Saturday, February 27, 2010

force people of color to bring along racial baggage during vacations

  


This is a guest post for swpd by fromthetropics:


I went sandboarding with an Asian friend a few days ago in a little town 1.5 hours away from the Australian city that I live in. I’m Asian too. And I found it amusing how we reacted to some things while on the trip. It reminded me of an earlier post by macon entitled "swpd: go on racially trouble-free vacations." Of course, since he's white and I'm not, our vacationing experiences were very different. The opposite, to be precise.




As my friend and I drove into a car park at the foot of the sand dunes, I noticed that the people parked next to us were looking our way and saying stuff to each other. I got anxious, and I thought out loud, “Are they looking at us? Why? Are we parked in the wrong place? Is it my car? Is it because it's a sedan while everyone else's is a 4WD? Does it look out of place? But this is the only car I own. Or are they looking at the guys behind us?”

As my thoughts ran on like that, I had a flashback to the time when I went to a country town with my family, and we came across Asians tourists who were loud and seemed unaware of how out of place they or their white Mercedes looked in that small town. It made me wonder how out of place we may have looked (perhaps less than them, but still).

I think this sensation that I experienced in both situations is what W.E.B Dubois famously referred to as “double-consciousness”:

It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.

Before I came across Dubois, I used to call it “split vision.” I made up that term because I needed words to describe how I felt. I would sometimes be with a group of Asians, but my consciousness would then step outside the group, and look at my group with a white person’s eyes. And I would then think, “Man, we must seem so weird and out of place.”

Then I would try to shake it off, and get my consciousness to step back into the group where my body was, and I would say to myself, “Forget about what people think, and just enjoy the moment.”

So my friend and I got out of the car and walked up the dunes for some sandboarding. We never did find out why or whether it was even us that those white people in the car were looking at. It was nice to know that there were at least two other Asian groups there (there were no other poc groups) who were enjoying themselves. I thought, if they’re enjoying it, surely we can too.

Later, we took a break and sat with our legs hanging off the edge of our open car boot. We were chatting and eating some grapes when we noticed a ‘ranger’ (security) pick-up driving slowly by. Then it stopped near our car. I became anxious again.

I said to my friend, “Why is he stopping? Is it because of us? Are we doing something wrong?” She said, “Maybe we’re not allowed to eat here?”

Not allowed to eat in an open air space like that sounded like an utterly ridiculous reason, but still, I echoed her concern as I wondered the same. I said, “Oh gosh, there was a sign at the entrance that told us to make sure we read the ‘important’ sign in the car park area. But I haven’t read it because I didn’t notice any such signs. Maybe it says there what we’re not supposed to do.”

As I said this, I scanned the car park area for signboards. I didn’t see any. I worried that maybe the signboard was on the other side and I had missed it on the way in. Then I had a few flashbacks, one of which was of the time when my family encountered an obviously racist incident during an out of town trip.

After a few minutes, I was relieved when the ranger left without a word. As we finished sandboarding and began leaving the area, I looked around again to check for the ‘important’ signboard. I saw none. I again felt relieved, because we apparently hadn't missed anything.

But then I wondered why I felt so insecure with the presence of a security car. Wasn’t I supposed to feel more secure, knowing that they were there to stop troublemakers? Surely, I should know that two (Asian) women eating grapes don’t look like troublemakers.

When writing about his very different sensations during a trip to Indonesia, Macon wrote, “I now see that having been trained into whiteness made me feel especially entitled to go wherever I liked, and to do pretty much whatever I pleased when I got there, as long I was willing to pay for it.” He also quoted Shannon Sullivan, who says about the different ways that whites feel about themselves in such situations, “As ontologically expansive, white people consider all spaces as rightfully available for their habitation of them.”

But for me, it was the opposite. I was well aware that I was in someone else’s ‘territory’, and that some people might not like my presence, or that I might have done things which were seen as different and conspicuous, just because of what I am. In my case, this different kind of self-awareness meant that I used to avoid out of town trips out of discomfort. But this time around I thought I’d take a plunge, overcome my fears, and so off we went to the dunes. Yet, I was still not free to feel fully at ease.

On the trip home, we bought a soft-serve cone at a park. We didn’t want too much, so we asked for two chocolate dipped baby cones. I hadn't had a chocolate dipped one in a long time, and it was my friend’s first. The elderly white man serving us noticed that my friend was Japanese from the way she spoke, and he started telling us a story about some previous Japanese customers.

He was very friendly, but my first thought was, “Oh no, did we do something embarrassing?” By ‘we,’ I mean everyone who I had never met but who looked ‘Asian’ (a big chunk of the world’s population).

He told us that when the Japanese tourists come in a big bus, they either all order the same thing, or none at all. “Fair enough,” I thought, “it’s kinda typical and it doesn’t offend anyone anyway. No sweat there.”

Then he went on, and told us how a group of Japanese youths ordered one cone and asked for six spoons. I wasn’t surprised but I thought, “Oh shit.” For some reason I put on a surprised look and said, “Noooo, sixxx???” to indicate that I didn’t ‘approve’ of such behavior (not that I cared too much about the behavior itself, though I did think six spoons for one cone was a bit much and embarrassing indeed, except that it has a tendency to give ‘us’ all a bad name). I did this in case he was sharing the story to indicate how cheap or weird Asians were; it wasn't the first time I had heard white people mention the exact same scenario with other food.

He wasn’t finished. He went on to share another story, but this time with a bunch of Chinese customers who shared a cone among the five or six of them. I did the same drill and showed disbelief.

Wide-eyed, I said, “Did they each order some after they tried it?”

“Nah,” he said.

“Are you serious?” I added, to make sure that I put enough of a distance between myself and them.

