Since I’ve been in Indonesia, my race has been a thing. This was new to me when I got here because it was never really a thing before. I mean, my nationality has always been a thing; for as long as I can remember I’ve gotten impressed looks when people ask where I’m from and I say Jamaica (thank you, Bob Marley and weed, I guess). But my skin colour has never been a thing.
Over the past 4 months, my race has become a thing. I lay in bed one morning recently, thinking about this and trying to put it in context. How had I let it become a thing?
I’m not stupid. I knew before I came here that my race would be an issue. I didn’t imagine that there were many Black people here because I know that my brothers and sisters of the darker skin persuasion enjoy going to Europe, America and Canada and don’t frequent the Asian climes. I suppose the thing that catapulted me into letting this become a thing was the shock at being treated as if I’m not an actual person with actual feelings, just because of my skin colour. This was a new experience for me and I felt I had a legitimate complaint over how I’ve been made to feel.
I’ve been offended over this thing. I’ve been filled with righteous indignation. I’ve been snarky, critical and judgy about my “oppressors”. I’ve been plain old angry and outraged and hurt. Now, I think I may have been going about this thing all wrong. So I’m going to talk about race one last time then I’m going to shut up about it and stop making it a thing.
A friend called me one night a couple of weeks ago. She’s one of those friends with whom I don’t speak on the phone very often but when we do have a conversation, it’s always meaty and she always, always leaves me with something meaningful. This time was no different. She said to me, “Kristine, what you’re going through is no different from Martin Luther King or Rosa Parkes.”
Wow. Wow. Just…wow. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Rosa Parkes? Me? The idea seems absurd! I don’t belong in that league of giants. I don’t even belong in the vicinity of that league of giants. But I knew what she meant. I can now not only empathise with how Mrs. Parkes must have felt on that bus that evening; now I can actually begin to understand. I can begin to understand firsthand the sense of injustice, the deep hurt and the anger she must have felt.
But you know what Rosa Parkes never did? She didn’t harp on it world without end. She took control of her situation and she never let the haters dictate how she reacted. Dr. King spoke out about what was going on; he was anointed to be the voice of an entire people so of course he talked about it. But his best-known speech is laced with positivity, not whining and complaining about what he had experienced. Like Rosa Parkes, he took control of his situation and didn’t let the haters dictate how he reacted.
I’ve been letting the haters control me. When I decided to walk around with a screwed up face to keep people away from me, I let them control me. When I decided to stare them down to teach them a lesson, I let them control me. And when I spent my Sundays cooped up in the Aceh centre because I was uncomfortable being out and about among the locals alone, I let them control me.
That’s done. I’m not wasting my opportunity anymore. My friend reminded me that I am in control of this situation, no-one else. She reminded me about what God expects me to do when I am feeling persecuted. She reminded me that I am in charge of setting the tone of the atmosphere anywhere that I am so it’s up to me to change things. She also reminded me that I am likely the only Black person most of the people I encounter will ever know, so I have the power to affect the impression that they have of Blacks. I told you she always gives me meat.
So, I’m not making my race a thing anymore. Unless something really significant happens that I must tell you about because of my commitment to keeping you up-to-date on my life and experiences abroad, I’m done talking about skin colour. I’m setting a new atmosphere – a more productive one, a more positive one, a more useful one.
I am no Martin Luther King, Jr. and I am no Rosa Parkes, but I am one of the millions of people who deal with discrimination of many kinds every day. It’s time for me to stop whining about that like I’m the only person in the world to ever go through this, like what I’m going through is so outrageous. I think about the people who have lost their lives to discrimination and I admit that I really don’t have it so bad.
And if there’s anything that I can do to make the way a little easier for the next Black person who walks in my path over here, then that’s what I’ll do.
Here endeth my race thing.