quite extensively while living abroad. I can relate to a few but I am a bit disappointed about som places. I hav been relatively unscathed but have had some awkward moments. Ignorance, predjudices are everywhere. I have some of the same thought processes as you do. As a black woman I try to leave a positive lasting impression as to say we are all different.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I agree. I too haven’t seen much, but I have seen some. There have been a few times when I was disappointed with how I was treated in places like Poland where I know for certain it was prejudice. I have to give the other places we traveled to the benefit of doubt and called it mere curiousness. Traditionally, so few black people have traveled so its hard to know. But I read and placed an article on my Facebook page where travel for white people in America is down and up for black people. We know that its due to upward mobility. I am going to continue to travel and try to leave the people I meet more informed about me so that the stereotypes are struck down.

  20. Vanessa

    I’m getting stared at all the time and I can’t even tell you how many people wanted to take pictures with me in China. I don’t think it’s the color of your skin, just anything that’s different. But I totally agree that it can be very irritating.

  21. Tennille

    It’s the gawking I hate or the mouth wide open stares. I just want to say “close your mouth baby”! Lol. I just started staring back or tell them high in Korean, it catches them off guard.

    1. duffelbagspouse

      I do too. And you’re right that does bring attention to the fact that their mouths are wide open. lol

  22. Katharine

    I’d like to think I can understand it, but I honestly probably don’t. My kid is white as Wonder Bread and I’ve had people get mad at me in public for not keeping her out of the sun because she’ll tan. I’ve also had someone grab my ponytail on the subway, it was really irritating and I can’t imagine dealing with that on a regular basis.

  23. Jill

    One thing I love, and have observed (obviously from the outside of things) is mostly they’re super curious about black skin. Its not a prejudice thing. Not that I’ve seen anyhow. They like to touch black peoples hair. Me being a white girl with blonde hair get a different attention. Both from curiosity tho. I hope you haven’t experienced any prejudice from this country.

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