Should I be mad that they take my picture because I’m Black?

BY ONEIKA RAYMOND

I love who I am and how I look, and evidently, other people do, too. I say this since, as a Black female voyager, I get A LOT of attention in certain places when I travel. Maybe it is because they have never seen a Black face in person. Or it is because of my dread-locked hair. Perhaps they are fascinated with my chocolate skin. This typically has happened to me in racially homogenous places, poor places, or in very rural places where the tendency is to be born, live, and die in the same region.

Now, I know that you are bound to get attention if you are different in general and that this phenomenon is not only relegated to those whose skin is of a darker hue. My red-headed and blonde friends get almost as much attention as I do when travelling in Asia, for instance.

My skin and hair has made me an instant celebrity in 4 of the 6 continents I have been to, and people often take my photo (with or without asking).

A few examples: in Mexico, a lot of people would snap my picture with their camera phones without asking me. In Poland and Slovakia, whole tour groups would ask me to pose in photos with them (in Poland it was in front of Pope John Paul II’s house in Krakow, and in Bratislava it was outside of the building where Mozart performed his first concert at the age of 6).

In Asia, I am ALWAYS asked to have my picture taken- in Seoul a couple of weeks ago a woman actually got aggressive with me and yanked me into her photo before I realized what was happening.

The only regions of the world that I have NOT been asked to take my photo is in Africa (for obvious reasons) and Australia (presumably because it is a first-world, multicultural country).

But my question is, should I be mad? My general rule is the following: if you ask me I take no issue. I find it hilarious that my dark skin and crinkly hair would cause such hoopla. I also take no offense to having my picture taken when I feel the person/people asking me lack the education about/exposure to Black people and are thus wowed by seeing one “in the flesh”.

Again, I stress that Black folk aren’t the only ones who get attention when they travel. When Liebling (tall and very fair) travelled to India with his sister (red-haired and also very tall and fair-skinned) they caused a sensation, with locals lining up around the corner to get the chance to see these two White giants up close and personal.

So what are your views? As long as I’m not being treated like an animal at the zoo, people can take their picture as they wish. When travelling you really need to develop a thick skin anyway. But maybe I’m just de-sensitized. For those of you who travel to places where you are “different”, what say you on the matter?

SHARING IS CARING

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91 Comments

  • I hate taking pictures for the most part, so the picture-taking (with or without permission) would annoy me anyway. (sorry, that didn't help much.)

    Reply
  • This happens to me both abroad and at home since I live in a city that gets tourists year round. If I am in a part of the city that is even remotely touristy, I often find people trying to sneak a picture of me.

    It annoys me, because I'd be more open to it if people asked. And more often than not, I've agreed to take a picture if people actually ask me first.

    This topic always makes me think of travel photography and how pictures of people seemed to be valued more than pictures of landscapes… I'm not sure what I think about that because I think those type of photos can be invasive. I know too well what it's like to be the objectified "exotic" one!

    Reply
  • I sent you a response on twitter but thought I'd share here too…

    As a black woman, I think if I'm approached in a way that is respectful and genuine then I would be okay with it. As someone really into photography, I see it as being no different than when I want to take a picture of a local person (for whatever reason) or with a local person in whatever country I'm in. I ask because I am genuinely interested/intrigued.

    However, if I was approached in a way that I felt was….to be ridculed or mocked or just not respectful then I would not allow the photo. And I'm not okay with people randomly snapping pics of me with their cell phones or something (luckily has not happened to me…that I know of) since that is not something I would do to someone else.

    I guess I understand that in many countries people won't be used to seeing someone with my skin colour, or hair…someone that looks like me – in person. Just as I'm not used to seeing monks in traditional clothing, or 'real' harajuku girls etc….

    Of course, it's also what you're comfortable with.

    (The only time this happened to me was when I was in Cairo and a black family all wanted to take their picture with me..it was slightly weird because I couldn't figure out why they wanted their picture with me but they were very kind about it and happy when I agreed. I actually felt like a celebrity lol. I later thought I must be the first 'western' black person they'd seen 'in the flesh')

    Reply
  • It was only in Africa that my picture wasn't snapped. All over Asia it was snap snap snap. As long as people ask I don't have a problem. Also if they are snapping my pics and going on like I am in a zoo I usually turn my back or cover my face. lol in shanghai I remember a man took his child and plunked him down beside me, he smiled at me so brightly that I just cooperated.