"They said they go around the world trying ice creams everywhere they go," he said, "and they said that ours is the best one they’ve tried so far."

The story had a positive spin to it, so I quickly took advantage of the positive note and said, “So we’re getting the world’s best ice cream, eh?”

We praised his ice cream, thanked him, and walked off, lest he had a whole stock of ‘Asian’ stories tucked away under his belt.

It turned out to be a trouble-free trip. We ran into quite a few extremely friendly and helpful (white) people. We had sand in our shoes, all over our bodies (even in our ears), and in the car. Plus, I have a ‘redneck’ where I forgot to put sunblock on. We had an awesome time.

But I was bemused at how the littlest thing would trigger a defense mechanism in me. And each time it was triggered, I would get flashbacks of the racially-troubled vacations I had had in the past. Also, it didn’t help that I read this once I got back home. Nor does it help to hear from a friend who recently moved to a small mining town that racism is rife there.

On the ride back, my friend had pointed out the kangaroo road signs warning us to be cautious in case our mascot pops onto the road out of nowhere. She hasn’t been in Australia long, so she asked me if I had ever seen a wild kangaroo on the road. I told her no.

“So why do they have these signs?” she asked.

“I dunno. I guess if you live out in the country for long enough you’ll see a wild one pop out onto the road every so often,” I answered. Otherwise it would be a waste of government money putting up and maintaining all those signs.

I wonder if the way POCs automatically analyze situations for racial overtones is similar to the function of those kangaroo road signs -- if, for those who have lived in that terrain long enough, racism and Othering does happen enough times to warrant a defense mechanism, for the sake of staying physically and emotionally safe?

39 comments:

  1. That sucks it ruins a good time when you are met with stares and the mysterious slow downs of the ranger. People need to get over themselves and realize that they aren't the only ones that do something (this can be related to the white sorority beating the black sorority).

    Tiffany
    http://liferequiresmorechocolate.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for a really good post, fromthetropics.

    This reminds me an awful lot of when my parents and I drove from New York to Florida and we stopped in a small town, and it was clearly one of those all white people towns.(Sundown towns?) We were so visibly out of place, and while I didn't feel like I was in any danger, I was really glad when we got out of there. I was uncomfortable at best, and wondering if people were wondering "what are these n*ggers doing here". Granted, this isn't the only time I'm forced to bring racial baggage on vacations (like ANY TIME IT'S SUMMER AND SOMEONE has to make some idiotic comment about me tanning, or say that my allergy to sunscreen is ironic because I don't need it), but this stands out, maybe because my parents were there.

    And what is it with white people who feel the need to tell stories about other POC that they know? I can't tell you the number of times I've had some white people tell me some story about their "black friend" (and I assume that person isn't really even their friend. Why would they be if they are so clueless that they think we need to constantly hear about other people of our race?) and I'm like "Okay...And?" Do they expect us to be thrilled that they know other POC? Are we supposed to defend or condemn their actions or something?

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Redbonegirl97 s and @ Doreen

    I really enjoy reading your posts. The thing that drives me crazy is whenever I go to a place and I appear to be the only person of color (POC) whether its inside a small town, hiking around, or in a restaurant. No one dares to speak to me or smiles. But, once one of my white friends shows up, all of sudden, smiles are everywhere and there's a sigh of relief. Guessing that without my white friends, I was some wild un-domesticated Negro running around wild and my white friend (as a sign of assurance) is the owner of the black beast.

    I remember one time, me and a group of friends were traveling around and stopped in a small town, which quite often, particularly in restaurants, the waiter would ask my friends for their order and if I was lucky, they would take my order last. Majority of my experiences, Traveling While Black, I would never get a meal or even a glass of water. In any case, it becomes clear (to them) that I am fully integrated (civilized) with my white friends, and oddly as it can be, some other white people feel the need to join our group. While they listen to our stories, asking questions of who we are, where we from, etc. It seems quite common for the discussion to go away from being trapped in a tent due to the down pouring rain story to the obvious fact that I am black. Though, my white friends, like myself, have to take a step back and assess the reason for 'topic change.' Next, I somehow remind them of some other black person that they know. Or how much they like football and basketball (though I enjoy soccer and swimming) and how I can be a role model for other black men; due my speaking abilities or daring to step out of the Ghetto (though I live in suburbs) and challenge my environments by going outside of my (black) community and having white friends.

    These are a few examples I have endured while on vacation. What are your thoughts?

    ReplyDelete
  4. My experiences traveling have been mixed. One vacation that stands out,though, is a six-week trip to Siberia, complete with host family and all.

    Every where I went people stared and pointed. It made me feel "unpleasant," to use my host sister's words. My impression was that most people had never even seen a black person on television. Often, (I'd say a total of about 15 or 20 people--yes, that many) asked to take a picture with me. I usually consented because I have had a hard time saying no, and people were so nice. "Girl, girl; you're so different and beautiful (totally exoticizing me). Can my son take a picture with you?" Eventually, my host sister made people pay money. She would say in Russian to them, "You people make me embarrassed to be from Russia." That made me feel good. I guess the people who asked were better than the people who tried to take secret pictures.

    It was humiliating, but I honestly didn't mind. I guess I was a lot more forgiving of their ignorance than the ignorance of Americans, who I feel have had many opportunities to get their shit together when it comes to NOT actin like a fool.

    Shrug. In the end, the positive experiences tend to stand out more. The bus driver who drove way off course to drop me off at my exact destination because he overheard that I was driving late. When I tried to pay, he said, "No,no. You're a guest in this country."

    Mostly, people just wanted to talk to me, and my American-ness was another novelty that made me interesting and exotic.

