The first time I went to China, I was stared at with no shame. People enjoying a bowl of soup would put down the bowl and simply gawk. There was even a time when an elderly woman came up to me and rubbed the brown skin on my hand. My translator told me that the lady once “read” about black people in books but never actually saw a black person in real life. Her rubbing my hand was to ensure that I was, in fact, real.
Surprisingly, I was not mortified or offended. I understood the cultural context. Much of the outside world was cut off from China until the late 1970s, so many people growing up during this time had never been exposed to foreigners.
While the encounter with the elderly woman was the most extreme case, people stopping and staring at a young black traveler is not uncommon. Here are three suggestions that will make your “traveling while black” experience more comfortable: