WHETHER THE CARIBBEAN, LATIN AMERICA, OR AFRICA, traveling to a predominately black location can be difficult as a black traveler. The cultural and historical diversity within the African diaspora has created uniquely connected yet disconnected cultures, traditions, and identities. As a black traveler in countries with an African presence, your skin color, race, identity, and racial authenticity are constantly being shaped, challenged, and broadened.
I have always been black. Blackness has been ingrained in me since I was a youngster in Chicago, and it is very much so a part of my identity. However, my blackness was constantly challenged this past semester when I had the opportunity to study abroad and live with host families in a variety of communities in South Africa. As a black woman in Cape Town, South Africa, given their racial theories and categories, my race, ethnicity, and heritage were confronted on a daily basis.
Black Americans are a diverse community that have a variety of skin tones and hair textures, but because of this diversity we can occupy a complex position in South Africa. My identity oscillated between black and coloured, a racial group in South Africa that denotes black, European, and Asian ancestry. Many times, it was through my voice rather than my appearance that people realized I wasn’t from there. Unlike members of my cohort, I had a privilege of ambiguity, where onlookers questioned my identity.
Until I opened my mouth and South Africans realized I was American, the ways in which I was perceived and classified solely based on phenotypical characteristics impacted the ways in which people responded to me and uniquely shaped my overall experience. I recall a particular day when my friend CJ (who happens to be white) and I got on a taxi in Langa, a black township right outside of Cape Town. The driver turned around and began to speak Xhosa to me. Even after I told him I only spoke English, he continued to speak in Xhosa. After a minute of talking in Xhosa and me responding in only English, he finally spoke to me in English and told me I should accept my blackness and not conform. Clearly, he did not hear my American accent, but he consistently wanted to push his conceived identity on me despite my own as a black American.
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