Welcome to the first entry of the Black Girl Travel Diaries.
I’m starting this series of blog posts to share my experiences of travelling as a black woman. So it’s going to be all about race and gender and how I feel that affect my travels to different countries, both positively and negatively.
It’s really taken me a while to get this first entry written and out here. Mainly because racism and gender equality are such sensitive topics that I am very passionate about. But also because it goes against my natural disposition as a very shy individual, to put myself out there like this. However, if it helps to educate or inspire someone, then maybe it’s worth it.
I really want these series of posts to be somewhere we can come together to discuss, debate and to share our experiences. So let’s get to it! I hope you enjoy the first entry of the Black Girl Travel Diaries.
In February, I visited Kota Kinabalu (KK), Malaysia for two weeks. Over the entire two weeks I never saw another black person. In a city with little to no black people, it was therefore not surprising that most people’s reaction to seeing me was to stare. It happened everywhere that I went, so I kind of just got used to it. I also tried to ignore it as I didn’t want to fall into the trap of being seen as the stereotypical “angry black woman” (but that’s a whole nother blog post).
The only time that the staring really bothered me was one time when my friend was at the hairdressers and I was walking around the mall by myself. There were these two women that were constantly staring at me even to the point that when I walked past them they turned themselves around to continue staring. Most people who stare tend to look away when they’ve been caught, but these two did not give a f*** and continued intently staring until I was out of sight.
Have you ever been abroad and had a local person approach you and ask if they could take a picture with you? Unfortunately this happened to me a number of times while I was in KK. So many times in fact, that we even began to make a joke about me charging money for pictures.
I’m just an ordinary woman from London and the only reason that I could see that they would ask me for a picture is because of the colour of my skin. I guess that other than on TV and the internet, they rarely see black people, if it all.
So did I feel like a movie star? No. It felt awkward and embarrassing, and the fact that there are random people with pictures of me that I didn’t even want to take in the first place makes me cringe. It makes me wonder why they wanted it and what they are doing with it. Are they showing their friends and family? What are they thinking and saying about it? The questions are endless really.
Another thing I was asked a lot was “Can I touch your hair?”
During my trip, I had my had in jumbo kinky twists. For those who don’t know much about black hair, basically I put my hair in twists using synthetic hair that is quite similar to the texture of my real hair. Which leads on to another question that I was frequently asked -“Is that your real hair?”
If you’re a black woman, then it’s likely that you’ve previously been asked either or even both of these questions. I love to regularly switch up my hair, so sometimes I have my natural hair out and other times I have extensions or weave in. So the “Is that your real hair?” question has never really bothered me. The “Can I touch your hair?” question is the issue.
I can only recall being asked this once in London. However, a lot of my friends that I spoke to about this, have experienced this a number of times, even to the point where the person does not even ask permission 😒.
I can understand that people may want to touch my hair out of curiosity as it is so different from their own and it is something they may have never seen before, but it can be quite uncomfortable for the person on the other end.
I’m not exactly sure why I allowed people to touch my hair or to take my picture. Maybe it was because I was with my friend’s parents or maybe it was because a lot of the people were very nice. I don’t really know, but I do know that those reasons or any other reasons are not good enough to let myself feel the way that I felt because of it.
I hated it with every inch of my being. I found it be very upsetting and to be frank, it made me feel dehumanised. I am not an animal to pet or an attraction to take pictures of, I am a human being with feelings. And for someone to be saying “ewww” to my hair and to then compare it to a spider (and I hate spiders with a passion!), is so upsetting and frankly very insulting. Regardless of how nice people were about it, it still doesn’t make it any better.
I know a few people will read this and think it’s not that big of a deal, but I believe that yes you can imagine yourself in another’s situation and try to predict how you would feel and react, but you can never truly understand unless you have been in that situation. And anyway everyone is different, so everyone will feel and react differently, but that’s okay.
Looking back now, I do have regrets. I wish I’d done things differently and had just said no. Eventually I did reach my limits, and I decided that my answer to both questions would be no from then on. Luckily, I wasn’t approached for either for the remainder of my trip.
On a positive(ish) note, it was an opportunity to learn more about myself. It’s shown me how hard I find it to say no to people, and when I do say no that I feel like I have to explain my reasoning. However at the end of the day, it is my hair and it is my body. I have the right to myself and the right to say no. My answer next time someone asks to touch my hair or take my picture will be no. I don’t have to give a reason, but if I do then take it and if I don’t then boohoo 😂. I won’t be rude about it, but I will be prioritising myself over someone’s curiosity.
On a much more positive note, most people I met were very nice and I was made to feel very welcome. There was no way I would let something like this ruin my trip, so despite the issues, I did have an amazing time and I would definitely visit again.
Thanks for reading my post, I know it was a bit of a long one.
Like always let me know what you think in the comments. Have you had any issues while travelling because of your race or gender? What do you think about the whole taking pictures and hair touching business?
Oh and keep your eyes pealed for the next entry of the black girl travel diaries about my trip to Gran Canaria!