Breaking Down The Staredown

by Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström Apr 22, 2010

Photos: author

As an avid traveler I often get asked how I deal with, you know, stares, when I travel in regions where not a lot of black people travel.

A prolonged stare is creepy enough to rattle even the most intrepid of travelers. As much as we don’t acknowledge it, we all experience travel differently. Sometimes on a much deeper level than we’re even aware of. And unfortunately, some experiences can be marred by how people react to us…physically.

Here’s an excerpt from a piece I wrote awhile back that talked about dealing with stereotypes:

Your friend just returned from the trip of a lifetime – traveling around remote regions, being invited into homes of locals, feasting on ethnic spreads, and immersing herself in centuries-old cultures.

Seething with travel envy, you sign up for your own life changing trip, only to arrive there and find your reception quite different from that of your friend’s.

You’re not readily welcomed with open arms and you’re constantly being gawked at. At that moment, no one can understand the level of dejection you’re feeling…..

Situations like these can leave travelers confused and unsure of themselves. Having experienced a range of reactions from locals over the years – from acceptance to blatant rejection – I’ve decoded various types of stares into seven distinct types:

The “What on Earth?” stare

This is your typical “I’ve just seen a ghost look.” Usually reserved for older men and women and accompanied with a slight jaw-drop.

The “Hellooooo…baby!” stare

They’ve watched the music videos. They’ve seen the stereotypes on TV. So when they see you, they put two-and-two together and react based on assumptions. “They” being middle-aged men.

The “Frozen in Time” stare

Similar to the way a cow stops and stares, half-chewing and frozen in time. This usually happens when I saunter into tiny villages. They stop and freeze. This look also pops up on occasion in city settings especially with much older folk (80s and older) who freeze their steps and stare. The difference between the ‘What on Earth?” and this look is that the “What on Earth?”s keep on walking while these just freeze.

The “Covert Operation” stare

The sneakiest of the bunch, they use every reflective surface to observe and study you. Unless you catch them via their reflection in the mirror. Usually reserved for older teenagers (both girls and boys) and young men who find you attractive.

The “Confused” stare

They know I exist yet are taken by surprise when I turn up in their ski lodge or on their yacht.

The “Abject Fascination” stare

Just the other day I watched as a little boy barely 8 months old, strapped into a grocery cart, trailed me up and down an aisle with just his eyes. His dad, walking back from another aisle, caught his baby rubbernecking and we shared a lighthearted laugh.

Kids point. They stare. They gawk. Sometimes they laugh. If their natural curiosity didn’t bubble to the surface, frankly, I’d be concerned.

The “Utterly Disgusted” stare

Definitely the most difficult to stomach. Sometimes, you look over your shoulder wondering who they’re staring at with such loathing only to realize it’s…you?! Usually born from previous negative experiences or just deep-seated prejudice you really can’t change in a day.

Note – All of these types of stares, excluding the “Covert Operation” stare, are usually followed by some serious rubbernecking to make sure what they’re seeing isn’t a figment of their imagination.

So, how do I handle stares, you ask?

I just keep on traveling.

That’s the only way.

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