Walking onto the plane from London, England to Cape Town, South Africa, my first thought was, “dang I thought we were going to Africa not time traveling to the 1940’s ‘whites only’ section of Alabama.” Seven black girls with box braids coming in together and all we saw was white faces staring back at us. I could almost hear their thoughts, trying to work out how these black girls could afford to fly on this plane. We open our mouth and they realize that we’re American. Now I see them trying to justify in their minds that even though I am black, I must be able to afford this flight because I am American. For the first time in my life, my nationality outweighed my race.
I’m from a predominantly white suburb so coming into this abroad program, I was prepared to deal with high class, entitled white people. I was definitely worried due to the specific tensions that still arise between races in South Africa.
To say I was initially uncomfortable was an understatement. I felt so many eyes on me the whole time. I felt like I couldn’t touch the man sitting next to me with fear that he would flinch at the contact. I felt like I had to speak to my friend next to me quietly and to the flight attendant with a sickly sweet politeness in order to prove to these white people that I deserved to be on the plane.
As I reflect on this experience, I can’t help but slap myself on the wrist for trying to be someone I’m not in order to try to prove something to these people who could not care less about me.
As I go forth on this trip I hope I perfect the balance between not being “too American” and not trying to compromise who I am in order to appear to be a different way to other people in this country.