Ignorance and racism working in both directions

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?

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31 thoughts on “Ignorance and racism working in both directions

  1. They somehow left the last paragraph out, where she concludes that she had been badly misled by the left and as a result had laughably naive views about the world, and the West isn’t the terrible place that the left make it out to be, and how she will never trust the left again.

  2. I was walking down the street in Hong Kong this morning and an old chap actually stopped in the middle of the pavement to give me a good coat of looking at, as he he could not imagine where such a giant freak could have emerged from.

  3. Yeah China is terribly racist (by western standards), one time my chinese girlfriend casually mentioned one time that she was afraid to visit London because ‘there were too many black people’.

    The other memorable experience i had was walking around Dating with two French-African girls I’d met at my hostel. The reactions were most amusing!

  4. I am Anglo born and raised in toronto, taught english in south korea twenty years ago and me and my colleagues were first white people that koreans in my city ever saw. Both good and bad experiences, kids seemed to have great time with us but older people could be hostile, and women friendlier than men.

  5. “least racist society on earth, go to Britain; if you want to find the world’s least racist city, go to London”

    Yes isn’t it ironic that they had an empire that ruled a quarter of the world with a couple of hundred thousand of their own, that are now just about ruled by their former subjects.

    Where London’s tiny Pakistani Mayor won’t have a white American President visit the city.


    Yes dear, not everywhere is like the comfortable middle-class Western world.

    African-American travels to Africa and finds that Africans are not like her. Quelle-fucking surprise. She should have read Keith B Richburg’s Out of America before she went to Swaziland.

  7. This is absolutely hilarious, for all the reasons you’ve given. Unfortunately she doesn’t seem to have learned any useful lessons from her experience.

    If you want to visit the least racist society on earth, go to Britain

    This in spades!

  8. @Henry – “African-American travels to Africa and finds that Africans are not like her”

    Reminds me of a recent experience in Accra, Ghana. I had an extended stay in a hotel in the diplomatic area and quite enjoyed the nightly array of patrons from all walks of life that frequented the bar. UN dudes, Korean paddy field experts, yank chocolate barons, Poms, Jocks, Irish, Saffas, African businessmen and the odd Aussie. It was a fair old craic most nights with good banter and fun with most of us preferring the bar to sitting in our rooms.

    Except for one night near closing time when the room service dude disappeared like they do in Africa and the room service duty fell on the barman. He was a bit overstretched keeping up with it all but was coping up until three African American ladies came down from their rooms to complain about the service and to expedite their burgers from the barman. They treated him like shit and were threatening him as to what they would do if this were to happen in the US, I was going to intervene but didn’t need to as they got their burgers and fucked off. In the three weeks I was there they were easily the worst behaved and most racist of the patrons at the bar.

    On a brighter note a colleague from Sydney’s son was born when I was at the bar, it was just before dawn in Sydney and I responded to his text and congratulated him and told him I was having a drink for his son right there and then and sent him the picture below. He happily responded to say that I was the first to congratulate him and wet his sons head and that he had decided that Jameson would be his sons middle name!


  9. He’d been watching Beyonce videos.

    I fink I larfed for five minutes. Ta!

  10. It would have been interesting for a blonde woman to travel around India to compare her experiences.
    A blond woman I met in Colombia last year said that a man start to photograph her when she was on the bus and asleep (he woke her up in the process).

  11. I lived in Beijing with my family of wife and three children, all blonde.

    We went to the zoo. We looked at the pandas. A thousand Chinese looked at us. (This was couple of decades back so there were still lots of Chinese who’d come from countryside and never seen a Westerner).

    Was it pleasant? Not quite. Were they bad? No, the people just reacted according to their life experiences, with no ill will. They did come and try to touch my kids’ hair which wasn’t nice. In other places they just wanted to photograph each other together with us, which has sometimes annoying, sometimes hilarious. They seldom attempted conversation, mostly due to them (or us) not having the language skills. I remember my brother-in-law posing for pictures with three pretty ladies who together weighed almost as much as him. I remember the taxi chauffeur, who by mistake hit my head with his car’s boot lid, and burst out laughing, because that is the way one expresses confusion in his culture. It’s endless. But there was seldom any real malice.

    Often there were things that I didn’t like, but I wouldn’t call it racism, even if by today’s standards it would clearly be labeled as such if it happened in the West.