    I learned one important thing; when people stare at you, just stare right back, meet them in the eye. They will either smile or turn away quickly--because they're aware that they're being assholes.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @Courtney

    Would you say that you had a better experience of being black overseas than in the U.S? From my years of traveling to other countries, people in those countries probably less experience seeing a black person. Overall, I have had great experiences traveling while black overseas than in the states. Whats your take on this?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you for the post, From the Tropics. I can relate. For me, part of what sucks is having to ask myself if I'm being paranoid: after being surrounded by all white people for a long period of time at this point, I've been repeatedly told that something unpleasant that's happened to me is *not* because I'm black. The fact that they weren't present and don't know the people in question apparently doesn't disqualify them from knowing more about the situation than I do. What's interesting is that the racial baggage doesn't disappear even when I'm a tourist where whites are not the majority. It's that constant dance: am I being justifiably wary? Or am I unnecessarily dragging the past into the present? Interestingly enough, I find that don't I struggle as much with that question when I'm traveling with another POC.

    And what is it with white people who feel the need to tell stories about other POC that they know? I can't tell you the number of times I've had some white people tell me some story about their "black friend" (and I assume that person isn't really even their friend. Why would they be if they are so clueless that they think we need to constantly hear about other people of our race?) and I'm like "Okay...And?" Do they expect us to be thrilled that they know other POC? Are we supposed to defend or condemn their actions or something?

    Exactly. It's funny how the stories I hear are invariably negative. It's gotten to the point that when a story teller mentions right away that a person was black, and it becomes evident that it's got nothing to do with the story, I walk away.

    La Legione di Resistenza - I've had similar experiences, including going on vacation with my (white) husband and his aunt and uncle, where the waiter asked everyone else if they would like a drink but when I started to speak, he walked off. They, of course, claimed it was because he didn't hear me. They couldn't explain why I was the only one he didn't ask but they were absolutely certain that it had nothing to do with race. *Sigh.* BTW, this didn't happen in a small town, it happened in New York.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @fromthetropics:

    whenever people tell me stories about other Asians like that, I always want to say:

    "Well, one time, I saw these white people, and one of them called me a 'chink'!" and then just smile at them and see what they will do.

    The way you put that it was like you were encroaching on someone else's territory is EXACTLY like how I feel when I go to places which are 98% white and my little family has the only POC around.

    It's awkward and it makes me angry that I feel awkward and out of place.

    Do you think it's better for you in places with a lot of Asians or worse? Like there are too many chances for 'us' to mess up? Or is it comforting? (It's both for me - I feel like I don't stand out as much, but then that means my family and I also don't stand out when an Asian person does something which makes them stick out like a sore thumb - then I feel like we all share the "guilty" verdict.)

    ReplyDelete
  8. I enjoyed this post; it made me wonder whether or not the creation of this defense mechanism is inevitable -- and what that means for white allies.

    In particular, will white activists also need to develop a resistance to anti-racism fatigue?

    Or -- being applied to white people (which I am) -- would this be more of an "offense mechanism," one that once again attempts to liken struggles that are not nearly so similar?

    ReplyDelete
  9. As an American living in Australia, I found this post to be very interesting. After two years here, I still have a difficult time assessing the landscape for racial tensions and hostilities. Some (like the Aboriginal-Anglo, or Middle Eastern-Anglo) are obvious, but other than that it's a hard read for me (a white girl). We are raising our biracial son (and our two caucasian children)here, and I am always trying to learn from my friends of color, what things are like for them. I have not heard any stories like fromthetropics...my friends all seem to have a very positive experience living here. (In the big city, at least.)

    I'd love to hear any more feedback about being a POC in Australia (Sydney specifically), as well as experiences being black abroad vs. in the U.S. Cheers!

    ReplyDelete
  10. My former car was loaded up with Native pride stickers and sayings. In my travels around the USA in this car people would either stare at the car, stare at me or walk around my car like there were going to kick the door in. If I had to stop at a gas station in a small town I usually made it as quick as possible. Gas stations in small towns are often the only meeting place so you get anything from stares to people yelling at you to get the heck outta their town. In a small town on the border of North Dakota/Montana I stop and get gas and the gas attendant looks at me and says rudely with her Western accent, "you just passing through?" Then I have added my faux leather jacket in the mix and gosh do I really get stares in these small towns. Geez now I finding I could write a blog post on gas station experiences, race, class and gender. Ha!

    ReplyDelete
  11. @Sonic
    Thank you for that tip, I will definitely use that reference to white people next time I get a comment like that.

    You just can't get away from people making stereotypes, and I hate it that we have to feel that we need to distance ourselves from other POC that are "unruly" or "*that* kind of POC".

    ReplyDelete
  12. Eventually, my host sister made people pay money.

    Haha. So, did they pay? In tourist spots in Asia, often there are people in traditional outfits offering to pose for pics for a fee. Being part local, sometimes I felt embarrassed by seemingly silly ('backward') practice that involved trying to milk as much money as they can from the tourists. But they probably had one too many tourists taking their pics, huh.

    For me, part of what sucks is having to ask myself if I'm being paranoid

    Yeah. That's how I felt on and after this trip, until I heard my friend's story about how rife racism is in his small town. Then I thought, okay, maybe I can chill a little more, but I still need to stay aware, just in case. It takes effort to not think of yourself as paranoid. It takes some reminding about how these things are not isolated incidents, but they work as part of a holistic system, so to speak. Wondering whether an incident has racial overtones or not, btw, is no. 25 on this list .

    @Sonic - Good idea. I might try that next time – tell a ‘white story’.

