Another eloquent reader, Alicia, keeps our series going:
I just saw that you’re looking for black folks with experience living as expats. I lived in China for three years and Laos for two years and have just recently written about my experiences and kept a blog during my time in Laos.
She highlights two posts in particular, the first called “The Race Chronicles—Movement 2: Monsters,” which reflects on her time in China and sounds very similar to the experience of A.J. Martin, our African American reader living in ShenZhen, China. Alicia writes:
Strangers always followed me around, touched, and stared. … I’ve read about black tourists in China being put off with the staring, touching, and following. What they’d interpreted as rudeness I saw as curiosity. It’s hard, as Americans, to know what it’s like to see a kind of person you’ve never seen before. It’s akin to how we might react to seeing a purple person walking down the street. I was their purple person.
Alicia’s other post, “The Race Chronicles—Movement 3: Black Beauty,” takes our discussion in a new, more uplifting direction—a black expat whose time abroad was affirming in a straightforward way: “My work in Laos had other positive effects on my self-image and ability to not just accept my blackness but take pride in it.” She continues:
Melanin was really to blame both for my hatred of hot weather and my eventual embrace of it. Lao people are many-hued and I found myself admiring the darker of their skin tones. My boss had the perfect skin color and I noticed it wasn’t that much lighter than mine. For the first time in my life, I truly began to see darker skin as beautiful.
I am the lightest-skinned person in my family. My mother and sisters are all darker than me. When I was young, my sisters teased that if I spent too much time in the sun I would get dark and never fade. I couldn’t risk it. I needed to stay light. For beauty’s sake, to be found physically attractive by people outside of my race—and I suspected even within it—I needed to be lighter. Sunbathing? Get real. The sun was my enemy. Colorism and not discomfort kept me indoors. [CB: For more on colorism and intraracial prejudice, see this robust reader thread.]
As I shed my fear of becoming darker, I began to love my color. At 29, I was finally comfortable in my own skin. This allowed me to enjoy all those experiences in the sun.