Photo: Dionysius Burton
One thing about traveling as an American, is that when you’re mingling with the locals, there will never be a shortage of questions, concerns, and a variety of ways to politely insult your heritage. They’ll range from the weird and hilarious to tinkering along the lines of offensive. Traveling abroad as a Black American is something else altogether. As African-Americans make up less than 5% of the entire U.S. study abroad population, there’s no wonder as to why some of these lingering thoughts are held by so many.
1. “How does your hair stay braided like that? Can I touch it? Can my friend touch it?”
2. “If you’re eating chocolate, how do you know when to stop?”
3. “Can I rub dirt on you? You won’t be able to see where, right? Since you’re the same color.”
4. “I bet you can sing really good. All black people can sing.”
5. “Do you wear sunscreen? What for?”
6. “OBAMAAAA! YES WE CAN!!!”
7. “I want to go to Africa one day, after they finish dealing with their Ebola.”
8. “Did you know Michael Jackson?”
9. “Teacher, why are you so chocolate? I will eat you!”
10. “Where are you from?”
“So what part of Africa is that?”
11. “Do you sunburn?”
12. “Can you dance like the people in the music videos?”
13. “Where in Africa are you originally from?”
“I’m from America.”
“But where are you originally from?”
“My mom and dad are both Americans.”
“Okay, but your grandparents?”
“They are also American. Just like Obama.”
“Ahhh, you are Obama’s daughter, Malia Obama?!”
14. “I know you two! Venus and Serena Williams! Come, take a picture with me!” (my friend and I look nothing like the Williams Sisters)
15. “Why are your palms white? Are your feet white too? You wash your hands too much. Black people have very white teeth. Why do you say you are black? You are not black. You are brown. You are from America? Impossible. How did you get there? You are from Africa. Black people are only from Africa.”
16. “Do you wash your hair? Black people probably don’t wash their hair. That’s why it looks like that. You should wash your hair more and it will look like mine.”
17. “Let’s make babies. I want black babies.”
18. A Chinese lady started following us. I kept telling my husband she was following us, so finally we turned around and she said “Beyonce!?” and then held up her camera to take a picture.
19. “Do y’all prefer to be called blacks or African-Americans? Why do some of y’all say African-American but you have never been to Africa?”
20. “Do you live with monkeys and other animals in Africa?”
21. “Don’t touch or lean on my car, do you guys have cars and houses in Africa? Is that why you left Africa and came to Korea?”
22. “What part of Africa are you from?
“I’m not from Africa, I’m American.”
“We don’t like Americans.”
23. “Black women have big butts because they like to have a lot of sex. The more sex you have, the bigger your butt gets. *brief pause* Now stand up so I can see yours.” (This is all in front of my son, so we got up and moved as far away as possible).
24. “You’re from the USA? Ohhhh, your face is very dark!”
25. “I like black women.”
26. “Will you be my Beyoncé?”
27. “I like basketball and hip-hop too, just like your people.”
28. “You’re African-American? You don’t look black, look at your teeth, your nose, and your hair. It’s not like mine.” (From an African lady).
29. “Wow, your skin is so smooth and pretty.”
30. “Your skin is softer than Koreans’.”
31. On a train from Busan, Korea, two dudes came up to me and started a conversation with, “We like rap music”.
32. I was wearing my hair in braids and this Chinese man came up to me and said, “That’s not your hair.”
33. “Black people are so lucky and blessed. It’s like they have music inside them, the way they can dance!”
34. At the gym in China a lady told me, “Your butt is not healthy. It’s too large.”
35. A woman walked up to me, grabbed my butt, and called it “Delicious”.
36. I was in Egypt admiring the Pyramids for Winter Break and a group of 50 school girls all turn around and start pointing, and then ran up to me to ask what part of Africa I was from. When my Egyptian friend responded with, “American.” They lost it. For the next 10 minutes I was taking pictures with all these young girls who I guess have never seen an African-American before.
37. I’m telling my kindergarten students what we will all wear for our performance the following day (white tops and black bottoms). I repeat this several times so they can remember. Then one student said, “But Ms. Ivy, your arms and face are black.”
*crickets from the whole class*
“It’s okay, I can still wear a white shirt.”
38. A Pakistani cab driver asked me if I was from Africa. I told him, “No, I’m American.”
“How can you be from America if you are black?”
“There are many blacks in America.”
“But your parents or grandparents were born in Africa, right?”
“Yes, but hundreds of years ago.”
(Then he looked at me, as if he had won the argument).
This article was originally published on Gloria Atanmo’s blog: The Blog Abroad and is reproduced here with permission.