    @TAB – it’s interesting that you find it’s easier traveling with another POC. Do you know why? I found that it’s easier traveling with a white person (it makes me feel like I’ve got ‘formal permission’ to be wherever it is that I’m going) or another POC who is more Westernized than I am. Somehow I perceive them as a buffer between me and white society.

    Do you think it's better for you in places with a lot of Asians or worse?

    It depends on how the Asians are acting. Usually, if it’s a tourist spot, then I take comfort in knowing that the locals literally can’t afford to show their racism because their economy depends on Asian tourists (though it doesn’t always deter them, of course). But sometimes you get idiots acting like idiots, and it's embarrassing. Though last night I read Big Man’s post that made me think.

    If you are embarrassed by the actions of random black people who have no connection whatsoever to you, then you have been infected with the Sickness.

    Good point. But it’s hard not be embarrassed when I am aware that I will later have to deal with the backlash of the actions of random Asians when I get stereotyped as one and the same.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I have not heard any stories like fromthetropics...my friends all seem to have a very positive experience living here.

    Well, I have a positive experience too. Though I did move to Oz in the hey-day of Pauline Hanson, and that has had a HUGE impact on my psyche. It’s easy for some to dismiss her as one person speaking nonsense, but it’s psychologically taxing when the media goes on for months talking about how someone (and her supporters) thinks you’re not welcome here. Someone even decided to write a book about the Asian Australian experience thanks to Pauline Hanson. (Btw, has everyone heard that she’s had enough of Australia and has decided to migrate to Britain?)

    Plus, I used to rarely talk about racism with other white people, unless they’re European and speak with an (non-native) accent. Then usually I don’t have to talk about racism, they will. I’ve found that the Europeans (perhaps more so Mediterranean than Northern Europeans) I know who are fluent in English are way, way more vocal about it than Asians. Perhaps because they have less tolerance for it since they know that white people back in their country treat them right? Or perhaps they can feel the difference a lot more since they can enjoy the local white privilege until they open their mouths and out comes the accent, then suddenly they get Othered?

    I’ve also heard from a diversity officer of an institution that some of the ‘assimilated’ pocs actually get quite offended when he suggests that racism exists in Australia. It’s as though they’ve assimilated so well that they think everyone else should be able to do the same. And for others perhaps, the economic, educational etc benefits (compared to their country of origin) outweigh the social acceptance that for them it's not worth talking about racism.

    Btw, here are a few Oz based blogs that often deal with racism (I found out via Eurasian Sensation).

    ReplyDelete
  14. Macon, re: your title... Don't mean to quibble, but I feel it's reversed, that people of color have the racial baggage of some whites forced on them.

    When something happens, we have to carry their baggage and are expected to not complain or pretend we don't notice it, not just to them, but our young kids so they won't have a bad time.

    I was 12 when I first began to notice racism against my parents in public. It was such a shock, and I'd get angry not only at the racists, but my parents for not speaking up or complaining. It took another few years before I understood why they didn't, and had to be a parent myself to understand how hard this is. You see, you want them to have good memories, not of how some hater disrespected their mama at an amusement park, etc.

    I'm so glad the world is better than when I came along, but we still have a long way to go. Thank you always, for tirelessly contributing to this with your blog.

    ReplyDelete
  15. @Courtney: Your experience really hit home for me because I grew up in countries where my family was clearly "foreign." We are from South Asia so my mom's colourful saris were often subjects of fascination for people. :)

    Your stare right back tactic is something that I have used a lot and it worked most of the time when I was younger. However, as an adult woman travelling through and living in parts of Europe, the Middle-East, Africa and Asia, this method doesn't always have the desired effect for me. In many parts of the world, I have noticed that if you (a woman) look at a man squarely in the face and attempt to hold his gaze (no matter how bitchy your expression), this act is often taken as an invitation for him (at times with a group of his mates) to approach and harass you. My male friends, on the other hand, hardly ever get approached when they do the same thing, regardless of whether they are white or POC.

    ReplyDelete
  16. @fromthetropics - Thanks so much, I'll go check those links out.

    I feel that in general, my Asian friends are reluctant to say that they experience racism. They will readily admit that things were MUCH WORSE when they were kids in school (they are in their late 20s and 30s) because there weren't many Asian immigrants then, but that their own children are not experiencing racism.

    I have heard MANY Australians of my age (late 20s) say that in this day and age, in Sydney, you just can't afford to be racist because no one will tolerate that behavior. I've heard that perspective mostly from POC, but anglo people as well.

    Yet, when I toured a public school for my son and inquired about the percentage of children of color in the school the secretary about choked and wanted to know why such a thing was important to me. I explained that since my child was black, it was important to me that he not be vastly outnumbered by anglo peers, as that can put him at greater risk for bullying and teasing because he is different from them (skin color, accent, dual citizenship, bi-lingual,the list goes on!). I thought she might not be able to compose herself enough to give me any answer, she was so flustered and offended at the idea that their students were capable of any unkind behavior, whatsoever! And an anglo reader of that account on my blog took great offense to my perspective that my son might be at risk of receiving racist behavior in a majority-anglo school.

    All that to say, I feel like I'm still stubbing my toe on cultural differences with how we discuss race and culture and it isn't really clear to me here.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I'm another person for the "stare right back at them" tactic. I once heard that "it's not rude here when they stare", but if it's not rude why do they get pissed off/embarassed when I do it back to them?

    @La Legione di Resistenza
    I'm not Courtney, but my experiences outside America were so so so so so so so so much better than the ones I had traveling in America. Something to do with the fact that outside of America, people don't seem to have these stupid stereotypes about blacks being loud, lazy, aggressive,primitive, boorish and poor, and if you're black and visibly (and audibly?) a foreigner, they will assume that you have money (and obviously that itself has a bunch of classist problems in the way they will treat people who have money versus the way they will treat people who don't). This seems to be changing, though, with America exporting more and more of its negative stereotypes about us around the world.

    ReplyDelete
  18. @Kohana - (Eurasian's link didn't work. But it's on macon's right hand menu.) Uhm...you didn't actually use the term child of "color" did you? That would possibly have given the impression that you thought it was apartheid South Africa.

    I feel like I'm still stubbing my toe on cultural differences with how we discuss race and culture and it isn't really clear to me here.

    Basically, we don't. Gang violence is an American thing. And 'racism' is what Americans do, not Australians. Australia is tolerant and multicultural. If anyone has hangups about race, it's Americans - at least that's my impression of how ppl seem to think in Oz. Schools would have a tally of nationalities (citizenship) and would know how many overseas students they have, but I doubt they keep tab of student ethnicities.

    I personally don't remember ever having a proper conversation about 'race' with white Australians (apart from in a university class setting). The one time that I did, it did not go down well at all. I've never even heard the term 'race relations' used. This is in no way to say that racism is worse here than in the US. We just don't talk about it much. But then again, I'm not in Sydney, so it might be different there. (To the other Aussies reading, do correct me if I'm wrong.)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Clueless in WhitopiaFebruary 28, 2010 at 8:04 AM

    Let me preface this by saying that I am a white male - you may or may not want use that fact to prejudice what follows:

    I am not a troll either, but you might want to consider me one if it helps you to ignore what follows.

    What I read in that post was mainly hypersensitivity to perceived and projected racism.

    Maybe those guys were staring at you trying to read something on your shirt. Maybe they thought you looked cool. Maybe they thought your color-coordination sucked. How capable are you at reading minds? Personally I suck at it.

    ReplyDelete
  20. @Clueless in Whitopia:

    maybe you should take a minute and read this: derailing for dummies

    POCs wouldn't have to wonder if certain interactions were racist if not for the fact that they've experienced racism many times before. believe me! we know what it looks like!

    to say "maybe those guys were staring at you trying to read something on your shirt" is insulting and dismissive of fromthetropics' experience and is, in fact, a classic thing that white people do.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I'm hyper-aware of Traveling While Black when i'm in an environment that is completely white. even going to different areas of the US where there aren't many PoC, the back of my neck starts burning in anticipation of the stares. i notice everything about my behavior--how i walk, my speech, making sure that my hands are always showing and that i don't make sudden movements when i'm in stores so that i don't make anyone even consider that i might be stealing.

    i grew up in a majority-white suburb, so i've always been uncomfortably cognizant of how whites might perceive me. And having experienced many incidents of overt and not-so-overt racism of course helped to fuel the “double consciousness” state of mind.

    the most uncomfortable i've ever felt was the first time i was in Ireland 20 years ago. Going to smaller towns, the stares were mind-boggling, and my family and I actually had to end up leaving a few restaurants without eating because it became unbearable. But even recently, I've experienced the same thing going to small towns in the States. I call it the “record scratch” effect. You walk into a place, and everyone there turns toward you, looking shocked and continuing to stare long after you're settled in.

    i also find myself doing things like speaking in the smallest voice possible, tipping excessively, and not complaining about anything—even when it's completely warranted—i don't want to give any reason to call attention to myself or cause the slightest problem.

    it's exhausting.

    ReplyDelete
  22. I've experienced this double consciousness and feeling of discomfort/being out of place in very white spaces while roadtripping through the Southeast U.S. and the Midwest/West. Also, while visiting Seattle, WA. I once took a drive from Chicago to rural South Dakota with some classmates (we were driving out to a reservation to volunteer for a week), and I always felt very uncomfortable (and got a lot of stares) at small gas stations and convenience stores. We were a very diverse bunch (black, white, east asian, southeast asian, etc), and definitely experienced some "scratch record" moments as someone said above when we walked into all-white spaces. I also had a a lot of childhood experiences of being stared at very rudely in restaurants with my mixed race family while traveling through the south (Georgia was particularly bad). My sisters and I finally started to stare back and people (old white folks usually) would get really huffy that we dared to look back at them.

    Sometimes, I even experience similar feelings in my own city (Chicago) when I realize that I am in a particularly white space (like at a Cubs game). Even though I'm used to being a visible minority, certain environments make it even more uncomfortable. I can also relate to feeling nervous around security personnel and police, even though I've never broken the law apart from, say, speeding in my car.

    ReplyDelete
  23. @MissCegenation - omfg, i did those exact things that you described to show that i was a non-hostile black person. well, that is until recently, when i decided fuck that, it's not my job to make them feel comfortable. i still tip excessively though, it's habitual, especially when i'm in a restaurant that i plan on revisiting, and or when i have food delivered.


    my sister in i were in a popular multimedia chain(i won't put em on blast)in an extremely white part of the bible belt. we were looking for a clerk to help us, and couldn't find anyone. we walked into one the aisles to browse some more, and 5 employees practically fell atop each other attempting to occupy the help booth closest to us. we were howling with laughter because, although it was an obviously racist situation, it was still pure comedy to see them clumsily trip over one another to be sure we weren't stealing, and they watched us like we would pull semi-autos at any second. it wasn't until i went over to the guitar hero demo and started shredding, that 3 of the 5 came over and struck up a conversation on rockband, gh, and rock in general. we were now deemed "safe" because we shared what they thought was a decidedly "white" interest. my sister pinched me, to keep me from launching into a diatribe on rock being black anyway, lol. we now joke that the quickest way to get a store clerks attention is to disappear from their direct line of sight...oh and be non-white.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I'm an Arab with an Arab name- believe me, I empathize and sympathize. I know what it's like to go on vacation and be at the mercy of the impressions people form based on limited interactions with other Arabs or Muslims (or for that matter, Indians, SE Asians, and anything resembling an Arab to the undiscriminating). Add this onto the security theater of airports and you have a recipe for constant anxiety and self-consciousness.

