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I think I was about thirteen when I learned that black people can’t go just anywhere in the United States. It was a very quick, subtle lesson that could have easily been missed but when I saw the concern on my mother’s face when she said, “We’re not stopping in Rogers for anything.” She said this in response to my stepfather’s unfurled map of Northwest Arkansas. As they sat in the front of our family van, charting a route to Fayetteville, I paid close attention to the unspoken tension from the backseat.

My stepfather noted that there was no way of avoiding the town. We’d have to drive through it to reach our destination. But no, we would not stop. From our vacation home in Bella Vista, where money made more of a difference than color, I was more out of touch than I understood. I didn’t notice the lack of black folks in the tiny community, which was devoted to the Walmart corporation. There was literally a golf course behind our rental. Elderly white men, in their golf carts, regularly made stops yards from where I sat on the patio to read.

It was when we made plans to see the university town of Fayetteville, I was reminded that I was black and that I was definitely The Other. No amount of money would change the fact that when we hit the open rode someone would have to pee. There was a good chance that we’d have to pull over in one of those dinky Arkansas towns. Even if we drove through without gassing up, peeing, or stretching our legs— there was a good chance that state patrol could pull my stepfather over.

The journey only took an hour. It was mostly quiet aside from my parent speaking in hushed tones about this forbidden town of Rogers. “You just don’t stay around this area after dark. Everyone knows that,” said my mother. The tension didn’t let up until we got to the city limits of Fayetteville. Only then, my sister and I felt comfortable enough to start jostling around in the backseat. My parents started talking louder; their laughter was nervous with relief.

I didn’t fully understand the term “sundown town” until I was in college and I had read there were many of them in Illinois (where I went to school). If white people didn’t want blacks in their town after the sunset, they let us know it. In the Jim Crow South, The Negro Motorist Green-Book was a valuable lifeline for those who wanted to travel safely. This annual publication informed black travelers which hotels, restaurants, and service stations were relatively safe. Most importantly, the Green Book told us which towns to avoid entirely. This booklet, first published by Victor Hugo Green, probably saved lives in the 1960’s. In a time where the middle-class was booming for all Americans, families wanted to take road trips on the interstate highways. Black families wanted to go on vacation as well. It was just more. . . challenging for us.

I was thirteen-year-old in 1997 when my mother, a child of the 50’s, grew concerned about traveling through her native Arkansas. Twenty years later, in 2017, the NAACP has just issued a travel advisory for the entire state of Missouri. They ask that black people “use extreme caution” while traveling to or through the state. They cite incidents like the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, university students who received death threats in Columbia, and recently passed legislation that makes it difficult to sue employers who are guilty of discrimination. An entire state is on notice.

I have written and spoken about this before. I have described what it’s like to travel to Thailand, Finland, Estonia, and Ireland, as a black woman. I may have experienced awkward moments but I don’t remember a situation that made me grit my teeth and stay silent like my mother did in 1997. She knew better than I the dangers that lie in wait in our own backyard; that simple road trip could go horribly wrong if she didn’t keep her wits about her. What I didn’t realize was that things hadn’t really changed and that, in some cases, we were backsliding. I have a U.S. government-issued passport that will take me everywhere in the world. The sundown towns of my own nation. . . the jury is still out on that.

Fayetteville was nice. We had a chain-restaurant meal and did a little shopping but we didn’t stay too long. I’m now certain that while we had fun, my parents thought about the drive back to Belle Vista and the potential issues that could arise. We took off long before dusk. Our drive was quiet.

 


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Traveling in Illinois Through Photos

Noah and I have been touring Illinois one city at a time and here are some photos that show my cool mellow time hanging out with friends

Here we are still in the South. This fireworks outlet was wicked scary racist. Inside over the loudspeaker, Don Imus was ranting about a liberal America and I found these special trinkets!

But thank God we found Illinois. Here in Champaign, I finally got to meet Evelyn’s one year old sweetie pie Lanona, the cutest, friendliest, child in the world. 

Of course it was fantastic 
seeing Ev and Casey again after so 
long. Soon, Noah and I will be closer
to Champaign and I will hang out 
with Ev all the time.
 

 My good friend, Evan is documenting our day hanging out at Downtown Normal, IL. We went from one cafe to another, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. 

We found some interesting reads located at Babbits Books (shown to the left). I’m excited to drink more coffee and read up on how to be a foodie.

 We stayed with our good friends Lily and Chris at their Shangri-La home in Normal. I found this gorgeous “hair ornament” in their garden before me, Lily and our friend Nella went thrift store shopping

After shopping, we need a good smoke. Only TJ Maxx doesn’t support loitering. Whateva!
 


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If You Haven’t Read it Already. . .

Me on Bay of Bangkok.

Hey guys, it’s your girl Charish, here to tell you of our latest feature on Black Girls with Long Hair. It’s a past blog post from a while back and from my older blog. In it I talk about my Thai travels and how they’ve impacted my hair journey. I hope you have a chance to stop by and take a look. Also, I’d like to thank BGLH for taking my story. It’s nice to talk about my experience in Asia.


