What Makes Black Expats Different?

I often get asked if there is a difference between Black expats and expats of other nationalities.   I always tell them.. that there isn’t a difference.  We want to travel and see the world.  We want to meet people from different places.  We want to educate ourselves and maybe we want to find the perfect mate.  Just like any other person that wants to go abroad and explore the world.  In my mind, there was nothing different.. no story to write about.   But last night when I was out having dinner with some of my friends, I realized that there IS something different between Black expats and other expats.   Let me explain.

Those of you that read my blog… that are pigment impaired  may not know this but we black people… no matter the country, the city, the state, or financial background., will smile, nod, or wave whenever we see another Black person.   We do this in America, everywhere we go.  We do not know each other.. but we acknowledge each other.   Sometimes with just the lift of the chin, or a wink there is just something in our DNA tells us to acknowledge other Black people.

When I was sitting in Starbucks (yeah I found one in the next town over) …. with my friends one Polish, one New Zealander, and 3 Chinese friends.   I kind of glanced up from my coffee and quickly noticed two heavy-set Black women with long braids looking at me.    Of course, as is customary with all Black People around the world we smiled at each other.   I said hello and they came directly over to me.    They were so happy to see another Black person they couldn’t contain themselves… and they gave me a hug saying, “Thank you Jesus, another Black person” … I laughed but I understood their feeling.  When you are in China awhile you get very excited to see people that are similar to you.  Come to find out they were a mother-daughter team, the daughter was going to school in Nanjing to learn Chinese and the mother owned a home in the area and was in the Diamond business. The mother traveled back and forth monthly from their home.   They were  from the Bahamas…. and they were freezing I could tell.

We talked and exchanged phone numbers… and promised to stay in touch.   They were shocked and surprised to find out that I had lived in China for 4 years and that I was married to a Chinese man… (most people are).  They were the sweetest and most excited ladies I had met in a long time.    I introduced my friends to them and they introduced their Chinese translator to me and then they left to get their coffee.

I did not think much of the encounter…. until one of my Chinese friends said...”I am so jealous….”   I was like WHY?   He said… ” Black people are so cool you can just talk to each other, hug each other.. and you just met….wow “  I said, well if you feel bad… I can call her back so she can give you a hug too.….. He laughed … he said… No, No… it is like your all a big family and your so comfortable with each other even though you just met… I want to be like that….”   I said.. you want to be a Black woman? (of course I was teasing him) … but I added… you know … you can go hug some Chinese people.. they are all over the place.   He said... I can’t do that….. I need to be a Black person.  We all laughed at that….

… Later I thought about what he said… and he was right… When other people of other nationalities see each other … they don’t usually hug each other or acknowledge each other just when they pass by…. they may be happy if someone is from the same country or city.  But they never just smile at them because they have the same skin color.

I thought about it.. and you guys may disagree but… I think the reason we do that… Is because no matter where we are from … we feel a kinship.   When we look at each other we know we have all been thru the same things… we are rare and special…. and most importantly…. we always have each other’s back it is like a built in support system.   Like brothers and sisters… we may fight among ourselves and call each other names… but … if we are somewhere.. anywhere…. We will always acknowledge that we see each other and that we got’cha.   Even more so here in China… since there are sooo very few of us.

So.. the next time… someone asks me.. if there is a difference between Black expats and other expats… I will say “Yes… We are family…. brothers and sisters…. no matter where we are, or what country the Black person comes from…. and we always have each others back”  


35 thoughts on “What Makes Black Expats Different?

  1. Luz

    Can we stop and acknowledge this is an American way of thinking? People from Angola and people from Congo (which btw are both mainly black) would not necessarily do this, or even really get together just on the basis that they are both black in a different country. The same can be said of Portuguese blacks and French blacks, south African blacks and whatever kind of blacks outside of African Americans. It is rather culturally driven. Nor would they “my bother ” or “my sister” you for no reason. Please… we really need to stop grouping people by skin color. PS.: I am black.