    Reply
  • I absolutely love taking pictures and I don't mind being asked to take pictures because I'm black. While I was in Japan, only one guy asked to take a picture with me and that was in Osaka. Interestingly it was in England that a bunch of Japanese students asked me to take pictures with them.

    Reply
  • @Spinster: do you hate being in pictures in general? Or do you just hate when people take pictures of you?

    @girlunstoppable: oh dang, even in your own CITY? Do you live in a very racially homogenous (read: White) place? Are you based in the U.S.? For some reason it bothers me MORE to think that in the States (where people are generally more exposed to a plethora of different races and cultures, and thus should REALLY know better) people would be snapping pictures of a Black girl…

    @kay: CO-SIGN! I feel the same way, in general. LOL at the Black family in Egypt who wanted to take your picture… They must have been glad to see a sista from a faraway land on their home turf… Same thing happened to me when I went to Morocco and an Arab guy took me to this Black family's house in one of the towns… They were fascinated by my Canadian upbringing…

    @kimvan: Asia is a trip! The reception for the overwhelming majority of cases is positive so I usually don't mind… LOL at what happened to you in Shanghai.. Something similar happened to me in Beijing- a family approached me to take a picture with their baby 🙂

    @eccentricyoruba: I feel the same way as well. I'm the first person to jump up and take pictures of things I find interesting, including indigenous-looking people… So me getting ticked off about someone taking my pic is really the equivalent of the pot calling the kettle Black!

    Reply
  • I personally wouldn't be offended as long as the intensions are not malicious. From what you say and I read all the time, this sort of thing is common in China where they don't see many black faces. Girl, I like your attitude.

    Reply
  • I have to say I busted a gut laughing at the title of your post. No disrespect; it's just that it's happened to me and all I can do is laugh.

    Now, my travel experiences are nowhere as broad as yours so I've only ever had this happen to me once. One time. In Luxembourg of all places. There are probably all of 25 black people in Luxembourg (there are more but I exaggerate 'cuz I feel to) so we're in the minority there.

    Imagine my surprise when I was asked by a young fella from who-knows-where if his father could take a photo of the two of us. He was polite but very, very excited at the prospect.

    Now, I could tell that he wasn't from Luxembourg; his accent was a dead sign. He was eastern European…but still.

    I don't have a problem with it as long as I'm asked and asked politely. If not, perhaps I'll just have to start charging folk!

    Reply
  • I don't really like taking pictures either, but I will say that I've ended up (voluntarily and involuntarily) in more than a couple of Chinese family photo albums from my trip to China a few years back.

    That being said, the more I travel, the less I mind having my picture taken. Eh, it comes with the territory of being the only brown face in some places.

    Reply
  • @Rhona: Thanks! I just figure that it happens so often that I can't bother getting my knickers in a knot… At any rate, it makes me feel like a celeb… 🙂

    @Tanya: good idea! I'm going to start charging… Lord knows my picture is probably up on some other website somewhere… Yup, the Eastern Europeans are definitely fascinated with our chocolate skin! Unsurprising, since I would imagine that we are few and far between out there… Though I'm positive that I read a blog called "Black in the Balkans" or something like that…

    @ABCiE: Tell me about it! Comes with the territory, which is why I usually smile as big as I can in the photo and put up the peace sign.. LOL

    Reply
  • I believe I told u my views on this, when I was in china earlier this year. Seriously, if they ask, no problem, but pointing, and laughing and taking pictures without asking is most definitely not cool. I had no problem with the girl in Jizhaugao that wanted to hike with me, (which happened years ago in HK too), but pointing and laughing riles me up. I try to be nice and smile, but after 101 times, that smile becomes fake and …..

    Reply
  • I was curious to read the comments on you post because I had a strange experience in Amsterdam airport a while ago.

    I was there with my very blond son in a restaurant queue and three Japanese guys came over and all of them snapped a photo of him with their mobiles without asking first.

    I was a bit puzzled by this and suddenly didn't know how to react since I didn't know their motivation. Taking photos of kids in public is already a BIG no-no so…

    In the end I decided that it was probably the first blond little creature they had ever seen, on their first ever trip out of Japan.

    Anyway, I enjoy reading about your exciting travel experiences 🙂

    Reply
  • @kuesooM: I'm in total agreement. When you treat me like I'm a caged monkey in a zoo, or like I'm some freak/extreme physical anomaly, I'm not going to oblige and have to take a photo.

    @Astrid: thanks for reading! And how cute about your son! How old is he? I used to babysit for a family in France who had a very blonde sun as well. Years before, the family used to live somewhere in West Africa. The mom told me that people there were fascinated by her son's hair and eyes and would always approach her and ask to touch him!

