‘Even the Darker-Skinned Indonesians Point and Laugh’

As we wind down our series of stories from black expats, this detailed account from an Indonesia-based reader, Akosua F., is especially distinct because she discusses what it’s like to be perceived as African versus African American—two identities she’s worn. She also talks about how she sometimes misconstrues what she thinks are racial slights from well-meaning strangers because so many other strangers have mocked her. Here’s Akosua:

Imagine having to start a whole new life on the other side of the world. Well, that was me, when I had to leave the States—a place I had called home for the past 16 years—and head to Jakarta to continue my teaching career. While filled with some trepidation, as I left my family and friends, I saw this as an adventure, looking forward to what this new chapter of life would entail. I say looking forward to it because as someone who was born in Ghana, but lived, grew up and attended school in three different countries (Botswana, South Africa, and United States), I saw this as yet another international experience I could embrace. Little did I know what I would be getting into.

Once the novelty wore off, I became painfully aware of the way people reacted whenever I stepped outside of my apartment building, as I quickly learnt how “being the centre of attention” could have a negative connotation. The stares, finger pointing, laughing and double looks (sometimes more) became something that I encountered day in and day out. As a black person, while I had encountered some negative interactions due to the colour of my skin, nothing had been as intense as this experience.

Here in Indonesia, I have learnt what it means to be both black and African (I say African because here, as in America, there’s not much differentiation). Colourism is most definitely in play here, as the darker your skin colour, the more you are treated differently. There is a great preference for lighter/fairer skinned people, with skin whitening/bleaching creams littered around stores, all in plain view. Lighter/fairer skinned people are seen in commercials, on T.V., on billboards, etc.

However, one irony I have found is that even the darker-skinned Indonesians point, stare, and laugh. It’s not only confusing, but disappointing as well, because I would think that because we are both more or less in the same boat, we would be able to connect and even commiserate with each other. I suppose it’s that whole idea of the oppressed becoming the oppressor, in a bid to distance themselves, and hopefully, one day, find themselves being accepted as well. Thus, the idea is, “while I may have it bad, at least I don’t have it as bad you do.” And so the cycle continues.