Colosseo, photography by D.M. Blake (2011)
I am still listening to Vivaldi…Don’t ask…
(TWBF=Travelling while Black and Female)
I spent last night mulling over what my exact experiences have been as an overseas traveller since reaching adulthood. The reality is that there was a lengthy gap, of almost ten years, between my travels overseas.
I had basically ceased all of my overseas travelling in 2001. Partly because of my own anxiety around 9/11, the war, and also being in the process of becoming an American citizen. Simply, at that time, it seemed to me to be in my best interest to stay put in America. Thus, I did just that.
Of course, one thing leads to another (as in years passed by while I was living). I moved from Florida to Massachusetts, studied, graduated, and then was working.
So, what have been my experiences since coming to Rome, i.e. as a Black woman?
(YouTube is a great travel resource. Please, watch SaitamaFlowers has some wise words.)
Hmm…I suppose, for the most part, I have been treated respectfully here. There are some things that I have come to understand and experience that leave me with some concerns.
In general, however, my grievances are a bit superficial…like not being able to find makeup to match my skin tone (Thank the universe for Kiko Milano! :)), and not being able to find hair products (Thank the universe for olive oil and Cielo Alto!:)), etc. These types of things, which if one is persistent in seeking a resolution, then all should be mostly well.
It is true (again, this is my experience) that some older Italians are not accustomed to dealing with foreigners.
Sadly enough, while I was waiting in line in a grocery store, there was an elderly man who kept hitting me with his shopping cart. At first, I thought it was an accident, but I recognized after the second/third/etc times that this man was having a serious problem with me. Of course, I tried my best to redirect his behaviour, but he simply let loose a string derogatory words about my non-Italian status.
Luckily enough, the people in the grocery store, customers and employees alike, came to my defense and were quite apologetic, and they told the man that he was in the wrong. The experience was shocking to me. The response of the bystanders, however, gives me hope for the future of multiculturalism here in Rome.
It is true (again, this is from my experience and some research) that some Italian men see Black women (really, I should say here foreign women, especially young Americans) as easy sexual targets.
For Black women, it is possible too that we may be thought of as prostitutes as there is, apparently, a significant number of North African women who are considered as engaging in prostitution–This is an exceptionally difficult topic, and I am trying to handle it in the best way I know how. Please, understand that I mean no offense.
First trip to Rome (2010)
One of the things to which I had to become accustomed was the staring. People here stare. When I write “stare,” I don’t mean like a lengthy sideways glance. No, I mean stare. They seemingly try to stare you down. These days I treat it as a challenge…a little staring contest. You know, like in childhood, Just who will be the first to look away?? 😉
Now, when I first came to Rome, I took major offense to this behaviour. You know, it felt like I was being silently assaulted by these stares, because I did not know how to understand them. A part of me was like, Do you seriously have, or want to have a problem with me?
Then, I learnt that the staring-thing was not just directed at Black people, or foreigners (yes, I asked several people), or people dress a little oddly like I do. Oh no, Italians stare at Italians too…and I have witnessed it first-hand. Actually, I find it quite amusing these days.
So, yes, people here stare. Try not take it too seriously if you travel here. Of course, it is true that they may be staring at you because you are obviously a foreigner, but again it’s a cultural thing. So, don’t let it upset your day…try to have a sense of humour about it.
I will say this: it is important to learn the basics of the language of the country to which you are choosing to travel before you leave. Practice aloud greetings and asking for help. Also, it is important remember formalities of the country/culture. The more you know about culturally appropriate behaviour, the better off you are. Perhaps most importantly, it is important to keep a sense of humour, especially at the most difficult of times.
If someone offends you, regardless of intentionality, just remember to treat it like water running off a duck’s back.
Until Next Time!Best,