hollalujah

pop culture, food, politics, life.

Blackness as a Lingua Franca

Originally posted at Interrupt Mag

1. Barcelona, Spain

At the third bar of my hostel sponsored bar crawl, I realize I have not had enough to drink. There are two German boys who have demonstrated their interest in me but I brush them aside because, like many of those who came before them and will come after them, they cannot hide their desire for exoticism. (The ones who cannot keep their hands out of my hair, the ones who constantly talk about my complexion, the ones who tell me of their desire to trace my curves, those ones. It is a fine line between appreciation and othering, I tell them. And you have crossed it.) As I am leaving with the rest of my hostel group, I see someone who is black in a sea of international white travelers. He sees me and nods in acknowledgement and smiles. I nod back. He shrugs. “You know, I had to do it. We have to let each other know we exist,” he yells out to me. I tell him I know. I leave him at the bar.

2. Amsterdam, The Netherlands

I am dancing to 90s West Coast Hip Hop at a student residence party and my feet are tired and the room is hot and I escape to the stairwell. There is a boy in the stairs and he is tall and has hair that is BIG AND WILD like mine and before we even speak to other each, we reach up and touch each other’s head. I am several time zones away from where I grew up in New Jersey, but his hair feels like home. I want to ask him what mine feels like. I feel ashamed of my curiosity, so I do not ask. I tell him I am on vacation and he tells me he escaped the Rwandan genocide a few months before it started. He tells me that he does not date black women because they remind him of his mother, but that he would totally hook up with me. I feel uncomfortable. I don’t know if it is because of the whiskey, the fact that I have not slept in twenty four hours, or because he finds my blackness acceptable, but not other black women’s. It is 4am. I want to dance again. I leave him in the stairwell.

3. Marseille, France

It is Thanksgiving and I am at work in a country that is still not home. I teach my students about the colonist and imperialist histories of Thanksgiving and yet I still feel my heart flutter every time they ask me about my personal relation to the holiday. (“But what about your family?” “What do you eat on Thanksgiving?” “Do you miss home?”) I will Skype with my family later and I will try not to cry on camera, because I am an adult and I chose this, I moved here to this new country and I wanted this, remember? I am walking to the teacher’s lounge to collect my jacket when I am stopped by a fellow black teacher. He is older and from Martinique and always tells me stories about his sister who lives in Wisconsin. I tell him it is Thanksgiving and he drops the French formality of the bises, of the kisses on both cheeks, and embraces me instead. “Don’t be sad,” he whispers. I do not feel sad anymore. I stay with him in the hallway.

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This entry was posted on July 2, 2013 by .
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