Can I take a selfie with you?
“…You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise…”
Smile for the camera one, two, three, cheese! Can I have a selfie? A question that divided the group.
For two weeks that one scenario has changed the way I think about global racism. Many places we traveled, people asked for a selfie or just walked up without asking to take a photo and then left.
What’s the diffence between me and you? Well it’s my skin tone. Even if you are black, my melanin may be darker or lighter. Skin is a very noticeable characteristic and often the first step of judgement. The second step is realizing I am a female. In many cultures we encountered, woman are often mistreated; and I knew I had to overcome that same obstacle.
Thirteen days I spent walking on the land in India. Thirteen days I spent walking a fine line between acceptance and rejection. Like any other country, culturally india recognizes lighter skin with a higher status in society. Just my luck that my skin color matched the people I meet in the lower caste. Now I am a foreigner in a country that rarely encounters people of African disphoria and sometimes treat woman like trash.
After thirteen days I can count on one hand how many black people I saw in India and all were male. I got weird looks, people always staring, the question of what country I came from…and my favorite is when I hear people shout “African” or “Nigerian.” What bothered me the most was being treated like a rare animal in the zoo that you just point at and take selfies with from a distance.
The way I was perceived changed the way people interacted with me, if anyone interacted at all. It seemed that many in the group I came with also failed to see when others are treated differently among the white people, so why would I have faith that they would notice me? There are many people in the group who are always approached—they look like the typical white person… Not only do I struggle with my own fear of the way people think about me, I am also met with thoughts of who would stand up for me within my own group.
I always thought kids were the best when it comes to race and acceptance of all people. Until I encountered three young boys at United Theological College. They constantly went around to the white people talking, asking them to dance, laughing and having a great time. However, they were never close enough to me that I could get a simple hello. Instead, I watched as they would point and laugh. Even when the boys were told to say hello to the group, they never made it far enough to shake my hand.
There were times when I felt confident enough to voice my struggles and most people seemed astonished and immediately felt guilty. Only a few notice when I am treated differently. Only a few are willing to ask questions about my experiences. And so many more seem to let guilt predict their next movement or don’t seem to care at all. This has challenged me to exist in a society that has forgotten how similar I am to the people I meet. That has made me feel belittled, rejected, outcast and lowered my self esteem at times. It’s like I never left the United States.
So how do I respond and how do I stand up for my self? It’s starts with confidence and forgiveness. I am reminded of the words of Jesus: “father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” The two circumstances are not the same but they words have the same meaning to me.
So what does it mean to be black in India? It means to walk with a swagger of confidence and to be okay with the perception that is placed on me. It means to be aware of my surroundings and to guard yourself from your own feelings. It’s easy to fall down and not want to come out, but it takes more to open the window and let the world see your face. I am black, I am a woman, and I am proud.
My experience was different than the other African Americans because Dahl is a male, who is given respect, and Richelle has lighter skin, with a few characteristics similar to Indian women. Lastly, I refused to let negative perceptions dictate my experience. I still entered the same spaces, enjoyed the same meals and laughed at the same jokes. My experience was great and difficult, revealing a lot about my personal resilience.
Now I reflect to learn and to thank God that I was not given a spirit of fear.
*We read Angelou’s “Still I Rise” as part of our discussion of the “Dolls Speak” exhibit a few days earlier in the trip