Skin Color and Foreignness

written 10/26

One of the strangest things about being here is how starkly our skin color makes us stand out. It is immediately apparent to anyone that we are not from here and that fact shapes a lot of our interactions with people. I expected to be treated like a foreigner and outsider, but the thing that has surprised me about this is how attractive our white skin makes us to people…

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3 Responses to Skin Color and Foreignness

  1. Wow. Thanks for discussing your experience of the role of skin color and the biases associated with it. I was just thinking about about this philosophical phenomenon recently. I voiced to my twenty-two year old granddaughter that I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to stand out because of my skin color (as you have just related) and how it would be impossible to blend in with the population of people of color. Some of the factors are that my skin tone is white, I am a woman, I was raised on the West Coast of America and I have never lived anywhere else.

    Your experience surprises me. Like you, I thought the thought of white superiority would be less prevalent in an area seemingly isolated from the conditioning of media and where people of color are in the majority, and, yet, you experience that the people of color that you meet behave as if you are better, especially your hair, because you are white.

    A few months ago I watched a documentary-like 2009 film on “Good Hair,” which explored the idea that black people have a notion that straight, smooth hair was superior to kinky hair, a subject I hadn’t considered previously. I was under the assumption that a person’s features were neither good nor bad, just his or her features (though I have observed that it is often the case that people with naturally curly hair wish it were straight and people with straight hair wish it were curly). I now am under the impression that this is actually not so for a majority of people. It appears to me that self concept and self esteem seem to influence a person’s self perception, and, thus, a person’s behavior.

    It seems to me that cultural ideas influence body image. For example, in America, a woman with a slim body is considered more attractive that a woman with a fuller body. The media and people in general seem to encourage a person with a full body to diet to transform her or his body to a thinner, and supposedly more attractive, version. Media coverage seems to reinforce this cultural attitude. Oh gee, I’m on a rant and I’m digressing. I’ll stop and get back to your writing.

    I can understand that you are disappointed that a country in which black people seem to hold the power and are the majority, that the idea of white superiority exists and seems to be prevalent. Your experience in Tabora reinforces this concept. At this moment, I am experiencing mixed feelings about this idea. On one hand I am relieved that I am white, and on the other hand I wish that all people would share the feeling of equality. I don’t know what I’m thinking. Too many thoughts and feelings.

    So, anyway, I’m so pleased that you are clear on you experience in Tabora and that you share your experience with me, Jaimie.

  2. dory beatrice says:

    Hi, Jamie:
    Your observations are very interesting. I recall similar experiences in India where Indians would run up and want their picture taken with me, for no apparent reason. Apparently there was something about being white and American that gave them status to be seen with me (!). On the issue of skin color and being disappointed, I have seen studies where they find that there seems to be some kind of built-in universal bias towards lighter skin color–even in countries like Tanzania. I don’t think it is understood yet. And of course in western countries (with all the media pressure, history of racism, etc., blacks compare themselves by degree of darkness/lightness of skin, with lighter being better. It’s a bit of a puzzle.

  3. Shelby says:

    Apparently the reaction is to you being the combination of white and foreign. I heard a news story today on NPR about the problems that albinos have in Tanzania. Tanzania has a high rate of albinism (1 in 1400 vs. the world average of 1 in 20,000) and albinos fear for their lives. “At best, they face raw prejudice; at worst, they are hunted for their flesh, the results of superstitious beliefs.” You can read (and listen) to the story at:

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