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Brown Like Me

*This is an old blog post from my days in Thailand. If you want to read more about a black chick’s adventures in Bangkok, go here*
 

White Dave and Black Charish.

On my last Sunday Session with Dave, we were accosted by a Thai man who wanted to know why Dave was “so white.”

While minding our own business at a riverside park, a not so subtle but very witty Thai man came strolling up to us. He stopped, with his hands held behind his back, he stared at Dave in amusement. “You are you so white,” he said. “Why?”

Dave was more than a little perplexed. I watched in amazement. Could one just state the obvious like that? The Thai can. Things like race, sexuality, and often at times, weight are not at all taboo to discuss directly. I suppose we shouldn’t have been too surprised that a stranger would just point that out.

Dave shrugged. “I’m English.”

The man pointed at my leg. “She is brown.” He pointed to his arm. “I am brown.” Then he finished the circle. “You are white.” Before Dave could reply, the man directed his attention towards me. “Are you Thai?”

“No.”

“Why are you brown?”

“I’m. . .” I was confused, that’s what I was. “African American. I’m black.”

And now he was confused or suspicious. I have had many Thais question my ethnicity, just like some Americans do. They know that I’m not Thai, but I’m not just black either and it must be verified.

A group of my Thai students. So cute!

Another color related issue took place in my classroom. The girls of my level two class are usually a rowdy bunch, but mostly cute and precocious. It was after one lesson that I was packing up my things and about to exit the room, when one of my students pointed out how brown I was. Mai compared me to another one of my students, a cute brown Thai girl named Bell.

“Mother and daughter,” Mai said to us and pointed to our arms. The other students giggled about it and I cringed inwardly. They may not have realized it, but I felt like we had walked into something that was potentially awkward. I looked at Bell who gave me an unusually strained smile.

What I already know about Bell made me think twice about my response. She’s the darkest in a group of light-skinned Thai girlfriends and I think she’s quite aware of it. It might be the reason, she seems to identify with me. She marvels at my fashion sense (truthfully, I hate wearing my teacher’s uniform. I’m glad someone appreciates it) and is always telling me how beautiful I am. I return the favor, not because I feel sorry for her, but because she really is. She’s got lovely burnt sienna skin, dark expressive eyes, and such an inviting smile.

One day, I asked her if she was looking forward to our field trip to the beach (to see those sea turtles), she was not happy. “Too much sun.”

“Yeah? So?”

She pointed to her arm and frowned. I didn’t like hearing that.

I also didn’t like it when her and her friends came to my class, with so much powder, they looked like a gaggle of geishas. It was more obvious on Bell with her being so much darker than the other girls. I don’t understand how she could think she looked better with a pound of powder hiding the skin she was born with.

So as I faced the girls and Bell, I chose my words carefully. “Not mother and daughter, I’m too young for kids,” I told them. “We’re more like sisters.”

They nodded in recognition and Bell flashed me that beautiful smile of hers. Crisis averted.

Race isn’t an issue here in Thailand, but color is. There are no dark skinned models or actresses representing in the media. This isn’t unusual though, many countries and cultures share this idea of beauty. I find it interesting that my experiences here have been eerily similar to the one’s I’ve had as a kid in America. When I was younger, my mother told my sister and I not to play in the sun. She wasn’t as concerned about our safety as she was our appearance.

“Do you want to get black?”
Before I could reply, “Duh, mom, I already am,” I just put on a hat to her appease her.


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Summer Vacation!

Yellowstone National Park Photos

In a couple of weeks my family and I will be taking a road trip to Wyoming for a little over a week to visit family and attend a wedding. We drove from Illinois to Wyoming last year also. This year we are going to stop at Yellowstone National Park for a day or two before going to our destination. Yellowstone is a huge national park that extends across Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. I’m super excited because we will stay in a cabin in the park and live a very simple life while there (food cooked over open fire, no phone, t.v. or internet in our cabin). Very rustic and I likey. I love being outdoors and I love unadulterated nature so I am going to bask in hippieness, lol. Now, we will be in the mountains so it will be cooler (around 60-70 degrees) which will make us temporarily forget that it is summer. I don’t mind. I hope to take some hikes and observe the animals, trees, mountains, and active volcanoes that the park stores. We will have a stroller, baby pack, and a child leash (which I don’t like, but I have to keep my baby away from the lava!) for Lanona so that she stays safe.

After Yellowstone we will go to my brother-in-law’s house for the duration of our trip. My cousin-in-law is getting married while we’re there. The change of scenery will be nice and I look forward to catching up with relatives that we don’t see often. As for my hair, it will be in mini-twists until the wedding and I’ll wear a twistout for the wedding. We have a long trip ahead of us and we will pass through several states on the way. I won’t be posting as often while we’re away, but I will make sure to document our trip with lots of pictures! 😉

-Evelyn