The people I am closest to on this trip are three black girls. We constantly make jokes about being the only 3.5 black people on the trip (I am half white). Rooted in our jokes is not only a shared experience, but a deep love for the identity that experience has given us. A love that has taken years to flourish against societal messages.
Every where we go, my black friends are badgered with pictures. Some people ask to take pictures with them, some simply snap photos as if they are the paparazzi. People grab them and insist on photos without regard that it may make them late for class. People touch their hair without their permission. My friends endured four weeks of constant attention before turning down photos.
On the evening of July 4th, our program attended a Naxi music recital. After the show, we met the founder. He is nationally recognized, has worked with the School for International Training for 25 years and met many world leaders, yet when he saw one of my friends he pointed, said “black” and laughed. One of my professors warned me that rural people may touch my hair or take photos, but it is everyone everywhere.
Cultural appropriation is also more present than I anticipated. In the tourist areas of Dali and Lijiang, there are many shops which sell African drums and braid and/or dread hair.
YIN AND YANG
My cultures are interdependent and inseparable, like yin and yang. As a multiracial person in America, I feel like I am in constant tug of war between being black and white. I am perceived as one or the other and in very few situations I am perceived as both. This is something I constantly struggle with, especially in predominantly white or black spaces.
While I am some what racially ambiguous in America, I am completely racially ambiguous in China because I am light enough that I am not labeled as black. Despite flying under the radar, being black is a core part of my identity. It does not always have malicious intent, but I find the objectification of black bodies and culture in China extremely unsettling. Even children point and laugh at my friends for being black.
Even though I am the only one who is not constantly badgered, these experiences make my friend group stronger. As some of the ~15 black people we’ve seen in China, we have really connected over the shared experience of being black. Initially it was being black at home, but now it is being black at home and abroad.
It is inspiring to watch three black women embrace the badge of their blackness regardless of the hardship it brings. To me, this is the skeleton of the black experience: loving yourself, your people and your culture despite generational trauma that still persists today.