    You feel constantly watched, and like you're "representing" your ethnicity while simultaneously trying to distance yourself from it- trying to act like you're not one of those Arabs, (never mind the fact that I myself have only a vague idea of what those are supposed to be exactly). It's a little maddening, and psychologically exhausting. Hell, even a road trip can bear its own reminders of your status. A black friend I was travelling with through Tennessee emerged from a gas station bathroom during a stop and he told me, "Some ignorant shit written all over the place. I got one for both of us can enjoy: Kill the sand-niggers." I only mention Tennessee as an incidental detail- I've been all over the place and can tell you that particular sentiment is hardly restricted to the deep South.

    That's why I don't feel completely at rest on a vacation unless I've set foot in an Arab country. All of that anxiety disappears and I get to feel "white" for a while. Of course, if you have developed a social consciousness- it's kind of hard not to see your own privilege and how that reflects your own experiences at the other end of the spectrum. You can't take a vacation from reality.

    ReplyDelete
  25. I am not a troll either,

    I take it that means you're a regular reader of this blog?

    Maybe those guys were staring at you trying to read something on your shirt. Maybe they thought you looked cool. Maybe they thought your color-coordination sucked.

    I was inside the car, so they could see my ethnicity, but not my shirt. Hence all my 'wondering out louds' were about what they thought about my car being different and how that connects to my ethnicity. To give you some background, I was driving a Honda, and in the hey day of Pauline Hanson, phrases like, "(Asians,) go back home with your Hondas" were thrown around. e.g. It was written on my cousin's university whiteboard. Besides, I wore a plain shirt with nothing written on it, so it wasn't my shirt.

    How capable are you at reading minds? Personally I suck at it.

    If you read my post carefully, you will notice that I did not make any conclusions whatsoever about what they thought. In fact, my conclusion was that it was a "trouble-free trip" and the white people we met were "extremely friendly and helpful". Is that what you would call "perceived and projected racism"?

    The point I was trying to make is that past racist or negative incidents with racial overtones does have the effect of making pocs 'hypersensitive', though I prefer to use the words, 'careful' and 'aware'. My point was not that those particular people were racist (as far as I can tell they weren't). I was sharing with you the extra thought process that pocs go through while in a white majority country where systemic racism does exist. And that it's tiring. It's a process that white people don't really have to go through, at least not where race is concerned (because when you do mess up you will most probably be judged as an individual). (See no. 25 here.)

    Does that help clarify things, Clueless in Whitopia?

    ReplyDelete
  26. fromthetropics wrote...
    "It’s interesting that you find it’s easier traveling with another POC. [...] I found that it’s easier traveling with a white person (it makes me feel like I’ve got ‘formal permission’ to be wherever it is that I’m going) [...] Somehow I perceive them as a buffer between me and white society."

    Hmm. Maybe it depends on the white person. And/or the PoC. Until relatively recently, I traveled to mostly nonwhite places, with my (nonwhite) family. Lately, I've been traveling with white people on their terms, and I can't relax. [When I say, "on their terms," I mean that the activities we do aren't really up to me.] I'm never fully comfortable on these trips. For a while, I thought I'd just lost my love for travel. But then I realized: the people I travel with now just... do it differently. I think maybe they travel white. It's hard to put into words [this is the first time I've tried], but they're sort of... unreserved? They just don't act the way my family acts on vacation. Ah, you know what it is? They act like they're not representing anything. Duh. They lack double consciousness. Even their single consciousness isn't very conscious. Whereas, I've been to enough places both here and abroad to know that I'm always representing something.

    Not only do they not ease my worry about what other WP think when we're in white/white-oriented places, they add to my worries. And even moreso when we're in a place where the locals are PoC. Former case: on a recent trip to a VERY white part of a very white state, I was on edge the whole time. I felt constrained; my companions felt unconstrained. Y'know: "it's a vacation!" Which means "act like a monarch," apparently. They REALLY took to the poolside drink service; they'd have the waitresses running back and forth. I'd cringe. They're of the "because we're in a hotel, we will throw our towels on the floor" school. I'm of the clean-up-for-the-maid school. And so on. I think I felt somehow implicated by their behavior. Possibly more implicated than them. Like people would think I was "uppity" or something. Meanwhile, I also had to worry about what they were thinking: don't want to look like a pill, because I do NOT want to get into explaining it.

    Latter case: on one of our first trips, I was surprised at how miserable I was when we ventured off the tourist path or interacted with the (nonwhite) locals in a non-service way— things that were some of the best parts of my vacation experiences growing up. I'd gotten used to being warmly embraced by locals overseas (as nonwhite, non-American, or both) but with WP it's just not the same. They'd want to roll up on some locals' restaurant/beach/neighborhood, and I'd be feeling something like, "aargh, we don't belong here like this; I hope the locals don't think I think we belong here [in the way my friends apparently do]." Yet another consciousness to keep track of. I'd try to communicate with my eyes/behavior that I, at least, knew I was their guest. Their HUMBLE guest. But they never let down their guard. I don't blame them, but it was kind of a bummer for me. I'm used to making a bit of a connection— a PoC connection, I guess— but as a member of this group, I felt so separated. Here I was on a tropical island much like my own— for the first time in YEARS— and I never got to have even so much as a chat with a fellow islander. Lame.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Yes! Another excellent post! We have all heard the old saying, "its read to stare" but people it anyway. The author made a good point about double consciousness and feeling out of places in small towns. I never felt comfortable passing through small towns even in my own state. I haven't traveled all of the U.S. to end up in at a small gas station way out in boonies. I do get the feeling of the hairs sticking up on the back of my neck whenever and feeling self conscious whenever I enter places that is either all white or only a few POC. I don't know if anyone has ever felt like whenever they walk into an all white school or store that they knew in their subconscious they (POC) weren't wanted. Being a woman and black makes me wonder for all the U.S. talks about diversity and American people representing the world because everyone and their relatives in the country come from why are POC still treated as outsiders in small American towns and self proclaim white liberals .

