Within the first week of our stay in Belgrade (Serbia), Martine was ambushed by a very eager young woman for a picture. Why, you ask? Because Martine is a black woman. Martine and I are OFTEN mistaken for each other. Why, again, you ask? Because we are two of three black women in our cohort of Remote Year. If you are the person who usually confuses two different people of color (POC) because they are a similar shade of brown, here‘s a helpful guide.
Before I dive into this topic, let me tell you about my month in Serbia. My experience in Belgrade has been good. It’s quite smoky EVERYWHERE you go (clubs, restaurants, cafes) and the weather this month was rainy and cold. Serbians have been friendly and helpful. I connected with a few locals and I am happy to say that I’ll be returning to Serbia when it’s warmer!
One thing I’m really glad I got to do while I’ve been in Serbia, is volunteer with refugee aid. Refugee Aid Serbia (RAS) is where I spent most of my volunteer hours. We served food, and distributed clothing/shoes. It was life-changing hearing some of their stories about the journey. Some of them have been through (and seen) some unbelievable shit. I was happy to lend my time/money/clothes to them. I would love to write about this some more as it really deserves its own post. My friend Dana wrote a great one about it here.
We got a glimpse of the staring (of POC) in Sofia, Bulgaria last month. It was blatant but mostly at a distance. This past weekend, a few friends and I went to Novi Sad for Oktoberfest. The Serbian men in Novi Sad were bolder than their Belgrade counterparts. I spent most of the night hearing how they’ve never seen a black woman before.
I’ve been inspired to write a letter. All the things I’m going to write about, happened to me.
Dear person who has never seen a black woman before,
I’m sure it’s kinda cool seeing one of us in real life. In fact, I remember being a little girl, in Kenya; whenever a white person came around, we stared in awe. So on some level, I get you. However, please do not pull my hair. I don’t like that. Do come and speak to me. Although I can have a strong resting bitch face, I am not a terrible person.
If you see me sitting at a restaurant, alone, having a quiet dinner, please please please let me be. It’s quite irritating having you yell at me, call your friends over to point, and laugh at me. I don’t have a clue what to say to you. Do not come over to my friends and me, enjoying our hookah and rakija, and tell me how you’ve never slept with a Kenyan woman. I do not know why you think this is acceptable behavior.
Although you think you’re being sleek, I see you trying to take a picture of me. Oh and your flash is on. DO tell me how you love black people (happened at a club). I encourage your curiosity. Talk to me. If I happen to be curt, it’s because you are literally the 20th person to point at me in the last two hours.
I know we were probably raised differently, but pointing and talking about someone is considered rude where I come from. Last but not least, I think you meant well when you came over to me, kissed me on the cheek, told me that I was beautiful then walked away. The only thing is, I don’t know you and this is a severe violation of my space. I’m over all of it.
TL;DR Serbian men were aggressively invading my space and my person. I don’t like it. #IAintSorry #Donttouchmyhair
Thanks for having us, Serbia. Off to Vietnam in a few days!