The Problem With the “Beauty” of White Travelers
I never felt like a celebrity before, but yesterday, I got a small taste of it. What started out with 10 kids surrounding my friend Osama and I, ended with about 20 boys and girls snapping selfies with me, families handing me their babies to take pictures with them. Some kids touched my hair. A lot were asking questions about what I’m doing in Egypt, if I know their famous soccer player, how old I was and if I was married.
To move on, Osama and I had to walk into the citadel, which the kids couldn’t enter because two police men kept them from it. One of the officers told Osama to just say no to pictures from now on. But inside the citadel, it kept going: People came up to me. Now, Osama dragged me away because we didn’t want to get too much attention again. When a sweet girl came and shyly asked for a selfie, I told her to come behind a wall, so we wouldn’t attract too much attention again. “You are so beautiful,” she said.
After lunch, Osama and I were waiting on a local street to catch our Uber, when a woman with a Niqaab (hijab that hides everything except eyes) came up to me and also said: “You’re beautiful.”At the end of my day, even my Uber driver asked me for a selfie with him. This last one I wish I didn’t agree to because I was sunburnt and looked like a lobster. Plus, I was tired AF. But anyway…
I was one of a total of 7 tourists I had passed by in all of Alexandria that day – two at the citadel, four at the catacombs (both tourist sites). The rest of the day, I was riding local cabs, eating with locals, and watching the sunset with only locals. I got stares and remarks (none of them too inappropriate or annoying) walking through the streets with my uncovered hair, the hamsa tattoo on my arm and my friend Osama whom I’m obviously not married to. One guy even lost his train of thought, stopped talking to his friend and turned to look at me with his mouth open.
Little moments like these were amusing to me. I never felt bothered or anything; I was just really happy to be around locals and get a very special experience, diving deep into the culture. I felt honored and happy to be a person of interest of these kids and other locals. They could have just gone about their day without noticing me or the conversations we shared.
So, here’s the thing:
I don’t have anything against people taking selfies because I’m a tourist and most of them don’t see many people that look like me walking around in their home.
And, by god, I don’t have anything against them telling me I’m beautiful – thank you, thank you.
I asked myself one question. Why do they think I’m beautiful? Maybe because I am.
But in some cases – did my fair skin play a role in this? Did they see my white skin as a privilege? As more beautiful than theirs?
Think about this:
Do “Black and Brown” travelers – as in dark-skinned Africans, Latinos, or Asians – get the same treatment everywhere? Not always. For example, when Gloria Antanmo from The Blog Abroad is not confused with Serena Williams, she’s been mistaken for a prostitute a few times already in several countries. Has that happened to me? Nope. And recently, Julie Olum from Frame Ambition, reported that she wasn’t let into a Hindu temple in Nairobi (her hometown) because she was neither accompanied by a black nor Indian person.
The irony is that as white people in Europe and the US, we have tanning salons because we want to have darker skin because it “looks healthier.” But in most African, Asian, and South American countries whitening creams and white washing in advertisements (and elsewhere) exist. People wear full body condoms and cover their heads with hats and umbrellas to not tan. You’re the darker one in a family… ooooo unlucky you… you must be poorer, dumber, etc.
You get the point.
So now, what can we as white women do that the stereotype of white beauty is broadened and that Black, Brown, Purple, and whatever, is seen equally as beautiful?
What can we do that darker skinned people don’t have to look up to only lighter skinned film stars or models?
We already see a trend towards the positive appreciation of more melanin, but what can I tell a boy/girl/woman, who may have been growing up with an unintentionally internalized, old-fashioned colonialist mindset that makes him/her think I’m beautiful?
“You’re beautiful as well,” may be one thing.
What else? Feel free to discuss in the comments 🙂
More about Egypt on my blog:
Here are 11 things to know before traveling to Egypt.
If you’re a solo female traveler, here are some more safety tips and things to know before traveling to Egypt.
Something you have to experience: Hot air balloon ride in Luxor: Book your hot air balloon ride here.
How Mint is changing women’s lives in Egypt – an interview with the founder and owner of Egypt’s first pole dance studio
Yara Said: How this Egyptian fashion designer made her dream come true
Photographer: Osama Aref
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