Dear Family, Friends, and Blog Readers:
I think I need to issue a little clarification regarding my recent post Ms. World Flips The Traveling Script. This post ISN'T an India travels cautionary tale. It is my experience at a specific point in time. I'm not trying to scare African-Americans, people of African descent, solo female travelers, or anyone else from traveling to India or anywhere else on the planet (minus Iraq). I'm still a cheerleader for global traveling or traveling to a new part of town where people of different cultures, races, or religion may live. It is very important in my view for people to move beyond their natural borders and hopefully be brave enough to learn a new language or about a different culture and/or travel to different places. I see these actions as a means to break down the ignorance and hatred which exist in the world.
I do think some Indians have a serious "colonial hangover" which makes them revere light-skin in a country filled with a multitude of skin colors. However, I also know that some African-Americans have major skin color issues. Fortunately, I didn't grow up in a family warped by skin-color issues or hair issues, so that isn't part of my baggage hence I was surprised to encounter that in India.
My experiences in India have been a mixture of amazement and utter frustration. This isn't particularly uncommon in travels around India. Some of the sources of frustration may be due to skin color but most of it is probably due to being a woman and usually a woman traveling alone. I know if I was traveling with a male companion, my experience would be very different. I also believe traveling around India would be very different if I was a man. And I also suspect that touring India with vast sums of cash at my disposal would be a completely different experience too.
I've realized in my travels that the U.S.A. is a very special country in the fact that so many people of different cultures, races, religions, and social classes are represented to a degree in American cultural life. India is a country that has a multitude of diversity but it is very stratified. And I don't get the sense in my limited experience that the diverse multitudes are engaged in too many conversations with each other while in the U.S. you have poor and working class African-Americans inventing leading American musical (hip-hop, jazz, blues, soul, rock n roll) and cultural (American urban culture) forms. Therefore, I've realized that some of the people I've encountered in my travels, especially on local (non-tourist) transport may have never seen, had contact, or even imagined that someone like me existed in the world. Since these people may have not known that Americans who look like me exist, they have no idea how to interact with me.
I'll also make a confession that I believe my size and deportment have also had an effect on my treatment in India. I'm a big girl. And I believe some Indians, especially men, were stunned and didn't know how to deal with a big girl without a companion by her side carrying a backpack around town. I think if I looked or acted a little more delicate or played "dumb foreigner" (which I have done in other countries), I would have sometimes avoided some frustrating situations.
Regarding my personal deportment, I have had my guard up most of my time in India. I thought it was very important to project strength and don't mess with me attitude since I'm a solo female traveler in India. However, I've now realized that I have gone overboard sometimes. I'm happy to report that I've loosened up in the south.
Basically, I've had a pretty good time in India (South India has tip the scales in a positive direction.). My time in Delhi (before I met up with Sexxy Jimmy and the JET gang) and Amritsar were very challenging though. However, I had been warned by Indian women to watch myself in Delhi because it can be a difficult place for any woman. And I knew Punjab was a man's man land but sometimes nothing can stop me.
Basically, if you are inclined and have the opportunity to travel to India or anywhere on planet Earth- DO IT!
If you are African-American, please take advantage of any opportunities or inner desires to travel because it is so freeing. I've had some bad days during the last 6 months of traveling but I am living my freedom in a way that my ancestors could only dream of. I will also be pretty unstoppable in the social arena upon my return to the U.S. because I can deal with anybody and everybody and I'm not scared of anybody and everybody anymore. I love the fact that I can now walk in a room filled with people who don't look anything like me, don't speak my native tongue, or aren't of my native culture and feel at home. I can do that because I love myself and I'm at home in the world even if the world sometimes isn't "feeling me."