    Reply
  • Very interesting topic, because one day I would be on the other side of the camera (the photograph one). I don't want to especially take picture of Black girl because they look exotic. They aren't for me as I live in France and black people are relatively present. But I want to take picture because I think they are very beautiful (I hold a blog about that). I fill this blog with pictures of others photographs who agree. But when I get my own camera, I would like to use my own pictures, and as I think to take street pictures (because I see so many beautiful black women there who just run their own usual life – and much more than in any fashion magazine). As I don't like to steal or cheat, I would have obviously to ask girls the permission. Hope I will ask to positive girls like most of you who will understand the guenine meaning of my request.

    Btw, nice blog you build Oneika.

    Reply
  • I am in AT LEAST 45 Indian family photo albums. Teenagers, young men, families… they all wanted to talk pictures with my friend and I everywhere we went in India (We were even stopped in Brussels by an Indian family to take a photo!)
    Yeah — it's a bit disconcerting at first… esp. since in the U.S. that would never happen. But I like to think of it as being a case of the unknown… some of these people are just starting to travel or might never leave their country in their entire lives. We are different to them, just like they are to us.
    So when I feel a bit strange about it… I remind myself that that's just about my own insecurities, and rarely is it about the photo-taker wanting to exploit or mock me. (although yes, I have wondered if I've ended up on some 3rd world porn site! 🙂
    Don't overthink it.

    Reply
  • I went travelling through some remote regions of Argentina with my best friend who is black, and she was an instant celebrity!

    The girls wanted to touch her braids, and the men wanted her picture. This one older gentleman came up to us and said that he had only seen one black woman before and it was a Brazilian girl in a magazine…

    Reply
  • I'm white and I have gotten my picture taken quite a bit as well. Apparently, they don't see too many blondes in China 🙂 Groups of people would come up to us when we visited the Great Wall of China and wanted their picture with us… Crazy! In Cairo, about 10 years ago or so, there was a group of schoolgirls that also wanted their picture taken with us… And in both places I saw some snap-happy people taking our pictures without our consent… Oh well! I've taken pictures before too.

    Reply
  • I would probably appreciate the photos rather than the just stop, stand there in front of me and completely stare. I was in Grand Canaria, which has a lot of German residents and tourists. Even the tv stations broadcast most shows in German. I know for a fact that there are a good amount of blacks in Germany so I didn't understand the stares. I mean stopping in their tracks staring…and it wasn't a smile stare it was a "so what do you think you are doing here" stare. Have you ever experienced something like that? Please, if you have share. I was completely appauled. However, I just smiled and said HELLO really loud and walked away.

    Reply
  • When I was in China, I felt like a celebrity. On the Great Wall, several Chinese asked for pics of me, but I made them get in with me. In the Forbidden City, I caught several taking pics of me without my knowledge, and I would wave them over to take them with me. They were fascinated by my kinky twists, as well as my skin.

    In Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos, I received more curious stares than unfriendly ones. I would always smile/wave, and it would break the ice. They'd smile/wave right back most of the time, especially the children. We laughed, made funny faces, even though we couldn't understand a word of the other's language.

    It didn't bother me because I knew going to these places that I would be an oddity. I wanted to present a positive image of an A-A as someone friendly/outgoing/approachable, not aggressive/angry/dangerous, as we are sometimes protrayed in the media. I look at it this way- I'm in their country taking pics of them, their way of life, architecture, etc. to show to the folks back home a different culture. So I really shouldn't be offended when they do the same to me to show their family/friends.

    Reply
  • The flip side to this is when you're in a foreign country, don't you sometimes want to take photos of the locals just because they are dressed traditionally or even because they just "look" local?

    Me, for instance ~ Every time I see a monk dressed out in full garb, I really want to take his or her photo, but I usually don't take the photo because I don't want to seem rude OR I'll take a photo of their backs as they're walking away. (I know, I know. Bad me!) But last month when I went to a Buddhist festival, I noticed two monks who were taking photos of me. When they saw that I had caught them, we all laughed and then I asked to take their photos, too.

