Petra from Petra: In The #Middle East blog
In a previous post, called ‘Objectified’, I explained that I had experienced in the first few months of being in Turkey, quite a bit of attention, which could be construed as objectification.
Of course, the word objectification and its action carries with it a pejorative connotation. And even though at the time of writing I was aware of such a context, I did not mean to inadvertently paint the persons who showed considerable interest in me, with one negative brush.
As a result, the article forced me to consider why I had perceived their interest in me negatively. Was I projecting some kind of a dormant insecurity on to Turkish people?
After all, I am black and in case you haven’t noticed in the last year or so, the West has been intoxicated with attributing every consequence for people of colour to their skin colour. Did I fall victim to this ‘superficial’ modus operandi by acquiring it to make sense of new reality?
Well, in addition to the present social climate in the West, I came to further realise that my uncomfortable experience with being black in the Middle East was perhaps of my own concocting when I watched in a video Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads blog, speak on her own experience as a white woman travelling through South Asia.
She too, had been ‘objectified’ by South Asian people. However, her experience could not be attributed to her colour of skin. Rather, it was as a result of her size.
By her own admission, Jodi is tiny; a physical attribute that I find appalling is deemed weird in Asia. Let me know if my assumption is wrong.
In this video, she recounts experiences in her travels of being hounded by natives for photographs particularly because of her size. They, the natives even went so far as to have her stand next to native #women in these photographs in an effort to highlight some anomaly.
Yet even with all this hoopla over her physical appearance, albeit her size, Jodi interestingly admitted that these experiences were surprisingly indicative of much of her own experiences while living as a lawyer in New York years before she embarked on her travels.
Yes even though she was not the subject of photos in NY, she was still subjected to constant labeling and assumptions based off of her size, which eventually became a source of frustration for her.
So, did her experience of the frustrating experience change by the time she got to South Asia, since she was being objectified in an even more explicit way?
Well, according to her it did.
She didn’t receive the interest negatively. She, instead, saw it as an opportunity to open up a dialogue and dynamic with South Asian people. And she used it- the opportunity, out of which bolstered her blog, Legal Nomads.
Listening to her story, made me reevaluate my own experience as there were some parallels.
She, like me in the West, was identified by a physical marker: for her, size and for me, skin colour. This process of identification caused for the both of us moments of anxiety and frustration. However, her marker of identification, though hereditary could be altered by weight gain and/ or cosmetic changes. Not mine.
Furthermore, her marker of difference was identifiable as a result of social standards of beauty. My marker of difference was identifiable, yes by aesthetics, but also by a social construct that determines power, meaning, relevance and importance and in the case of people of colour, a perceived, lack of.
Many times for black people living in the West, we believe that this construct inundates every facet of our daily lives. I found it absurd to believe that it, race, could be experienced any where else in the world where race is not a mundane reality.
So, when I came to the Middle East, the only way that I could interpret my experience of being pointed at, stared at and constantly propositioned for photos was through this understanding that black is different, if not freakishly so.
Inevitably, it was easy for me to get depressed thinking that I had exchanged one social reality for another… that was not necessarily better.
In an effort not to be presumptuous and myopic, I still wondered if how i was perceiving my experience was the true reality of the situation or just symptomatic of my own Western experience as a black woman.
In my readings on the web, particularly on social blog hosting sites like Medium, I came to understand that even white men were subject to this experience too while in Asia.
They like Jodi didn’t however seem perturbed by it; rather they took it all in jest.
Given the socio-historical context of my skin colour, that is difficult for me to do.
However, what their experiences, Jodi and others, have done for me, is open my eyes to a new perspective void of any Western racial yokes:
Photos taken and edited by Petra