“To become an intellect, you must first have curiosity.”
I can’t even count the number of times that I make eye contact with curious and eager faces throughout the day. Just from their eyes, I can tell that they are ready to explore more about me. I imagine that they are wondering and thinking a thousand different things. “Where is she from?” “Why is her hair so curly?” “Can she really be from America? I mean she’s not white.”
No matter where my group travels, people instantly stopped and stared. I soon learned that these stares were something that was inevitable. For some of us, like me who is black, there’s just no way of blending in. I was warned before my trip that people would have questions or want pictures or would just blatantly stare, but I still wasn’t prepared for this experience.
When I was told about the curiosity that I would encounter, part of me felt as if it wouldn’t be any different from what I’ve experienced in the States. Growing up I ‘ve always had people who would just touch my hair, or ask me a million questions as to what it means to be black. So I always held the expectations of that as to what it would be like in India.
I guess I didn’t account for the amount of curiosity that Indians would have. It may be due to the fact that they don’t see foreigners as often, but what is shocking to me is that it is not only that I am met with glaring eyes, but they also insist on pictures and of course, to touch my hair. I feel as if these past few days this has been more prevalent than before.
Every time I am out in public, people ask for a picture. Well in some cases they just take pictures, even if it only has the back of my head in it. In these moments I’ve come to realize why the stares, photos, and hair touching made me so uncomfortable. It wasn’t because “it’s just weird” but I’m afraid of their actual thoughts.
I’ve received a lot of questions and even comments that I look like I could be from Wakanda or people question whether I’m truly from America. While these might just be genuine comments and questions that mean no harm, for me its something deeper. Dark skin and short curly hair aren’t seen as beautiful everywhere and to everyone. I think this thought continues to play in my mind anytime I get those glances or asked to take a photo. All I can think of is, “What if the giggles and stares aren’t because I’m American, but because of the way I look?”
While visiting an NGO, there was a time when I was surrounded by girls on all sides. I could see by the look in their eyes that they were intrigued by my hair. When it was only a handful of girls touching my hair and asking questions, I was fine. But as more girls came, more questions were asked, such as, “Why isn’t your hair straight?”. With time to reflect, I started to process my true feelings about these things.
I realize that when people ask questions or sneak pictures or just stare for a long time, they mean no harm. People are just curious by nature. I’ve come to learn that Indians strive for understanding. It’s reflected in their diverse nature and goal for mutual respect. While the United States might not have the same way of showing their curiosity, there are many similarities. If you think about it, my curiosity influenced me to fly 18 hours to the other side of the world. It causes me to observe just the same way Indians observe me.