On a date that I can’t recall, at the top of a mountain with a name I can’t recall, I stood alone, looking out at the small town in Fukui, Japan. It was the first of many times that I have found myself frozen in contemplation of a series of thoughts that have become all too familiar in the time since. “Am I the first person like me- Black American, from a single parent household, that grew up in the “inner city” of Chicago, etc etc- to stand in this very spot.
Sure, this same question would be ridiculous in a place like Tokyo, but in small town Fukui away from anything touristic, this was a legitimate possibility.
I’ve wrestled with similar thoughts for years to be honest. Anyone who dreams of “making it out the hood” probably has wondered how many of us actually succeed. Now that I’ve checked the boxes for high school and college diploma, acquisition of a salaried job, received the first stamp in my passport, and move out on my own, the need to estimate how many of us made it remains a heavy thought.
On one hand, if by some stroke of fate I was the first person like me, from where I’m from to have stood in that very spot or the first one to have journeyed to Whang Od for a tattoo or to have volunteered in Ha Giang or to have stood in any of the exact places in which I have over the past 150 plus days… if by some stroke of fate I was the first, then what a sad honor it would be for me. It would be humbling for sure. But even the fact that this question must be asked is a reminder of the reality that exists for so many of the “people like me”. Its something I’m reminded of as soon as my first foot slips off “the beaten path” where travelers are less likely to venture. It is a reminder every time a look from a local tells me they haven’t seen a Black person before.
More positively, though, I’m reminded of this reality in moments like at the Saigon Reggae Party. I had just arrived and spotted a small group of Black people I had met a few weeks prior (at the Black in Saigon Happy Hour no less) and we immediately took a picture to capture the occasion of having 4 Black men together in one place; an occasion not likely to be often repeated. Though it wasn’t spoken why this occurrence was so special, there was no need. What’s understood don’t gotta be explained. What was most important in that moment was an appreciation for being able to feel the beauty of Blackness even so far from home.
What I decided back on that mountain is that the answer to my question was less important than what I was willing to do about the fact that I even had to ask myself that question. Thus I find myself at the beginning of a new journey. No matter how few if any have come before me, many more must come after.