Race and nationality are interesting dynamics when traveling around the world. While in Indonesia I experienced quite a few racially charged encounters – I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative or positive way, rather encounters that made me aware of my blackness while abroad.
And what’s interesting is that many of these incidents were with fellow travelers, not with Balinese. I found that Balinese people are generally very accepting and respectful of all people they encounter – a nice departure from experiences in a few other countries I traveled to.
As mentioned, most of the racial comments I received came from fellow travelers. Here are a few of the most memorable interactions.
One evening at a rooftop bar, I struck up a conversation with a solo traveler from Australia, and after a few drinks got a few interesting comments including one about my hair, and a question posed asking if I felt safe in the country now that Trump is president. I politely cracked a joke and diverted the conversation, but it was interesting to see how others viewed what was happening back in the States.
The hair fascination proved to be a theme throughout the trip. My friend, Makensy, joined me halfway through my trip wearing faux locs, and everything multiplied. I’m actually pretty jealous she had the locs and I didn’t, it was hot and humid and she didn’t have to deal with her hair like I did. The locs were attention-grabbing, to say the least, and just about everywhere we went she was met with stares, questions, and a few bold grabs.
I’ve heard from other black travelers that people ask to take photos with them abroad, and while in Bali, this happened for the first time. Makensy and I are definitely in a few holiday photo albums after this trip.
We traveled right after Chinese New Year, and throngs of Chinese tourists were on Holiday during our travels. On a few occasions, we found ourselves the object of attention, and while we tried not to take offense, we did scold a group who literally followed us snapping photos without asking.
Fellow travelers and Balinese also asked if we were celebrities and if they could take photos with us. In my mind, yes, I’m Beyonce. It was an interesting question, and while I don’t know the exact reasoning behind the questions, I can only assume that race had something to do with the question.
During the solo portion of my trip, as well as after Makensy joined me, we felt a sense of family with other black people we saw along our travels. I ran into a black British couple one morning and we chatted about our time in Bali, I had been in the area a few days so the sought recommendations from me, and commented I was the first black person they’d seen on the island. Come to think of it, they were the first black people I’d seen as well.
While in Ubud, Makensy made friends with a gal who was traveling alone during her study abroad. We all spent the day exploring Ubud together, complained about what the humidity was doing to our hair, and laughed about all the stares we as three black girls were getting.
Each of these interactions was special – from the awkward questions from Australians to the happiness running into black folks on a tiny island. Traveling is eye-opening, both for me as a traveler, as well as for all the people I interact with abroad. I realize my interactions help shape and change their views of black people.
Check out my previous post on race while traveling in Costa Rica here.