What Do You See in My Blackness?
As I impatiently waited for my night bus to Amritsar, the golden-orange sun was descending over the Thar Desert, just east of the Pakistani border.
With my 40-pound backpack in tow, I couldn’t wait to just relax on the bus and watch a new Christmas movie on Netflix. It was the only thing that made an overnight bus ride tolerable.
The time came to board the 50 seater sleeper bus where I was assigned a bed by the front door. I shoved my backpack under the storage area and climbed up to what would be my warm, dusty, humble abode for the next 11 hours.
As I laid there, simultaneously fixing my position and trying to fall back asleep after watching my movies, the bus stopped.
Within a matter of minutes, the tinted windows and curtains that offered me a sense of privacy were suddenly pulled open. There I was eye to eye with the bus driver.
It took me a second later to notice the three police officers below.
Shock, confusion, and fear were ripping through my stomach daring me to choose what I felt in the moment.
“That’s my bag”, I said in a cracked voice, noticing it was removed from the grey carrying case I kept it in.
The police officers gave no explanation, just beckoning me with wide eyes and flashlights to come down from my bunk.
As I emptied my backpack in the middle of the narrow aisle, I felt many pairs of eyes burning into my skin. I had an audience. No one else was being searched, including two white girls from France I met earlier during the rest stop.
“It’s just clothes”, I repeated in a low, sleepy tone while being careful not to sound taut.
As one officer flipped through my books and journals, another intensely watched as I fumbled for a place to put my clothing, refusing to put them on the filthy floor. The third, standing close behind me.
Eventually, I stopped speaking because they were set on giving me the silent treatment.
It didn’t matter what I said was in my bag because they were determined to find something. Once they checked and rummaged every pocket and compartment, satisfying themselves, I was only left with the words “tike, tike”, Hindi for “okay”.
They then brushed past me to exit the bus, never meeting my eyes.
Never seeing me.
For the remaining four and a half hours, I laid there alone, crying and shaking on the bus in a country I was apprehensive in visiting because of its’ blatant racism against Black people. Before visiting, I read articles about the struggles of Black students from African countries like Nigeria and Tanzania who are targeted by police and locals as drug dealers, prostitutes, and cannibals.
Over the last two years of solo travel, I’ve had the most amazing adventures. I’ve met strangers who have become my soulmates, and have seen and done things I never believed could be a part of my reality.
But I’ve also had to confront the hardest truth-- as a Black woman, there’s nowhere on this beautiful blue planet that I can step foot on without witnessing white supremacy and racism. Discrimination could come from either locals or other travelers - not a single place can be excused.
From being a teenager working in high-end department stores to all my adult life, I’ve learned to navigate white spaces for survival. Traveling the world is no exception.
Living at the intersections of being Black and being a woman, I’m consistently unseen due to the false narrative surrounding blackness - one that was crafted by colonialism and white supremacy. False narratives like Black women are innately promiscuous and hypersexual leading to the sexual violence and objectification that happens against us and the false narrative that all Black men are violent drug dealers and criminals and should be cautioned against.
I once sat on a bench in a supermarket in Vietnam waiting for friends when a woman swooped up her toddler with lightning speed and ran away from me.
“How could anyone be scared of me...I’m a woman?”, I naively thought.
That’s my struggle: the world may see my womanhood, but they see my blackness first. And because of these systems, blackness has been deemed dangerous and something to be wary of.
Over the course of my travel journey, I have experienced difficulties that would probably cause most people to pack their bags and head back to a safe zone.
Sometimes, I too, want to leave the travel life and retreat to a place where I feel more comfortable. There were times I would speak to family and ask them to speak Patois to me (Jamaican dialect) so I could feel connected to something. Sometimes I would will the universe to have me cross paths with another Black human, even momentarily, so I could dwell in our connectedness.
After my experience on the bus, I was more anxious and hesitant to travel at night regardless of the mode of transport. I initially refused to accept I was traumatized by the humiliation, but I was.
The trauma I’ve experienced is not solitary to me. They are a part of the Black experience. But to make a difference as an individual, I chose to keep traveling and writing about these experiences. It’s my hope that with every flight or train I board, every conversation I have, and every word I publish that people have no choice but to see my blackness but also my power, joy, and magic.