    So long story short (though it's too late for that by now), I don't think you should feel upset if people want your photo. They probably just look at you and think, "Oooh, exotic! Pretty!" At least, that's how the monks and I seem to regard each other. 🙂

    Reply
  • girl, this happens to me so often if i had low self esteem i would have a serious complex. i am black, with locks like you, and a big woman, so people flock to me on the streets snapping pictures. once my brother and i went to istanbul, we caused a scene. i dont mind so much, i just cant take the staring and pointing, this is worse in my opinion. we just have to travel the world more and more. it helps us grow and perhaps other people can learn from us too

    Reply
  • @Simple Man: Merci de votre commentaire et de votre compliment!! I can definitely understand the fascination that comes with encountering the unknown/exotic!

    @Fran: Wow!! 45!!! Thanks for sharing your experience! I prefer when people ask me and despise when people try to "go stealth" and take my picture without me knowing! But yes, at times I do wonder what they are doing with my photo!!

    @thatbackpacker: In Mexico I wore braids and people were always tugging on them without asking. :-0

    @Sabrina: In Tanzania, my blonde and red-haired travel companions were stopped by a Black family who wanted a picture with them… Guess it happens to everybody! 🙂

    @TravelDiva: That's really bizarre!! I don't think it was because you're Black, they probably did it because you are beautiful!!!

    @5197…: That's an interesting perspective! I always feel bad about taking "the locals'" picture and usually try to ask. You're right about presenting a good image of AA as they haven't had the chance to meet many.

    @Melanie: Funny story about the monks! For me, it would be more bizarre to see a monk with a camera! I thought they weren't supposed to own any worldly possessions? I guess everybody needs to take pics… 🙂

    @nicole: Good comment! I don't mind curiosity, but it's the staring and pointing (and sometimes mocking!) that I take offense to! Sometimes it's probably my own lack of… I don't know… confidence? or my own self-consciousness that is making it feel like they are staring and pointing at me like I am an alien!

    Reply
  • My ex just went to China and was constantly having his photo taken. We just found out its because of all his tatoos. Granted, the tats are Star Wars and Lord of the Ring tats (he is a dork) but since only gangsters have tats in asia (mostly), everyone wanted their photo taken with an 'American gangster'. What the tats were of didnt matter. The fact that they showed did.

    Reply
  • I’m a blue-eyed, red haired American and was at an event with a few hundred Japanese tourists recently. No one spoke English and women were literally grabbing my arm and pulling me into photos with them. I thought the Japanese were so structured in their manners and politeness. I have to be honest, I was really annoyed. I get that it must be just a big cultural difference, but to have my photo taken without permission, even going so far as to physically touch me, was way beyond acceptable. When I would refuse or walk away they would say “Aww…” all together, very disappointed. I was so confused and annoyed. Totally unexpected. Very very rude and disrespectful.

    Reply
  • This was constant on my trip to South East Asia.
    Malaysia was fine. I could tell people were curious about me because I was often the only Black person around and also because I’m part of an interracial relationship. The only annoying experience in Malaysia was when the Chinese tours would constantly snap pictures of me without asking for permission.

    Bali, Indonesia was TERRIBLE!
    People here would point, stare, snicker and laugh at me to my face! I hated it!
    I was constantly, CONSTANTLY stared at. I felt like a caged animal in a zoo. It was a terrible feeling.

    Reply
  • I personally don’t mind. I often can’t help staring at people who look different as well – and end up taking their pictures too. If I mention I’m Greek, I get even more stares – especially in countries like Bolivia, where Greece is very highly respected!
    I guess that curiosity beats political corectness…

    Reply
  • Most of the time, I enjoy it. If I can brighten someone else’s day simply by existing and saying “cheese” in a photo then that’s a great state of affairs! I found it a little different in the Japanese baths when lots of women would openly stare, laugh and point at my skin and the red tide line that appeared as I climbed out of the water.. But I even got used to that after a few days.

    So, no, I don’t mind the photos. Cat calls and the like are a completely different thing. Then I feel threatened and I hate it.

    Reply
  • no dont be mad.. i can see its frustrating.. those countries don’t know much about black people. specially asian counries. or they only hear negative things just educate them.. congrats on the traveling .. that is great keep going

