I consider myself a positive person, an optimist even. I try to see the positives in every situation and rarely if ever go looking for a fight. Traveling while Black has become a major talking point in the last few years as travelers of color gain more notoriety. Traveling is one of my greatest passions and while I do get discriminated against, often. I find that it’s more due to my size than my race. However, my recent trip to Yangon, Myanmar showed me just how much more room there is for growth in global racial relations. Since February is Black History Month, I thought it was important to share this story now.
I hate that this happened and that I even have to tell this tale. But you know how I do, I keeps it 1000 even when it’s difficult. Even when it’s messy and complicated. Even when it shines a light of negativity on something I’m so in love with. I’ve been in Asia for over five months now and to say that it’s been an adjustment would be an understatement. I’m based in Bangkok but leave Thailand at least once a month to check out a nearby country and because Visa Runs are real. Last month I decided to head to Myanmar and was SUPER juiced when I found out my boo Kiona from How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch would be there at the same time!
Kiona and I living our best lives and showing the kids How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch.
So we planned on linking up and spending a day together. I booked at the same hostel she was staying at and we were off! From brunch and daytime drinking to pagoda hopping and rooftop bars. Hanging with Kiona felt like chillin’ with one of my girls from back home! Not only that, it was nice to have her support when things went ALL THE WAY left.
After brunch, a little pampering and a nap, we headed to Shwedagon Pagoda just before sunset. The glittering gold-plated pagoda is 2,500 years old and the most popular in the city. So you know we showed up, respectfully dressed and ready for the impromptu photo shoot that naturally ensues when you get travel bloggers together.
The drama started just after I saw a monk meditating. I walked up and started taking a few snaps of his peaceful presence. Mind you, no one was around taking photos but me. I kneeled down to get a better angle, then stood up and started backing up to get one last shot. That’s when I felt someone hit me in the back. Surprised, I turned around to find an older European woman with a camera in her hand trying to snap the same shot. I looked at her, waiting to hear an apology, but instead, she used her hands to shoo me away. I didn’t back into her, I had no physical contact with her whatsoever. She felt it was completely acceptable to hit me because I was in the way of her shot.
It took me .05 seconds to process, not only did this lady just hit me, she shooed me away like I was a fucking fly! “Did you just put your hands on me?” I asked her. She tried to ignore me, so I leaned in. “Did you just hit me?” Being in her personal space got her attention because she apologized. “You better be sorry. Don’t you EVER put your hands on me. That’s SO rude.” She didn’t like getting called out and decided to walk away. At the same time, a European man walked up to me and Kiona.
“I’ve been to this pagoda many times and it used to be so peaceful. Why are you raising your voice? This is a place of worship.” He said to us as we stood there in shock and disbelief. “Did you see that woman hit my friend? This is supposed to be a peaceful place, so why are you talking to us instead of her?” Kiona answered. “Yeah, I was just assaulted in this peaceful place of worship and you’re asking me why I raised my voice? Maybe you should go ask that lady why she hit me!?” I added.
The photo that caused the fight.
“Why did she hit you?” he asked. “You’re asking the wrong person. I have no idea, but instead of you talking to me about being upset after getting assaulted. You should go ask the person who assaulted me why she thinks it’s ok to hit people in a temple.” I told him. “I think you just want a reason to be angry,” he responded. Was he SERIOUS!!??? “Of course I’m angry, someone just hit me! But you know what. I don’t care what you think sir. You can continue on with your day and keep it movin’ because what you think means nothing to me.” I guess he didn’t like being excused. “Where are you from?” he asked. “Why does that matter?” Kiona responded. “You’re American. I know it, your Americans and I feel sorry for you,” he said. DA ACTUAL FUK!??
As politely as I could, I reminded his ignorant ass that we still gave zero fucks about he feelings or his thoughts and he NEEDED to carry on about his day. Leaving us to enjoy what we could of ours. Kiona and I stood there, shook. As women of color, we were just put in a position that could’ve caused us to act complete fools. But we held it together and responded rationally and respectfully. My momma would’ve been proud! I still haven’t told her this story because she would track that woman down and show her what them hands do!
For the next few minutes, Kiona and I tried to process what had just happened. “I’m proud of you for standing up for yourself. I don’t know if I would’ve said anything to that lady. And then that man! Blaming you for being upset after you had just been assaulted!?” I told Kiona that at first, I was in shock, it took me a second to realize that she’d actually hit me. Then, of course, I had to say something! She couldn’t live life thinking it was ok to hit others because they are unknowingly standing in the way of her camera. She needed to learn that lesson, and she was gone Learn Today!
Kiona made an excellent point. What response did that man expect to receive after saying “You must be American. I feel sorry for you.” If you replace the word American with any other nationality it would still be xenophobic AF.
“You must be from Europe. I feel sorry for you.”
“You must be from Asia. I feel sorry for you.”
“You must be from Africa. I feel sorry for you.”
That shit is just not ok to think or say EVER. To anyone. Physically putting your hands on someone and shooing them away because you stood behind them to take a photo. Also, not ok. But these are forms of microaggression and macroaggression that are so familiar to People of Color. It’s sad and disgusting, but incredibly common.
After no more ten minutes I let that shit go. I wasn’t going to let their negativity and ignorance ruin my day. I was gonna get some cute pictures and enjoy some time with my girl! Kiona was surprised that I moved on so quickly. But, like water off a duck’s back, Quack! Quack! Kiona took some great photos of me, we took some cute ones together and then the most ironic thing happened, I became a tourist attraction of sorts.
It happens often and I always take it with a grain of salt. Other tourists see me, my colorful hair and usually equally colorful outfit and want to take a photo with me. Taking photos in front of one of the most popular pagodas in town, people basically started lining up to take photos with me! While some may think it’s a sign of disrespect or that I should feel like a caged animal in a zoo or even charge to have a photo taken with me. I feel the opposite. I know that there are not many People of Color traveling through Asia and even less with blue ombré hair! So when people stop, stare or ask at to take a photo with me, it’s because they’ve never seen someone like me in real life.
Got your girl feelin’ like Bey in these Burma Streets!
There are so many examples of Black Excellence, it’s no wonder people are enamored with us. From music moguls and the top sports athletes to the newly released Black Panther film, melanin is magical. The other side of that coin is the negative stereotypes of Black People being uneducated, drug addicted and lazy. The ones that make Black Women the angry, bitter villain in search of men to emasculate. I’m fully aware that I’m dealing with all of these preconceived ideas every time I step outside. I gotta #DoItForTheCulture because to the outside world, I represent all of those things all of the time. I just don’t know which light they’re shining on me at any given moment.
Still, this doesn’t change the fact that a lot of Asian people in Asia have few opportunities to interact with Black People. As I said, I’ve been here for nearly six months and most of the people I’ve met in Asia are other Asians. I think it’s important for us as Black People to understand that sometimes when others are intrigued by our hair or our skin it’s because they’re genuinely curious. Not undercover racists. However, this by no means gives those who are a pass. I say, go with your gut. Until this incident, I hadn’t felt any overt racism in a while. It would’ve been REAL easy for me act out of anger and go off. But instead of doing what’s expected and being that Angry Black Woman or lowering myself to their level, I took the high road. And overall, I’m happy with how I handled it.
Have you ever been physically assaulted during your travels or had to deal with racism abroad? If so, please share your story in the comments.