According to Dictionary.com, “to stare” means to gaze fixedly or intently; to be boldly or obtrusively conspicuous. Having been in China for only one week thus far, the looks I have received have been both bold and easily noticeable. From the moment I stepped off the plane in Shanghai, I became a mythical creature for onlookers to marvel at me.. I had anticipated this action long before my coming to China, but soon I realized that actually experiencing it would bring about many emotions.
Depending on where you’re from, to stare at someone can symbolize an informal greeting or polite gesture, while in another place, it could potentially mean a sign of battle or war. For example, when one of my best friends from Los Angeles first moved to Atlanta, one of the first things he noticed was how often people would not only look at him but also stare. In their eyes he saw a curiosity that was working overtime to figure him out. Yet, whether it from interest or ill intent, he was still made to feel uncomfortable from these many looks.
Similarly, I too felt a sense of discomfort from the eyes that had fixed themselves upon me. Whether it is on the street or the train, I am constantly being stared at for my blackness. On the basketball court, my least favorite sport to play, I was embraced as if I were one of the greats. In order to to not break their stereotype, I was too shy to even play or dribble the ball on the court at the thought of people laughing at me. Recently, a man walked past me than ran excitedly back toward me to have our picture taken. The list could go on and on, but their stares caused me to think deeper on the subject. Was I ugly to them? Did they expect me to be an athlete, a rapper, or a rapist? However, from their gazes I did not feel a sense of hate or distaste; instead, I felt a sense of interest and ignorance. I use both of these words because their ignorance or lack of knowledge of Black people and black culture caused them to be intrigued just by the sight of me.
Consequently, I started to make fun out of the daily looks I received rather than frown and begin my experiences here on the wrong foot. I soon began to smile, wave, and stare back at the people who knew not what they had caused so many others to feel. Before I knew it, I became a model for what being black looks like and would laugh as I would say to myself. “It’s okay to look, I know I’m sexy. Are you looking at me? I sort of favor Taye Diggs and a splash of Idris Elba huh?” While they may not be attracted to me or even find me appealing, I stopped caring and started creating my own narrative for them. All I had to do was simply change how I felt about these stares and I began to feel more at peace and at ease with myself.
Though some people may wonder why should I have to carry the burden of someone else’s perception of me, I realized that you cannot create change unless you become that very change yourself. I cannot run from my blackness anywhere in this world, but rather I must embrace and engage in activity that brings about positive images of what black looks like for those who come into contact with me. As there are still other issues I am currently facing here in Shanghai (ie. euro/white privilege, race, loneliness, and sexuality), I feel victorious in having conquered one so far.
Blog post commissioned by Black Beyond Borders.