When I first arrived in China my welcome started with long stares. The looks on people’s faces embodied curiosity and amazement. Every time I looked up small slanted eyes met my big brown ones. If I didn’t know better I would think I had something on my face or worse, my dress was hanging from my underwear, a repeated failure after using squatting toilets in Beijing. Interestingly, it was not the sticky noodle sauce on my cheek that caught their attention, it is was the color of my skin. Dark and brown like a roasted coffee bean wrapped in an olive green dress. As I rushed from museums to meetings I could feel eyes following me. With all the colors in the world, my blackness halted people’s normal routines to take a look and often a picture, voluntarily and involuntarily, of me.
With all the colors in the world, my blackness halted people’s normal routines to take a look and often a picture, voluntarily and involuntarily, of me.
Ironically, many things I own are made in China. Often I think about Globalization in my past time. How can factory workers make millions, if not billions, of goods for people they will never see in person? Globalization, that’s how. I think there are many benefits from globalization and challenges. When I turn over a cup and see “Made in Mexico”, I am shocked to know there are Mexicans who will ever meet an American in their lifetime.
As I strolled through the Enchanted Garden near the Forbidden City there were three elderly women sitting along the pathway. Seconds later, my hair became the topic for discussion. One woman pointed as the other demonstrated the technique of braiding my hair by using her hands for miming motions. The women were so into their conversation, they didn’t notice I had turned around to watch this fascinating dialogue. I am about 99.9% sure, the weave used to braid my hair was made in China! Often, Chinese tourist from rural areas of China do not have the rare opportunity to meet or see a foreigner in person. The odds of seeing a Black person are slim to none depending on one’s background.
If this trip has taught me anything, it is the need for more Black Americans to travel outside of the states. African-Americans represent a large portion of low-income and disadvantaged households in America due to historical institutional and structural discrimination. Generations of Black families have never left the country, some never left their home state. Globalization has benefited Americans, often, people living on a budget. In theory, countries benefit economically from imports and exports. China’s mass production of household and daily goods helps families thrive in America. However, the advancement of globalization does not solve the social problems of global segregation. The transfer of innovation, goods, and ideas cannot be solely governed by a small group of people forever.
I have learned so much from this trip and many assumptions I had before are no longer a part of my perception about China.
Access to people can help nations confront social problems like exotification and stigma. I think it is human nature to accept what is familiar and discredit what is foreign, although, that practice is not always right. I have learned so much from this trip and many assumptions I had before are no longer a part of my perception about China. African-Americans traveling abroad is radical and political because the very act can change perceptions of countries, whether that is in China or anywhere else in the world.
When people come together from different backgrounds truth can be at the center of a conversation. Globalization has given people access to goods but not always the people that receive or make them. I think it is time to take it one step further and amplify the truth for the people impacted by Globalization, knowingly and unknowingly so.
Disclaimer: I do not like to romanticize globalization and its impact on communities that have been negatively affected by economic exploitation as well as deeply acknowledge the political racial geographical implications of its institutionalized oppression.