This is the fifth time I’ve started this post. Mainly because my feelings about the experience changes daily. Some days the attention is unwanted, creepy and makes me angry. Other days it’s a mixture of childlike innocence and curiosity which touches my heart. And the rest of the time I don’t want anyone to touch my hair, skin or take photos.
Being black in Asia you’re on display ALL THE TIME! One would assume that due to the influx of tourism in recent years black people wouldn’t be treated as a spectacle but unfortunately I’ve only seen a handful of black travelers since I started my journey so I understand why people are in such awe when they see us… I even catch myself staring sometimes.
My experiences as a black woman in Asia have been enlightening… It all started in India, men would constantly approach, asking for a photo or attempt to take one in a not so sneaky manner. This happened at all the monuments and on the beaches, while we were in swimsuits. The men in the photo below took photos of my classmates and I the entire time we were on the beach in Goa, India.
In the mountains of Chiang Mai, a group of men and women sitting around a fire were intrigued by my hair. As one of the men held up a twist and looked at it our tour guide translated their questions. How long did this take? Is it real? How often do you wash your hair?
After crossing the northern border between Thailand and Laos many people blatantly stared in awe. Although this area has an influx of tourist passing through I don’t think many of them are black. My cousin and I were two out of 100 tourists that morning. A little girl, around the age of nine (working collecting money for the bathrooms) was extremely curious about my hair and asked if she could touch it. She was fascinated by my twists and wondered if I could do the same with her hair. Of course I obliged and twisted a section of her hair!
In Laos, as climbed out of the waterfall I looked up and there’s an old Asian man with his phone trained on me, I yelled “No!” at him and he immediately lowered the phone in embarrassment. That however didn’t stop his wife from coming over and asking for a selfie.
In the beach cities of Vietnam I had entire families run up to me and and ask for photos. In one instance, I was with a family of seven for five minutes taking pictures. Other days I just shake my head and keep walking.
Other than the constant staring, photos and the creeps who want to touch you or your hair, Blacks in Asia are treated just as fairly and equally as other tourists are. That’s stating it nicely because everyone is trying to hustle you!
However more and more I feel like I’m on display like a zoo animal. There’s nothing I can do to blend in or stop it so I try to just take it in strides and walk away if a situation is creepy….