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“Serena Williams, please! Sign for my kids!” I hear from the distance as a Serbian man runs towards me, seemingly starstruck.
I do a double-take his direction, amused by his claim, but obviously in complete denial that he could be referring to me.
Surely, he’s kidding. I mean, Serena Williams? Really?
Besides sharing the same global greatness (ha), our skin color and my hair on a good day bear just a few similarities.
But alas, he was convinced.
“But — for my kids, for my kids! Please!” his accented English desperately pleaded, simultaneously tugging at my empathetic bone.
So there I was in the Balkans. Being persuaded to sign a paper for a man’s kids, of a tennis superstar who I was not.
What is my life for 500, Alex.
I obliged. He left. I laughed it off.
But I soon learned that this would be my new normal traveling the world. That some people in developed and advanced countries have still never seen a black person up close before.
Y’ALL ARE REALLY MISSING OUT ON ALL THIS CHOCOLATE CULTURE AND GOODNESS.
And this new normal turned into encounters with Bulgarian customs officers, Greek bar owners, Montenegrin locals, and various other Balkan and Eastern European destinations who all glorified my existence or thought I resembled or was the ultimate tennis bae, Serena Williams.
Or rather, Seveena Veeliams, as their accents would produce.
But this superstar treatment, whether being mistaken for a famous athlete or celebrity in general, did come with its perks.
I was in the beautiful Balkan country of Montenegro last year when I noticed I had some sort of domino effect when it came to heads turning as I walked down the main strip along the promenade in Budva.
“Maybe my hair looks a little wild today,” I convinced myself. The stares were mostly those of confusion and intrigue.
I walked into a restaurant to order food that didn’t look like it’d go straight to my thighs (P.S. this doesn’t exist), only to discover a trail of “gazers” had followed me down the boardwalk, into the restaurant, and sat closely nearby.
They studied my movements, whispered amongst themselves, and did everything to make sure I was as uncomfortable as possible.
Mission Accomplished, everyone. Can we carry on now? #awk
But I thought I’d play along and see how far this would go, so I started exchanging the smiles, acknowledging how lucky they were that I had beer’s liquid courage to accompany this social experiment, and they continued geeking out amongst themselves as I forked down my cevapi.
I asked for the bill to pay for my food after finishing, and the manager came out (after seeing the waiters each rotating their check-ups on me) and informed me that the meal was on the house.
He then extended an invite to eat at his restaurant every day on the house, as long as I sat near the front by the window, as it was, and I quote “good for his business”. LOL, couldn’t make this up if I tried.
Product placement, anyone? Ha! But who cares, ‘cuz free food *AND* booze! I’ll sulk about [chocolate] milking my faux stardom later.
Following his orders, I sat by the window every day around 2PM, watching passer-byers double-take their way into being convinced that if this black celebrity/world athlete deemed this restaurant good enough for herself, surely it must be a good place to eat.
And while it’s 2016, I always get a kick out of sharing these kind of encounters with my black friends back in the U.S. who’d be flabbergasted to find out how many times I’ve been people’s first black encounters while abroad.
And though it comes with its fair share of free drinks and selfies, it’s also riddled with a slew of ignorance, and I find myself more often than not, debunking stereotypes, explaining black hair etiquette (basically just never touch it, thanks), and trying to be an example of how diverse the African diaspora is.
Whether I’m asked to “shake dat ass like Nicki Minaj” in Poland or figuring out how to respond to a teenager who greeted me in Kosovo with, “What up, M*THA F*CKA?!” anxiously awaiting my approval of such eloquently strung words (thanks cliché rap music), it’s an important thing to realize how much my platform, my travels, and my experiences can help towards negating the biases and prejudices black people and black women specifically, have around the world.
And though it can be fun, games, and lessons a majority of the time, there’s also the very annoying and seemingly unavoidable side to taking my blackness abroad.
Like waiting on the night bus in Rome and having a new car pull up to me every five minutes, waving 100 euro bills at me, letting me know where they live, and telling me what they’d like to do to my body.
How romantic. I hope your manhood shrinks indefinitely until you die. But I digress.
Unfortunately, there’s this widespread assumption and history of black/African women being in certain parts of the world strictly for prostitution.
And while I can’t rid the world of its ignorance of black women on my own, I’m hoping that my overwhelmingly positive experiences that far outweigh the bad, encourage other black people to embark on their own adventures to help spread our proverbial wings, soaring over the archaic hypersexualized images, ghetto personas, and fetishized beings the media make us out to be.
And being able to prove this daily on my international adventures make being a black world traveler one of the most unique experiences in the world. Know a black traveler? Share this with them and comment with some of your most unique experiences abroad!