    Karinova, I can totally relate to your experience. While I was in South America, I won't name the country but it starts with a V, I noticed that local Afro Venezuelans acted different towards me when I was in the group with my white friends (who was on the same study abroad program as me and from different states.) I felt out of place and uninvited. A lot of my friends were center of attention of local people we visited. None of the locals paid attention to me. I looked Venezuelan or Brazilian so they assumed I knew the culture, etc. However when I traveled around Venezuela by myself (I didn't mind most of the time but I would've prefered to have someone to talk to) or with my friend who is also black woman, we recieved more attention from locals. We were able to speak them because they weren't distracted by the big group of my friends once again. So

    I learned that is probably better to not travel in a huge group of people of with friends (if there white) its better and more fun to travel with smaller group two or three and POCs. Even in the U.S. I noticed POCs pay more attention to whites in a large group while ignoring POC in the same group. I always found it wierd how white people think they can go anywhere and think that POC abroad and U.S. will cater to their every need and not feel strange doing so. As a matter of fact, the comedian Paul Mooney in one of his jokes said, "white people always go where they don't belong" which makes the white person feel they are entitled as the author says to do and go as they please. White people do not have to go through the double consciousness or feel out of place abroad or even think about how a POC feels when traveling abroad because they are seen as "normal" people thanks to colonialism and racism whereas POC traveling around the world or even in the U.S. or Australia have be aware of their identity and how they are percieved by others when they could be enjoying themeselves and at ease.

    Despite the double consciousness, I just want to say I still enjoy myself when I'm not in a huge group or traveling with a lot of white American tourists (who make themselves visible to the whole world that they are lost American tourists abroad). Don't let uncomfortableness make you not enjoy your trip. Keep traveling!

    ReplyDelete
  28. Insecurity is a terrible feeling. Not knowing how to make yourself secure is even worse. That "what could I be doing that's weird/out of place" question can drive a person insane.

    I remember when I first moved to Omaha, Nebraska I got that feeling EVERYWHERE I went. It's not like there aren't any other blacks, it just seemed like everyone KNEW that I wasn't from there and that I didn't belong. I'm still trying to figure out if I was actually being stared at as I moved about a certain store, or if I was just being hyper-vigilant.

    Also, I've noticed that being a rather quiet person (I'm a serious introvert) REALLY makes A LOT of whites uncomfortable. I usually keep to myself and have had to explain to many co-workers, classmates and even STRANGERS why I'm not smiling and grinning. It's like if they don't know what you're thinking/about to do every second you're around they're uncomfortable.

    I don't know. Maybe just being around an "unknown" of "other origins" is perplexing to some people.

    ReplyDelete
  29. you know one of the thing I look for when reading this blog is to see when will clueless WP like "Asshat in Whitopia" shows up and derail the whole post. It never fails! Some WP will almost invariably make it about themselves and derail the narrative. It really makes me want to move to a place where WP's not in control.

    ReplyDelete
  30. @TAB – it’s interesting that you find it’s easier traveling with another POC. Do you know why? I found that it’s easier traveling with a white person (it makes me feel like I’ve got ‘formal permission’ to be wherever it is that I’m going) or another POC who is more Westernized than I am. Somehow I perceive them as a buffer between me and white society.


    From the Tropics, Unfortunately, where I live, the anti-black antipathy is fairly undiluted. My husband's presence does not provide much (if any) buffer at all. Going on vacations in-state is not much fun for me. People will coo over our biracial children and be polite to him - and it ends right there. Thus, regardless of who I am with, any number of small town (and big city) white people will be overtly hostile towards me on sight (sounds apocryphal, I know, but it's not an exaggeration, unfortunately). The presence of black people in these small towns seems to be inversely proportional to the degree of racial animus there. For example, this guy in MN telling me that his uncle belonged to the KKK, even though black population = 0 and he didn't know any black people. He also told me the Klan had an undeserved bad reputation and that it was the Southerners who messed it up for other Klan members elsewhere. I wish I was making this up. In fact, I wish I could wake up from this bad dream. The thing is, my eyes are open and these people are still here. I am quietly biding my time until we can move.

    At least with other POCs I've traveled with, they get it. I don't, to paraphrase Audre Lourde, have to recreate the pencil every time I want to write. With my well-meaning husband or white friends/associates, there's the stress of knowing that we don't have a shared experience, they're oblivious, and if I tried to share what just happened, they'll demand that I provide further proof before they can accept my perception as valid. Who needs the headache?

    Karinova, your experiences reminded me of similar ones I had in Europe, where some of my white (wealthy) American colleagues took to stealing mopeds in Italy for a lark. Wrong on so many levels. Oblivious as only those who are thoroughly cocooned in privilege can be. As a result, I spent a lot of time avoiding them but spending a lot of time with locals. It was a similar experience when I lived and worked in Zimbabwe.