    Reply
  • Really interesting thoughts. I think it really depends on the situation but I became less and less tolerant of it over my time in Asia. I don’t mind sometimes. 3 years ago I was in a temple in Burma where there were no other tourists. A really old man seemed genuinely astounded to see a blonde girl and was happily snapping away. I didn’t mind as Burma had only just opened up and he probably had never seen a blonde girl before and there were still not many tourists going there. But I started to get really annoyed with some situations. Like when well dressed 20- something Chinese people would ask me to pose for photos in Beijing- I believe they have seen blonde people before or at least been exposed enough through films and TV to not think I’m a performing animal. Or when my friends and I were dripping with sweat eating spicy hotpot in a boiling hot restaurant, a woman came and started filming our faces up close which made us all feel really embarrassed and wonder what she was going to do with the film(on the other hand, we were happy to let a 5 year old come and practise English with us during that same meal.) Or the time the man pushed his wife out the photo so he could get a photo just of me and him (why??!). Or when we befriended a Belgian family and Chinese men started picking up their blonde daughter, putting her in silly poses and she became upset. And a bunch of other times- mostly in China as I was there for a couple if years and travelled all over. So now it’s a very rare occasion I will let people take my photo like that. Sometimes I will let them, then I’ll take a photo of them for myself too if I think it would be a fun photo, but that’s rare. Equally, I try to take general crowd or scence shots rather than individual photos of local people, when I travel. I wouldn’t mind being caught in some general tourist photo that shows the city, ambiance or whatever, it’s the singling me out as being a spectacle and posing with me that I don’t like.

    Reply
  • Ps- just realised this is a super old article- it was linked on a other blog. Oh and just saw your reply above about monks not having worldy possessions. I used to think that too but now I have visited so many monasteries and seen monks with iPhones, laptops and so on. Maybe the youngest ones don’t have them and it’s a privilege? I’m not sure but some definitely do have that stuff.

    Reply
  • I understand you completely @Joella. This happens to me every day (and I really mean every day) where I live in China. I don’t mind that much if people ask. But I hate sitting in a bus or visiting a park and people snap 4 or 5 pictures of me. The video is the worst. What are they going to do with that? Post it on WeChat? And then what? I am learning to deal with it though, as I think this is just part of life in China. I have been to Japan, lived a little in southeast Asia, but China by far has been the worst with the pictures and video

    Reply
  • I know how you feel. My family and I went to China (Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Shanghai) in November and again last month. Many people asked to take pictures of/with us. It was actually kind of fun. They were not hostile or rude, simply curious. It was fun being rock stars in China:)

    Reply
  • Thank you for this article! I personally do not enjoy being stared at and people taking photos of me. This is my first time in China and so far, everyday, I’ve had to deal with the constant stares (for example people stopping in the middle of the pavement just to look at me) along with the screwing and the mocking. I understand that they are citizens but the worst thing is when actual staff members (who have seen tourists like myself) mock my dark complexion (don’t worry, I had a word with them). I’m not used to it as I come from the UK, which is a diverse country as well as I hate being centre of attention. I’ve been too scared to turn down nice couples who politely ask me for a photo with them but I do have a go at citizens who take pictures of me without permission.
    P.S I’m a teenage dark skin female with my parents on this trip who have fortunately kept me sane

    Reply
  • When I was traveling in China with my dad lots of people came to ask for a picture with us. I was very confused about that. I was like ”Why?? I’m not famous!” hahaha I got asked so many times I got used to it while I was there. Everyone was nice though. They were polite and smiling, after the picture they said ”thank you!!” some tried to get a conversation going like ”how do you like China?”
    It was an interesting experience.

    Reply
  • Oh yes, has totally happened to me too (Caucasian and very blonde). I’ve had screaming Indian babies handed to me (they wanted to take a photo with MY camera, not theirs, and the baby clearly wasn’t impressed and wanted his mum back), and all sorts of other attention.

    I’m generally fine with it – I’m as fascinated with them as they are with me. However, I did take offence in Hong Kong recently when a young guy wanted a photo with me – fine – but then told me I’d look better without my prescription glasses on. Hmm!!

    Reply
  • I would prefer it not happen but meh! If it’s gonna happen they might as well catch my good side *CHEESE* and lord knows I am there to take photos of them too.

    Reply
  • Have had people pointing and taking my picture just because I was white in Indonesia. Nothing to get offended over unless you choose to make an issue out of it.

    Reply
  • I have mixed feelings about this. In Montréal, a multicultural city,I saw an Asian taking pictures of a black man without asking him and then saw my sister and started to take pictures of her also without asking her .I understand there are barely black people in their country but it would be nice to ask first. Also, I traveled in many countries I noticed that people have a negative perception of black people (poor, prostitute, unkind. Anyway, what media shows across the world) and when they see a black person who are not as I mentioned, they are suprised

    Reply
  • As in Seoul right now, I experience this right now. The long staring and taking pictures of me without my consent drive me crazy. Strangely I did not have that much attention at Tokyo.

    Reply
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