When people say to me, “Ashley, this city/country is AHH-MAZING! You most definitely need to check it out.” I’m always skeptical. Not just because I prefer to just the so-called “amazingness” for myself, but also because I’m black. As a woman from the conservative south, I more than have my reasons to feel this way. It’s shameful, but the world in which I grew up in, know well, and to an extent, has been internalized, is carried with me wherever I go. Racism is not dead. No, in fact it’s alive and thriving in the world. So having said that, it’s no wonder I’m leery of such sweeping accusations; especially if they are not black. Though other non-whites have their troubles abroad too, I can only speak about the abuse blacks face abroad. This usually comes in the form of others deeming us to be unintelligent, not as worthy of the same pay as a white, a sexual object, thugs/killers, and a sideshow oddity their for their entertainment. I have personally felt all of these and I have heard some disturbing stories from black friends (male/female) abroad. Here is my take on it all.
In 2009, I went twice to Italy; once during March and again in July/August. By most accounts, I enjoyed myself there. I love the food, find the culture interesting, and I was there to be with my then boyfriend. We stayed at his parents’ house in Tuscany and they were, I think, middle class. Since his father was a doctor and his mother an Italian/Latin teacher, they were well-known and I suspect well liked in their city. I was always under the impression that Italians liked blacks and I still think this in fact as I haven’t had any personal bad experiences. I have heard stories though from other blacks living their; but as a female and an American, I wonder if this was passed over on me. One incident stands out in my mind as significant though. I had gone with my boyfriend and his family to a country club on the other side of town. As I said early, being from the South has made painfully aware that I am black. I of course had some anxiety going into this place because of it and I must say I felt none of that anticipated hatred from anyone there. I got curious glances and excited whispers from the pool, but I’m convinced this was from his sister (then about 13/14) about my Americaness and that there was, indeed, a foreigner in their midst. That eased my worries and he was, as well as our friends, oblivious to my concerns. All-and-all, that experience solidified my deep like for Italy. I felt accepted in a place that was obviously not my home. That is a feeling I can’t say I’ve ever felt back home in Oklahoma or Texas.
Okay, so y’all know I have a love hate relationship with France. It was my dream since I was a child to visit this place and the Eiffel Tower and yada, yada, yada, yada. Well I did all of that and I was more than pissed that I did not like this place; correction I love the country itself, just not the French. It’s been said that “France is a lovely place; just without the French.” I have mixed feelings about that and this place and I’m determined to live here again because I’ll be damned if I dislike a place that was once a dream of mine! I’m positive I will fall in love with this place once I live there again; and hopefully for at least a year this time.
So, out of all the experiences I had in France, I cannot say I found them to be racist towards me. They were intensely curious about me, why I was there, what I was doing there, how cute my accent was, American culture that they’d seen on T.V., speaking English with me, and if I liked French food. That isn’t to say I didn’t run into racists. On the contrary, I met a few in fact; but they were not rude or hateful towards me. I found that it was directed mostly towards those they deemed to be arab and then towards maybe East Europeans, Africans, and mostly anyone who didn’t speak French. The arab thing really threw me for a loop I must say. I found the French to be really embracing of it and though I know some are racist, they weren’t towards me. I even dated a guy who I later found out harbored some ridiculous dislike for Arabs, non Catholics, and who wanted the return of the Monarchy and to compare things to Texas…this was all NOT cool with me. So I kicked his dull ass to the curb and kept right on strutting hunny!
The Republic of Georgia
This is a country I have no desire to set foot in again. I felt so uncomfortable and like such an oddity here that I sort of became a recluse. I became extremely paranoid about the Georgians taking pictures/videos and intense stares. As a westerner, well American, if someone is secretly taking your photograph and you haven’t authorized/know them, there IS a damn problem. Since they’re a former Soviet country, developing, and I was in a village extremely close to the Russian border (I think less than 30 mins away)…my imagination went wild. First off, Georgia has a culture of staring. That was the first time I encountered that and I swear to God I hope it is my last. This is an intense, hollow stare. There is no emotion behind it. There is seemingly no reason for them to be staring at someone so damn hard, but they do. They stare at each other like this. Georgians also don’t believe blacks are as intelligent as them or whites. A super problem. Before I left I had heard that this kind of thing occurred and that they treat you like a celebrity, but this is not the fuck what I thought they meant by a long shot. I found the treatment to be far worse in the cities, even the darn capital of Tbilisi, than in the villages. My village was excited I was there and they were extremely grateful, humble, and sweet. They did stare, but it wasn’t necessarily the same feeling. I did have one older lady that was just enamored with me. She would stroke my hair and kiss my shoulder. I hated that (ya, I hate to be touched), but I sorta liked her. Since many of them had never seen a black person before and, apparently, I’m not that dark, they thought I was just super tan; I even had people shouting at me from cars to “stop tanning!” My co-teacher, Eka, found this to be hysterical. My host mother was convinced that I was “mulatto”…which I am, technically, but by American societal views I am black.
So by this time next week I will be in a plane halfway across the ocean flying towards a country I don’t know and with expectations I haven’t even begun to formulate about, I ask myself what does Turkey have in store for me? I guess I’ll soon found out.