It was awkward sometimes going to Turkey as a child. The black race is very small in their population (if even counted at all), so seeing two children of darker shades with massive curly tight hair, bouncing around on the local city bus in a small town (that you can't even point out on a map) can be very odd. But regardless of my people's curiosity, it was home.
My brother and I usually accompanied my mom on these visits alone, so people would stare, as if they were trying to put the puzzle pieces together, to figure out where we came from. There wasn't anyone else in the picture to fit the equation of these biracial children. For fun, my brother and I would sometimes sit quietly, next to our mother, and stare at people in restaurants or stores. We would wait for someone to talk about us and thinking we couldn't understand. Then we would laugh and giggle and start complaining to mom in Turkish about being hungry or pointing out something interesting we just witnessed. The reaction on the stranger's faces were priceless.
We were the ultimate spies. By our looks, you couldn't tell we were half Turkish.
As I became older, I would start to feel the pressure from the stares. But who can you blame? Half of the people gawking probably never saw anyone of color, except on TV, so I continued to let them look. One day, when I was walking with my mother in Izmir along the sea coast trying to figure out which cafe we should sit at, a young boy came up to her and asked who I was. I simply stared at him, not saying a word, to see what he would say to my mother since he already assumed I didn't understand his (or our) language. My mom laughed and said this is my daughter. His eyes widened in surprise and said, "Please let her know how beautiful she is." I was a little surprised. Most murmurs were about how different I looked and usually discussions were had about where I was possibly from or why my hair was so curly. I thanked him for his compliment in Turkish not knowing what else to say and he replied, "And you even understand and speak Turkish!"
One Christmas in Bremen, Germany, I was visiting my cousin's home. Half of my mother's family lives in Turkey and the other half moved over to Germany for work. Before dinner, I sat on the couch listening to my cousin's friend go on and on about America and their people. I laughed and listened to his idea of the U.S. It is clear how different media is portrayed in the Eastern side of the world. Then he stopped for a moment and told me he hoped I wouldn't take offense to what he was about to say. The first thing he said was, "Black people are so beautiful." I waited for more because I was clearly taken aback from that statement. He continued to explain to me his idea that black people were superior to the majority race in all factors: beautiful looks (shapes), physical ability (strength and speed), and intelligence (dating back to Egyptian/Afrikan findings and history). This is someone who grew up in Turkey (barely knows his German), has never visited the U.S. or Africa (I'm pretty sure I'm the only black/mulatto person he's met in real life), and has a mental notion of how extraordinary we are. He was so elated with even meeting me, and couldn't stop talking about me!
One summer in China, my friends and I were practically stopped every 15 minutes to take pictures with the local people. We felt like celebrities! Throughout the day, I came to the realization that many of these people had probably never seen anyone of color. I started to comprehend the fascination in the local people's eyes and then I understood. The touching of our hair (and yes even the feel of our behind) left people in awe. They were curious. It was a swarm of Chinese locals telling us how beautiful we were.
These compliments are everything that our American history taught us NOT to believe. And here is a Turkish man and group of local Chinese people who couldn't fathom how beautiful of a race we were. Granted, prejudice and racism continues to live - but you would be surprised at the positivity you will feel if you let those stares and questions become something more than ignorance.
And I say this to those who questioned how other cultures perceived other races - you will be surprised who marvels at your beauty.
Stares, looks, and uncomfortable gazes do not have to be negative. Some people are just curious and want to know a little more.
Every culture has their own definition about life. About beliefs. About people. And about beauty. Not every country has a history like ours. So give those uncomfortable discussions and looks a chance. It might be something more.