I went home to Texas for three weeks in June to start Ramadan with my family. I decided at around May that I wanted to go home and see my family. What made me make this decision was a number of things: 1) my trip to Vietnam was cancelled; 2) I didn’t want to stay in Indonesia for Ramadan; and 3) Even though I’ve lived away from my family before, I always seemed to show up at least once a year. This was the longest I’d been away from my family without visiting so I was getting the itch to go see them.
My visit was great. I got to spend a lot of time with my mom, little sister, and one of my older brothers. I saw friends and family in Texas and Louisiana, met up with some recent RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) in New Orleans while I was visiting my sisters. We went to Essence Festival and it was a great time to be in New Orleans. We were in a sea of Black people and it was amazing. I didn’t realize how much I missed seeing Black people until I was in the convention center surrounded by beautiful Black men and women of all shades of Black and Brown, some with permed hair, a lot with natural hair (so many twist outs, it was great), and some with dreadlocks. I missed the diversity in our hair, that’s how much I missed Black people. I loved being there and I found myself smiling too much at strangers, but being in New Orleans they just smiled back.
Now I am back in Indonesia just thinking about that experience. I didn’t find it difficult to leave the States again partially because I really enjoy being a PCV and I want to finish my service strong, but also because the experience I had being with Black people in New Orleans reminded me that we as Black Americans/African Americans have our own culture I want to share with my Indonesian counterparts. I’ve spent the past year and some months asserting my American-ness so now I want to share my Black American experience. For so many people in Indonesia the concept of a Black American was unusual until Obama became president and that is how they understand my being Black and also being American. Many of them are shocked to hear that there are Muslims in America as well but for now I want to talk about my Black-ness. I want them to know that the Western world is not solely made up of white people of who we all aspire to imitate in looks, intelligence, and wealth. I want them to know about the intelligence and wealth of the Black experience and to see the diversity even within those experiences.
I realize that this is a large task and I work at one school, but my goal isn’t to change all of Indonesia, all of the people in my town. My goal is to educate the willing on the diversity in the world and to understand the diversity within their country. This is an exchange and its best to explain ideas within the cultural context of those you are around. Indonesia is greatly diverse but paraphrase W.E.B. Du Bois, the problem with race relations in Indonesia is the problem of the color line. Colorism is a big thing here and in most places that value whiteness over everything. It’s hard to be a person of color in a place where people expect Westerners to be white and who see white as the only way to be beautiful. Part of my Peace Corps work is cultural exchange and my goal is to exchange that Black is Beautiful.