    Aan, your discussion about being treated differently by locals when you weren't with white people reminds me of my first experience in Baja California. I went with one of my housemates, who was white (well, he still is white. as far as i know. i digress). Whenever we split up, locals would approach me, smiling and asking about my hair (in an admiring way, not a look-at-the-space-alien way), very friendly. When together, we were regarded at arms-length, definitely tourists. If I walked into a small-town, road-side store, I would get charged the local price but my traveling companion would get charged a much higher one. Every time. He was not happy about it.

    It's nice to read that others here are familiar with hostile staring. A white woman I was friends with said, "Well, you're really beautiful. How do you know that's why they're not staring?" <_< Yes. That's EXACTLY it. I am the black Helen of Troy. Ahahahaaaa...! I am also, apparently, incapable of telling the difference between an admiring, friendly glance and an overtly hostile, what-are-you-doing-here glare.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I am also, apparently, incapable of telling the difference between an admiring, friendly glance and an overtly hostile, what-are-you-doing-here glare.

    THANK YOU!
    I am 43 years old and know the difference very well. My white friends often ask my-why are you in a bad mood suddenly (when something like that happens). I never answer them and remain silent or just say I am tired because it is POINTLESS to try and vent my paint and frustration to them, they only hurt me more deeply but arguing with me.

    ReplyDelete
  32. After I read this post on Sunday I went out for brunch at this place up the road. I've never seen a poc in there I don't think. My wife and I walk in
    and everyone is starring hard. I felt realty awkward for a sec and even stared one dude down till he looked away. We sat down and everyone eventually lost interest in whatever it was they were interested in in the first place, Later I was thinking that If I wasn't white I wouldn't have had the luxury of being able to dismiss it as nothing like I did.

    ReplyDelete
  33. @Clueless in Whitopia re: "What I read in that post was mainly hypersensitivity to perceived and projected racism."

    As a white male, I object to your assertions. You have your opinion, but what is it based on? The OP, fromthetropics, was there; you weren't. Stares and glances, as even you must know, are body language, and without seeing those, you can have NO IDEA about what they meant. What that means is that you are projecting hypersensitivity to racism; you cannot say with any certainty that the OP did not experience negative body language--unless you doubt her experience just based on who she is.

    So I ask you: what is at stake for you in denying her experience? What do you get by invalidating the testimony of people (I assume you've done this before) regarding their own experience? Do you get to keep your view of the world intact? Does admitting that another's experience of subtle racism might be true threaten your self-image? What if it is true? Why would that be worth denying?

    ReplyDelete
  34. I forgot to add my comment about the post. AS an Asian American I basically gave up travelling in the US, it's not just the constant worry that I may end up in a redneck town with racist gas station attendants, but that the US is kinda boring to me now. Asia holds my interest now, and I won't have to worry about white racial attitudes unless I'm holed up in a tourist spot reserved for white folks. They have plenty of those places in Bali and Thailand. I guess I'm just tired of what the poster wrote about - constantly looking over your shoulders worrying about what the local whites think about your presence.

    I had a conversation with another AA friend about vacationing spots, and when we talked about Eastern Washington or Idaho, we both said "are you kidding me" at the same time. Yeah, I'm not about to wonder into the Klan Country, even though I heard they hate us a little less than the black, Jews, and Mexicans.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I live in Germnay, I'm a (white) Australian. I am defensive, unsure, insecure and often quite ragefull all the time on the streets of Munich. Split conciousness to the millionth degree.

    ReplyDelete
  36. Spot on post. Just spot on. The paranoia, the uncertainty--captured perfectly.

    Can someone explain, however, the tendency of some white people to always have a story about a person that shares your ethnicity? I mean, as a Chinese woman, I get them all the time, just like fromthetropics got it from the ice cream vendor. Is it coming from a place of wanting to relate? To show that the white person has interacted with PoC before?...because these experiences always follow the same. exact. steps:

    1) The white person looks up from behind his counter and does a double take when he sees that I'm not white and I am of some indiscernible Asian ethnicity.
    2) He'll say, "Annyong haseyo!" because I look very Korean to him.
    3) I'll smile and let him know that I'm not Korean.
    4) He'll say, "Ah, Japanese? Konichiwa!"
    5) I'll say, "Nope."
    6) He'll say, "Chinese then! Ni hao ma! Xie xie!"
    7) I'll laugh and say "good job" because what else should I do?
    8) He'll start some story with, "I once knew this Chinese girl who..."

    Without fail, that always happens. Always. Maybe remove steps 4 and 5 every once in a while. I mean, I don't greet every white person I see with, "Bonjour! Oh, you're not French? Guten tag! No? How about hej?" and on and on and then launch into some story about a Swede I once knew.

    ReplyDelete
  37. @steps...

    Damn, I can't imagine how annoying that must be.

    Do like my sister and I do when people are ignorant..point and laugh, then walk away.

    ReplyDelete
  38. @Lhunfindel: are you and your sister PoC? I hope you know that sometimes that's not an option for PoC since it may result in bodily harm (especially female). Sounds like an advice drenched in white privilege.

    ReplyDelete
  39. I am glad I am not the only one who gets freaked out by seeing police cars, even though I did nothing wrong...I have seen and heard too many stories of what happens to innocent POCs.

    I remember back in October I was partaking in this fall getaway thing and as we were going back to the school, the girl driving the car decided to pull over at a gas station in Sullivan, which is a KKK town (even though this white boy said they aren't there while also justifying why the few blacks that lived there deserved to be mistreated because he felt they were too "ghetto"). Me and the two asians (I think they are from China) in the back seat (the girl driving is white) waited in the car for her. This white dude came out and gave me this scary look...I was scared to be there.

    I feel this way in almost every small town...small towns look great in an Andy Griffith sort of way...but I guess its only really that way if you are white...

    ReplyDelete

Please see the "commenting guidelines" before submitting a comment.

hit counter code