I’ve always had a love for traveling. I think I caught the bug when I was around 10 years old. The idea of exploring a new place and embracing the culture of the people that live there, still excites me. Just a couple of years ago, I realized that my curiosity about the world would teach me something that I never thought much about; what it truly means to travel while black.
I purchased tickets for a Roma vs. Real Madrid soccer game in Rome. I’m not a soccer fan but was open to attending and then…I started to research more about the culture of the games. It is common for die hard supporters of many teams around the world to show their loyalty in major ways. There have been multiple incidents where black players on opposing teams heard monkey chants and even had bananas thrown at them. I thought, “If that’s how they treat athletes on the field, then what would happen to me in the stands?” At the game, I remember looking around and feeling like there were just a handful of other black people in the whole stadium. Nothing crazy happened that night, but I do think that I heard fans making monkey noises while entering the stadium.
Present: 6 Months in Japan
Each morning when I walk out of my building, I am not sure how people will respond to my presence that day. Reactions usually include no acknowledgement, a quick glance, or an outright stare. On the train, I’ve had people hesitate to sit next to me and will do so only if there is no other seat available. The moment another one becomes free, they move to it. This experience is common for most non-Japanese people. I’ve had some other uncomfortable experiences that made me feel like I am constantly in episodes of the TV show, What Would You Do. In the show, actors act out scenes of conflict that may include a form of discrimination based on gender, disability, and race. The focus is to see if bystanders will become involved. The main difference between my experiences and the show is that they aren’t scenarios. These are the true thoughts of some of the people I’ve encountered.
After work one evening, I went to dinner with two of my coworkers. We were seated, quickly took a look at the menu, and practically ordered right away. Our food came and about 10 minutes later, I noticed I was being stared at. In the booth next to us, I saw a young mother with her two sons; maybe about 7 years old and 9 months. I smiled at them because well…they’re kids. I slowly started to realize that although the mother never looked my way, she was whispering to both boys about me. As soon as she did, they looked directly at me and dug up their noses while the mother laughed.
I had just finished some shopping around my area. I went to the ￥100 shop, the bakery, and the supermarket. My foot barely touched the ground leaving the last store, when I heard a man yelling. I ignored him the first few times but finally decided to turn around. As soon as I did, an old man grabbed me by the shoulders and continued to yell in my face. I screamed back at him and pushed him off of me. He grabbed for my shopping bags and shouted, “Misete, misete!” I figured it to mean, “Show me, show me!” We stood there for what seemed like a long time, screaming at each other in two different languages. It crossed my mind that he may have been a supermarket worker and thought that I stole something (shopping while black). That faded right away because he was too aggressive. When a couple from my building stood next to us watching the scene unfold, I had to make a decision. I didn’t want him to follow me inside so I yelled, “I don’t have whatever you’re looking for,” and shoved my bags in his face. He looked through them and when he didn’t see anything that he wanted, he walked away angrily.
My friend and I often go to an Italian restaurant close to our apartment buildings. So often, that the waitress makes jokes when I do not order my regular drink ☺️ . As we were being seated, I spotted two older women staring at me with complete disgust. My friend, who everyone assumes is Japanese but isn’t, later told me that one of the women made several attempts to get her attention. When she finally did, the woman put up her two pointer fingers in the form of an X, as if to express that it was bad that she was with me.
These incidents happened around my neighborhood which is mainly populated by older people and families. I’m not saying that everyone I come into contact with in my area has been rude to me but I do have completely different experiences when I travel into the city. I highly doubt that I can change an older person’s mind if they feel so strongly against me simply because of my appearance. I choose to make my mark in the world, the way I know how. As an elementary school teacher here, my representation speaks volumes. I am teaching my students about the power of being different.
I don’t want to scare anyone with these stories. I hope they can inform others about the reality of being a POC in certain places. No experience should stop a person from traveling the world. It should make them stronger, and work that much harder, to continue to live their best lives. I definitely still will.