Disclaimer: This is not poetic, beautiful, proofread, meant to be in a magazine or book. These thoughts are as raw as the wounds I am left with.
When I made the decision to study abroad in Manchester, England I thought I knew what I was getting into. If you have been following me for some time you’re probably aware that one of the main reasons I chose to study here was in order for me to conduct research for a collection of short stories based on race relations in a foreign country ("Black Girl Abroad"). I wanted to know what it was like to be a Black woman in another country. Would I be facing the same judgments? Obstacles? Presuppositions? Racism?
I can honestly say that I was in no way, shape and or form prepared for what this experience has actually turned out to be. The scenarios I had shaped in my head, the situations I thought I would encounter, were all wrong. In order to give you some context I think it is important for you to understand some things about me. I am a 19 year old Black woman with natural hair and hazel eyes, I’m a first generation American (my parents are from Jamaica and Trinidad), I’d like to say I’m attractive, I drink, I smoke, I’m sexually active and do my fair share of partying, I have a 3.9 gpa and more extra-curricular activities than you can count, I’d like to think of myself as a socially aware and conscious human being and sometimes I’m too damn nice for my own good. Here is a random ass picture of me doing my signature pose Here is a picture of me with some friends at a club in Loughborough and one more of me and one of my best friends Abi in Manchester
Feel free to draw whatever conclusions you’d like about me, that’s what people have been doing since the second I got here anyway…
Was one of the things you thought of I own her?
How about Her body is mine?
No? How about I will do what I want with her?
Still no? Well, you are among the few, because that’s what I’ve encountered here.
My first week or two here I was shocked and amazed by the amount of attention men gave me, specifically white men. In my 19 years of living I have NEVER (to my knowledge) had a white man be interested in me, approach me, or want to engage with me romantically (even in the fleeting moments of the night). My only experience with a white man had been this guy I crushed on last semester: we made out a couple of times, but he didn’t want anything more, and I’m pretty sure he never really liked me anyway.
I can’t lie, at first I was flattered, until the flattery faded and I realized what was going on. Yes, I was getting attention, but all the wrong kinds. My white American friends were puzzled and questioned me:
"Why are you getting all the white men? I’m tall, blonde, and I’m skinny! Maybe I should grow an afro."
"English men really seem to like you Alexis… I just don’t get it…"
"Oh my God, what is it about you? Jungle fever?"
Before I could even evaluate what was going on, my white friends had drawn their own conclusions: for white men to be attracted to me, specifically the droves of white men that approached me singing my praises, something had to be wrong. They could not imagine that anyone would choose to speak to me (the short, overweight, Black girl with nappy hair) over the countless skinny, blonde, white women.
Aside from the fact that they could not fathom how someone could find me attractive, they did get one thing right: something was wrong. These people were not interested in me as a person, but the mystery surrounding my Blackness.
Every day I feel like some extra-terrestrial being on display. I have been fetishized, otherized, exoticized, sexually and physically assaulted by European people, primarily white men, who feel that they have ownership of my body. People are amazed and fascinated by me (mainly because of my hair and the fact that I am a Black woman, with hazel eyes: something which particularly puzzles people. I can count on one hand the number of natural woman I’ve seen besides myself since I’ve been here); to them I am different, exotic, something to be examined, touched, poked at, felt, played with, investigated. I cannot begin to tell you how many times people have asked me what I did to get my hair like this. The number of times people have just come up to me and touched me. Without asking. Without my permission. As if to say, “You are not human. You are no woman, you are toy, play thing, animal, dog. You are a museum, a petting zoo. You are mine.”
When I get upset about it, when I react, most people try to convince me I’m making a big deal out of nothing, try to convince me that my emotions are invalid, attempt to console me by telling me I can touch them too, if I’d like.
I have had men and women come up to me and tell me to shake my ass like the Black girls in music videos, ask me to say “What up my nigga” wanting so badly to hear it come from a Black woman’s mouth, I have had strangers grope my ass, forcibly grab my face and kiss my lips, among other more personal unmentionable things.
I have never felt so powerless in my entire life. Every day I spend here is another day I feel myself disappearing. I feel the fight dying. Every day is a reminder that there are some people you cannot fight off. There are moments when my body will not let me. My life is not a poem I can write into beautiful. These stories will not be beautiful.