  12. Bardon.
    Your AfricanMerican ladies obviously had not learned that you do not piss off the person who prepares your food.
    They must get a varied diet, and what does not kill you makes you stronger.

  13. My wife is a 5’11 red head with the usual pasty white skin and bright blue eyes. We spent time in China, including in Quindao, kind of like Blackpool for people in holiday from rural China. They were so amazed by her people continually asked for photos. One guy even ran his bike into a lamp post as he was staring at her so much. Very very bizarre experience.

  14. I was just firing up my moveable comments plugin when you reposted that, Andy!

  15. Friday afternoon, my brain is shutting down in preparation for the weekend!

  16. It’s not quite the same, but a 6′ white male wearing tropical highland kit (Glengarry, Kilt, Sporran, etc.) in Asia gets you quite a bit of utterly mystified attention, especially in the more provincial areas, or late at night.

  17. As someone that travels a bit, I’d never write such a post. Her lack of introspection and general ignorance of the other cultures in the world is jaw dropping.

    It’s the first time they’ve seen someone like you. What do you expect they’ll do?

    Zero clue about local culture. It’s not a first world culture with first world mores, etiquette, and other niceties. Hell, people in our own cities behave horribly to others and she expects someone in a far away world to act like a well heeled urban socialite?


  18. One wonders how she got through the Peace Corps selection process…

    Ah, she has two free passes, black and female.

  19. I would argue that NZ is less racist than the UK. The best guide is inter-marriage — what people do is far more a guide than what they say — and the UK is far further from colourblind than Kiwis in that regard. The probability a white person will marry a nonwhite is only just off the ratio of the races in NZ.

    A Caribbean origin person in 10 Downing St would be a big deal. NZ had a Maori PM 100 years ago, and another is likely sooner than later.

    There is some vocal race issue discussion in NZ, but it’s at a very different level. We’re down to complaining that some people don’t pronounce place names very well.

    Of course the UK is considerably better than anywhere else I have had experience of. The Arabs even manage to be racist about other Arabs.

  20. a 6′ white male wearing tropical highland kit (Glengarry, Kilt, Sporran, etc.) in Asia gets you quite a bit of utterly mystified attention, especially in the more provincial areas, or late at night.

    This is also true in England.

    I would argue that NZ is less racist than the UK.

    I wouldn’t, not by a long chalk. I know a lot of Kiwis and while they may be accepting of their own non-white brethren, they don’t apply that elsewhere.

  21. I would argue that NZ is less racist than the UK. The best guide is inter-marriage — what people do is far more a guide than what they say — and the UK is far further from colourblind than Kiwis in that regard.

    That’s not quite the same thing, though. White Kiwis and Maori share the same land and have done since the two peoples first came into contact with one another, so neither is really foreign for many practical purposes. If Britain had a dusky indigenous population I’m pretty sure we’d have been intermarrying with them for centuries.

  22. “If Britain had a dusky indigenous population”

    Reminds me of a movie that I watched online recently called “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner” based on the short story by Alan Stiltoe on the emerging social issues of the time in England. Produced in the early sixties it’s well worth watching and thinking about it after I dont think there was one non-white person in the whole production.

  23. The thing that stood out for me about this article is that the lady is only 31, and she first went to Africa when she was 22, so around about 2009. The internet was definitely a thing in 2009 and yet she implies her ideas on Africa came from films, National Geographic etc. She was off to Africa for a couple of years and didn’t do basic research which would have been incredibly easy on those interwebs? That doesn’t say much for her initiative or the Peace Corps training.
    Almost 20 years ago I taught in Africa as a volunteer after graduating and even then you could find comprehensive information online about what to expect.
    Also being the only European in the area where I lived I got used to racial comments. Everytime I walked past a primary school the children would all run up to the fence and chant “mzungu” at me, keeping it up until I was out of sight.

  24. Chester Draws
    “I would argue that NZ is less racist than the UK.”

    Don’t really agree. Chinese friends of mine get more abuse here than I ever say in the UK, mostly from another group. It’s more stratified than the UK is IMO.

    Not that I think we are a racist place at all.

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  26. I’m getting bored of all this concern with racism. So the locals don’t like foreigners among them and they don’t care if you know it. So what. Most whites in the western world don’t want blacks moving in next door either. Racial groups self-segregate if left to themselves, tribalism is the normal way humans organise and find support.

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