I hate to admit it, but I often have myself on high alert in public spaces to see how people treat each other and treat me.
This alert has heightened since using public transportation everyday, where passive aggressive behavior and social/class/racial warfare by way of microaggressions happen as naturally as breathing.
There’s the hierarchy of who goes first, who takes up space and who should make themselves smaller. Empty seats next to other humans on crowded trains and the quiet refusal to just sit down.
I’m particularly interested in how these things play out when I’m traveling. I recently returned from a fabulous trip to Jamaica, I got some rest, I made incredible memories with my amazing boyfriend and I got to experience a culture and a world different from my own. Food was awesome, water and sunshine was a balm to my soul.
I always appreciate traveling within countries that are tied to the Black diaspora, because I still feel at home. The folks working in the hotels and during the tours seem to have a certain familiarity and even if they are playing it up for better tips, they successfully increase my comfort level and I tip generously. I get hookups.
I recently read a story about a black man from Zimbabwe visiting a posh hotel in Uganda who jumped into a pool to enjoy it like the other guests. The white guests left the pool immediately. He posted a pic to social media and said that it was nice to have the pool to himself so it was their loss. Others have lamented that it’s absolutely odd to go to a country of black folks, have no problem with said black people in service roles, but all exit the pool when a black person who appears to be on or above your socio economic level is enjoying the same experience as you.
A moment I had at the beautiful Dunns River Falls totally came to mind.
Like the man from Zimbabwe, I was determined to not let someone’s ignorance ruin the extraordinary experience, and I even waited to tell my boyfriend later.
Our tour group was nearly 40 strong.
The first part of our day, we’d play in the freshwater of Dunns River Falls, take photos then off to Usain Bolt’s restaurant Tracks and Records for lunch and then we’d wind through the highest of hills to visit the home and final resting place of Bob Marley.
Our travel companions collected from hotels all over Montego Bay came from various parts of the globe: Americans, Canadians, English and German.
A key part of ascending Dunns River Falls is forming a human chain by holding hands to make the 600 foot climb. Our tour guides were full of energy, ready to serve as cameramen, cheerleaders and occasional spotters as we navigated the rocks, and shallow pools serving as resting areas and places to pose for pics and play.
The guides arranged us boy girl, boy girl, so men could help the women behind them. Cool. At first it’s awkward holding the hand of a stranger, but we all came for the same experience. So people loosened up, especially if they had a slip or two in the water, the hand you held was indeed a life-saver.
For most of the trip, the gentleman in front of me was a pleasant guy, who was traveling with his girlfriend. They were Americans. He was happy to support me and help me up, while my boyfriend was behind me. We all laughed while taking funny pictures at the different stopping points and all was well.
Somehow the order of our group changed up toward the end. This time, a German couple was ahead of me. There were natural points where the group began to link hands to climb tricky areas, but this new arrangement changed up. The group started to link hands again and I was about to reach forward to take the German man’s hand. Just as I had done with the fellow American ahead of me.
He never looked back.
He started awkwardly rubbing his head or stretching his fingers or using both hands to help his lady, until I started climbing on my own or turned to my boyfriend.
I tried to think of every semi logical reason to eliminate what I already knew it was.
Maybe my slim, five-foot-nine, usually pleasant, quiet demeanor boyfriend made him anxious about touching me?
Maybe he is an Orthodox Jew? They do not touch women. Ha.
Ok, I had to laugh at myself for that one. Hell naw.
He continued to avoid looking at me, as I climbed the rocks super carefully. I missed my original partner who was further up the group, oblivious and helping others just the same as he helped me throughout our climb. At this point, behind me, my boyfriend was dutifully helping some other American women who were a bit heavy navigate the rocks.
So, I kept climbing, and muttered to myself that I didn’t need him, or his funky assistance and I was glad not to touch him due to some hideous rash on his back anyway.
And then, I gleefully took more photos and kissed my boyfriend under a waterfall.
I waited till much later to tell my boyfriend, and he told me to not let it get to me and that we were going to have a great time and you gotta let stuff like that roll off your back.
But I’m very interested in social science. I wondered out loud how a white person could go to a country of black people, have no problem with the folks serving them. They smile, laugh and make jokes, but then have cold interactions, ignore or even cut other black patrons in the lines without a second thought? My boyfriend just shook his head.
My boyfriend and I purchased the video of our climb. And we laughed at ourselves while watching it. We bragged that we were the best looking couple and made the video great. But whenever the camera turned to the German man, I saw something that speaks to that phenomenon. The same man who avoided touching my hand, neglecting to offer me any assistance despite the language barrier was suddenly someone else who I didn’t get to encounter. In the video, the German man happily parroted back phrases like “ya mon” and “I love Jamaica” and “No Problem” on que and high-fiving the black tour guide and mugging for the black photographer, I couldn’t help but feel bothered.
Maybe he can’t touch women.
Maybe my boyfriend was scary.
Maybe I’m too sensitive.