    1. I am speaking from my experiences in China. In china there are blacks from all over the world and from My personal experiences that is how they greet me. I am not stereotyping in anyway I am speaking from my personal experiences.

  2. Thandy Rogers

    People like you are the problem with Black people! Scared to be who you at in the eyes of others, is what it seems to me! And if you had any since, you would be proud to embrace the one positive stereo types that at least (in my own experience) is about 90 percent of the time true! We don’t have many and it would take an Uncle Tom like you to tare us done even more! And, in case you hadn’t noticed while your head was stuck up your own ass, White supremacy is a concentrated effort by all none melinated groups and sad to say but obviously even our own!

    1. Oh give me a break… the blog was a positive toward black people… maybe you need to read it again… instead of attacking me. I said it was a good thing… that we do this… and I dont appreciate you coming on my blog and insulting me. If you dont like what I have to say… dont read it…

      1. Luz

        You said it well “When other people of other nationalities see each other … they don’t usually hug each other” . They key word here being NATIONALITY! Please lets not assume all black people are the same in every country. I am really sorry to say, but that is a very (African) American way of thinking.

  3. Darrell Lee

    I understand the feeling. When I was residing in Ukraine and Poland, a simple head nod, smile, even eye contact was pretty customary when I was out and about and saw another black person. It was a mutual thing 95% of the time.

  4. Awesome post! I too, have noticed how other peoples of African descent will acknowledge me, when I am abroad. Perfect example is about a month ago, I was in Lima, Peru. On several occasions, Peruvians who were considered Negro definitely would look at me and nod or speak! I am a very light skinned black man, but I do have a deep sun tan. Most would ask if I was from Brazil. But, You have brought up a very interesting view.

  5. Memoria

    Not all Black people are like this. This post is written with the assumption that all Blacks share this way of being. Don’t forget that each person is different no matter their skin color. I would be way too shy to greet a stranger of any color that way no matter where I was. Also, I have encountered many situations where other Blacks do not greet me, and I have also had situations where non-Blacks have greeted me. So, please don’t put all Blacks in a box, even if the stereotype is considered a positive one. We get enough stereotypes and false assumptions made about us already from non-Blacks.

  6. Pingback: Teaching:Not the Only Job for Expats in China « Life Behind The Wall

  7. Kym Paige

    Great piece, Jo! I’ll be relocating to the R.O.C this summer…expecting to encounter some sweet AND sour on the ‘friendship’ front. Regardless…I intend to do my darndest to stay true…greet with a smile; maintain a warm and endearing spirit with each meeting…Will not be moved by a bitter few….^ ^

      1. I love this post, and Like Kym I don’t allow negative people to rain on our parade. When my friend went to Bahia, Brazil, she mentioned how she felt like she was with family among the large black population there. I’m the same way! There is so much negativity in the world. There’s nothing wrong with spreading a little love. ❤

        We are a community through out the diaspora. Thank You Jo! 🙂

  8. There is a sisterhood or kinship as you suggest Jo. This happened to me in a different circumstance but the kinship was evident. I was the Only black woman magistrate working in the Fairfax County, VA jail. Two black female officers brought in a suspect one evening. One officer was training a new academy graduate. Anyway, they were so pleased to see me, that the experienced officer said “Yes, yes!” and the other nodded in agreement. Of course I knew what was happening as we all had made contact. After I conducted the hearing and got business out of the way, I just laughed and we started chatting like old friends. The other magistrates on duty could not understand our exchange as these two officers, so right outside our Nation’s capital and other places in the US, this happens all the time where we don’t even as black people sometimes shamefully don’t expect to see another black person. (Chief cardiologist, corporation president, restaurant chain owners, etc. as I could go on and on). Keep on making us proud Jo!

  9. I’ve met a lot of black people here since the headquarters for the Kenyan Airlines is in my office building. I’ll admit I’m a little envious of the connection among black expats here. Most of the white foreigners I see pretend like they don’t even see me. Maybe I should move to Africa Town in Guangzhou. Think they’d accept me?

