A reader alerts me to another BBC story on race which reveals more than it’s supposed to:
Ashley Butterfield, 31, has been around the world – but a visit to India brought home the particular challenges of being a lone black female tourist.
“Are blacks better in bed because of genetics or diet?” the middle-aged Indian restaurant owner asked me earnestly as I finished the dinner he had prepared.
Once I fell asleep on a bus in north India and woke up to a man, inches away from me, videoing me on his phone.
“What are you doing?” I asked, alarmed.
He simply replied: “Instagram.”
In Udaipur, a man approached me in a restaurant and kept telling me how much he loved black people. Then he started making comments that were sexual.
It might come as a surprise to those who think contemporary Britain or Trump’s America is just one more vote away from bringing back slavery, but most of the world is pretty un-woke. If you want to visit the least racist society on earth, go to Britain; if you want to find the world’s least racist city, go to London. However bad it is, everywhere else is worse.
Following a gruelling screening process, I was selected for a two-year position in Africa with the Peace Corps – a competitive international volunteer programme run by the US government.
A black American goes to Africa for the first time. This’ll be good.
Prior to Swaziland, my impressions of Africa, and indeed Africans, had been shaped by movies, National Geographic magazines and the Discovery Channel. At that time, the people displayed through those media outlets were often depicted wearing bright tribal clothes that left them partially nude, they hunted animals with spears and waged tribal wars often, and they sat on dusty floors in mud huts while cooking things in clay pots. Their lives seemed so exotic, so other worldly.
Kinda just as well it’s not a white guy saying this, isn’t it?
However, in Swaziland, I found the people and their activities to be quite familiar- so much so that I often grew bored. Yes, there are cultural differences, including cultural events that are unique to the region, but the day to day life of a Swazi closely mirrors that of those in the Western world.
Swazis are normal people with normal worries – people who think about school, getting to work on time, music, relationships and popular culture like everyone else.
Africans are normal and not running around naked chucking spears at one another? Who knew? Had she visited Lagos she’d have found the most popular choice of attire for young males is outdated premier league shirts, not leopardskins.
More importantly, through it all everyone manages to stay fully clothed and the spears stay tucked away. I wondered why this side of Africa was never shown.
Did you try watching the news? Or did you think The Lion King was a documentary?
But the biggest surprise was how I was treated. It wasn’t a warm embrace.
They were shocked. Just like I had images of what a typical African should be, they too had an image of a typical American. And that was not a 22-year-old black woman.
To them, I was a fake American. Some even suggested that I was a spy from an English-speaking African country.
Ahahahah! Africans are not by virtue of their skin colour immune from racially stereotyping people, you know?
In addition to black volunteers, Asian, Latino, and Native American volunteers are sometimes greeted by disappointed community members who assumed that they would look different – that they would be white.
Time to develop race awareness programs aimed at making Africans more receptive to black people.
Seven weeks ago I landed in Delhi. The first thing I noticed were a lot of dogs, trash everywhere, a lot of noise, and a lot of people. This was truly a whole new world.
She’d obviously not been to New York.
By the second day I started to find the experience unsettling. I noticed as I walked through the streets, people began pointing, laughing and running away from me.
I’ve heard this happening to black people in China, although that was some time ago. This is unpleasant, but it’s born of ignorance through unfamiliarity rather than malice. When I was in Vietnam some toddlers thought I – being over six-feet tall, white, and hairy – was some sort of walking tree, much to the mortification of their parents. A blonde lady I know told me people were always trying to touch her hair in rural China, absolutely fascinated. And I’ve seen a wonderful video of a Malaysian toddler in Angola surrounded by little black kids who’ve never seen anything quite like him in their lives.
I had been travelling around Asia since August 2017. Like many tourists venturing into communities lacking diversity, I’ve been used to being stared at, but the attention I received in India felt different.
The looks didn’t seem like expressions of curiosity. They seemed sinister and unwelcoming. When people (young and old) see someone with black skin they stare, point, laugh, make jokes, clear paths, run as if you are chasing them, and fix their face to display an overall look of disgust. Too many people were rude, incredibly childish and treated me poorly. When not being ostracised, I was fetishised.
It’s almost as if western cultures are better at accommodating black people, isn’t it? Which is presumably why outfits like BLM want to destroy it.
One of the most pivotal experiences came when a middle-aged man asked me, innocently, about the sexual prowess of black people.
Where are you getting that information from?” I asked the man calmly.
He said he had seen black women on TV walking around without many clothes on. They were jumping around and seemed to have a lot of stamina, he told me.
He’s been watching Beyonce videos.
He specifically cited the Discovery Channel and porn as his sources.
My dream is that in the not-too-distant future people all over the world get so used to seeing black people, especially lone black women travellers, that by the time the Generation Z black women start exploring the world, we won’t be so sensational.
A laudable aim, but I expect Africans dream that one day Americans, who have no excuse for such ignorance, don’t think they run around naked chucking spears at each other. Maybe work on that first, eh?