I've traveled to far reaches of the globe for decades and have met hundreds of people who have graciously embraced me. Experiencing cultural and ethnic differences has not only been fun but I've learned a lot.
Last month I traveled through Siberia on the ZarinGold Trans-Siberian Railroad, and during a visit to one of the most important lakes in the world, I had a real cultural experience. I was there filming the 4th season of our "Grannies on Safari" travel show and had a little entourage of cameramen, filming equipment and a translator. While waiting for the ferry to take us across Lake Baikal, a very young Russian mother approached our guide and asked if she and her family could take a picture with me. I thought this was charming and agreed. Since we were in Siberia it seemed natural to me that people in this rural area would find our TV crew a little exotic. Then an entire group of Russian tourists asked if they too could take my picture! I was a novelty and it was 2010!
I started wondering why me, as the other co- host was available too. When asked, our local guide explained that a large percentage of Russians, especially outside of Moscow, had never seen a black person like me up close and personal. She told me they were just curious and happy to have the opportunity to be near me. The requests for pictures continued throughout our trip in Mongolia and Beijing, I wasn't offended and obliged all requests.
The experience did get me thinking about being a black person in America. I'm a child of the 60's and did participate during the civil rights movement. I've seen a lot of changes - most for the good -- and like many from my era I've kept one eye open to be sure the rights gained are still in place. American's will always struggle with the issue of color but in the last 20 years or so, we seem to have kept the discussion civil. For the most part, Americans just go about their business and although we fuss and fight, we generally leave color out.
When the locals in Siberia took my picture, they saw me as a black person, not necessarily an American. The act of taking my picture was a way for them to have a new and unusual experience - documenting that they too have traveled far.
On the road in Siberia,
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