You know what England is really good for? And London especially? Diversity. I know we hear it a lot, but did you know that in London alone there are over 300 different languages spoken! That is more than in any other city in the world. (This fact I teach a lot at school). And you know what comes with all those languages from people from all over the world? The answer is different skin tones. Oh wow. Mind blown.
I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for a while now. So I have been in Chile for over 2 months. In this time I have seen 1 other person “of colour”. The first time I realised that I was really different here was when I took the Metro alone and I noticed that everyone around me was staring at me. But staring as if they had never seen another person like me.
I’m not unused to this. In a few of the countries I’ve travelled to my skin tone has been a source of amazement and intrigue (Vietnam and China in particular) and normally I’m quite good at dealing with it. If people stare, or come up to me and touch me or take photos with me, I find it funny. Obviously they are really interested in what is so completely different to them. But that is as a tourist, when I am also travelling and taking photos of the things that attract me.
When you’re living somewhere and this is a daily occurrence it gets more than a little aggravating. Let’s take today as an example. On my walk back from the Junior school to home (it takes perhaps 20 minutes) a man who had been walking ahead of me, after catching a glimpse of my chocolate skin tone, stopped completely just to watch me walk past, with a kind of wide-eyed gaping mouth expression. Then as I ascend the hill to my house a gardener raking leaves about 100m ahead stops his work and stares as I walk by, this time with a shy smile on his face. Should I be flattered? Maybe. But the white-van men who slow down to stare or beep to make me look at them are infuriating and certainly not flattering.
Perhaps this is a feminist rant, I’m not too sure. Yes, I am a woman. Yes, I am a woman who is not white. That does not mean you get to ogle me. (And for those who may think I was dressing provocatively, let me remind you that I was coming back from working in a primary school. Also, at one point I was wearing my jumper like a poncho and still got honked at. I think it’s also a white van man thing too)
Often when I’m walking around the city centre normal people in the street gawk at me and I can’t help but wonder if I’m sprouting a second head that I haven’t yet realised about. Maybe it hides every time I look in the mirror, I just don’t know.
One man took a photo of me when I was outside a bus stop. He didn’t ask, no no, he just quickly whipped out his DSLR and *snap*! I don’t really know what he’ll do with that photo, if he’s gonna go home to his family and say “Look what I saw today! A brown woman! :O ”
I also know that coming from a different country and culture I should act as a representative to the new country, but honestly it is difficult to be accepting and calm all the time.
In conclusion, all of you who are in lovely London/England where you’re treated the same as everyone else and not like something at the zoo, you should really value that.
I know in England there has been decades of immigration for society to become the way it is today and that is really only just starting here in Chile, so I’m sure it will change in the future.
Also rumour has it that there are some other Asians knocking around here, so maybe I should join forces with them and we can have a travelling show where we charge people to meet us 😉
On a side note, but slightly related front here are a couple of funny things kids have said to me.
1) What colour is your skin? (Think he was trying to ask where I’m from)
2) (Child) “Why have you painted your lips?”
(Me) “I haven’t”
(Child) “Oh…are they burnt?”
3) Are you Barack Obama’s son?
(He meant daughter, but still very funny. The connection kids make, hey! Obama is brown and speaks English and this girl is brown and speaks English, so they must be related!)