  10. I think something else to think about is how black people ourselves forget that other black people travel. Before I went to Japan, I asked my friends about traveling and for various reasons they seemed enthusiastic about going every place except Asia. Don’t even think about asking them to LIVE there. There are a lot of blogs from expats in other countries but so few of them coming from blacks in Asia (this was about 8 or 9 years ago). And Travel TV shows rarely focus on people of color traveling at all. Common sense tells that of course black people travel but when you go so long without seeing one, it’s amazing how fast you become a squealing ball of excitement. I ran into black men often in Japan–I worked with quite a few–so I was really only excited to see black women because it was much more uncommon.

  11. Sweetpea

    I wish this were true mostly in the UAE. Sometimes (mostly), other African-Americans avert their eyes are act like they don’t see you in my arena. It reminds me of the silliness of Dallas, Texas and the cliquishness.

    I was raised in a small town, and my ideals and culture are both different from “big city” ideology. I am warm and I want to make people feel welcomed. All I can do is try to be me — whether I’m accepted for attempted kindness or not!

  12. njoy

    I like the post and somehow it’s true. but I experienced the opposite too and more often than the brotherhood. Maybe I am the pb!! ^^ Joking

  13. Great article Jo!!! Sadly though, I have noticed that in Hangzhou the friendliest of the black expat community are the brothers and sisters from Africa. Those from America seemed to have adopted the concept that it is not socially acceptable behavior to greet a fellow American or African-American. There are two African-American dudes that I ALWAYS seem to run into in the city center, even though they know some of my co-workers and we have been to the same gatherings, they avoid me like the plague and surround themselves with only Chinese girls. Not sure if I should also ignore them or if I should act a fool and call out “Hey! Wat it do??!!” or “Wuz happening!?” Whenever I see another black girl, our reactions are always the same towards one another. That of shock, and pleasant sigh of relief….wish it was like that universally.

    1. celeste…. for the most part… what I wrote was true.. but as you know there are always a few exceptions to the rule. Those exceptions are usually the Black men…. the ones here in China tend to have ..yellow fever… so they dont even see us. I was at a wedding where there were two African American guys.. and a African American woman… only the woman spoke to me… until the very end of the wedding and the guys just kind of acknowledged me at the end because they knew her. I am pretty sure I know what guys your talking about. One has been here for about five years… and speaks pretty good chinese.. so .. he is a little full of himself.

      1. Xai

        I agree, when traveling and at home in the USA I pay 0 attention to black males. I find both at home and abroad they only acknowledge or approach me if they want something ( money, sex or money and sex, ego boosting etc), so nothing has changed. The instant visceral camaraderie you mention I only experience with other black women, which is fine with me. I should mention that when I travel I am most interested in the indigenous men of that country anyway and that often I travel with my nonblack boyfriends (smile).

    2. I agree with Jo. Too many AA men are chasing behind any woman who is not AA and that is fine with me. Because I truly enjoy other cultures of men.
      Forget those guys and ENJOY yourself in China. What a great experience for you. You are in China during a historical time. LOL, you might locate yourself a rich husband. Enjoy!

      1. GeorgeLanceRockwell

        You’re telling her to enjoy herself in China but getting mad at Black men trying to do our thang?

        Hey, Chinese women ain’t sweating Black men anyway though, and Black men with yellow fever lead lives of misery and celibacy.

  14. Awesome article! I have definitely experienced a similar kind of spontaneous camaraderie in other situations where there are very few of us, but never really thought about it. I guess we all kind of take it for granted, but it is a blessing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

  15. Wow this is powerful. Almost the same thing happened to a friend of mine and I in Seoul today. We went past two other black girls in the subway and they were shocked and said “What?” out loud. it was was funny. They were as shocked as we were. The entire subway ride we chatted like friends, like we had always known each other or something..
    So I definitely understand where your coming from. 😉

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