BREAKING NEWS from the Discovery Channel: A wild creature has been spotted roaming the streets of New Delhi. It is about 5’6 in height, has mysteriously styled hair, and dark, DARK skin.
It’s me, I’m the wild creature.
At least, I’ve felt like one during my time here in India.
Growing up in America, the times I’ve been most aware of my African American identity is when an event happens that affects my community. I have not grown oblivious to the color of my skin, but it is also not on my conscious 24/7. Here in India, I have been highly alert of my ethnicity. As I was preparing for my trip, I naively believed that I would somewhat fit in here, given that Indians are also people of color. However, I have come to learn that there is a clear distinction between my brown and their brown.
I have yet to go a day in India without this distinction being pointed out to me. Literally. And my hair does not help my cause. What is a popular hairstyle among many black women in America, is a foreign and intriguing mystery to the people of India. My box braids have landed me at least one question per day, from “Are they real?” to “How do you wash your hairs?” I realize that these questions stem from curiosity. Still, something inside of me dreads having to explain myself to the next curios individual I meet.
Going out, as a tourist, is when I’ve felt my identity being targeted the most by such curios individuals. I have explored several historical sights of Delhi, from temples to ancient ruins. None is like the other. However, one thing has remained true of each place I’ve visited; people want pictures – of me and with me, making me feel like I am the sight to see. When I first arrived in India, I was hesitant, but agreed to the random strangers’ request. As I am now halfway through my internship, and so much more comfortable and confident, I’ve learned the power of saying “nahin,” which means “no,” in Hindi. I struggle with the disappointed looks on people’s faces after doing so, but I know it’s necessary for my own sanity. I refuse to allow myself to become an artifact shared with strangers, through a cell phone, at a dinner table.
While being an African American woman, traveling solo in India, has landed me in several uncomfortable positions, it has also given me a new appreciation for this identity of mine. It has taught me that I am unique. Of course, I’ve been told this before by my relatives and school teachers, but now I actually believe it. My skin is darker than others’, but it is beautiful. My hair is styled differently than anyone’s I’ve met here in India, but it is special. I am learning to embrace my differences– one stare at a time– and I wouldn’t trade this empowering feeling for the world.