Black in Indonesia: Experiencing Racism
“Berapa?” “How much?” I asked the taxi driver while opening my bag. I glanced at the meter and noticed that it wasn’t on. Not this old trick again. I mentally kicked myself for not checking it when I first got into the taxi. I’ve taken a taxi many times to work and know the price shouldn’t be more than 18,000 rupiah.
“Lima pulluh ribu.” “Fifty thousand” he said now looking out his window.
I took out a fifty thousand note and told him I wanted 30,000 rupiah. Suddenly he said in English,
“Oh no misses. Fifty thousand.”
“Kembali.” I said, my impatience growing. I stretched out my hand palm up, expecting my change.
He turned around and fiddled in his shirt pocket muttering. Then he told me he had no change. I offered to run inside my school and make change. He waved me off while holding my money in his hand. The next words out of his mouth were “hitam monyet,” black monkey.
“Aku hitam monyet?” “I’m the black monkey?” He looked me dead in the eye and said, “Ya.”
Enraged, I snatched my money from his hand and slammed the car door so hard I thought the hinges fell off. He didn’t follow me into the building, but shouted,” HITAM MONYET!” as he drove off.
Inside my school, I took a few deep breaths at my desk, holding back tears and fighting the sudden nausea threatening to expel my lunch.
I knew being Black in Indonesia wasn’t going to be easy. On my first visit here, people lined up to take pictures of me and my friends at Tanah Lot Temple in Bali. That day, my skin was rubbed and my hair touched. I fell in love with Indonesia’s natural beauty and decided last year that I would move. I desired to be surrounded by majestic beauty and Indonesia provided that. I wanted to be near bubbling volcanoes, majestic mountains, turquoise waters and powder white sand beaches. What I didn’t know last year was how much of a spectacle I would feel everytime I go out. The stares, the pointing, the laughing and pointing and people taking my photo on the sly are overwhelming.
After living here for seven months now, I have a much better grasp of the language. Acquiring the language has culturally opened up doors for me. For the most part, I have been treated with Indonesian hospitality that rivals no other. However, I feel that one racist encounter is too many. So far these are my experiences. I hope not to add any more to this list.
I have a lot of travel planned for the rest of my time here in Indonesia. I wanted to take on a morning teaching job to help pay for my excursions. Two months ago, I asked the other teachers if they had any leads. One said to send him my resume. A week later I followed up. He said, “They asked me if you were black or white. I told them you were black and they said no. They want a white person.” Until today, that school still has an opening for a native speaker to teach English.
Three weeks ago, on a Thursday night at 10:30pm, my boyfriend, JP and I cozied up for a movie on the couch. There was a knock on the door. It was someone from our broker’s office. He said we had to move. What? Why? He didn’t seem to know. He was just sent to tell us to move.
JP got on the phone immediately to the broker. My mind went wild with scenarios, maybe there was a gas leak, or an evacuation. I listened as JP got angrier then promptly hang up the phone. He looked at the man at door said, “Don’t come back here with this foolishness.” Then slammed the door in his face.
“What’s going on?”
Whenever JP is disillusioned with Indonesians he says, “You know, Indonesians are so funny.” He began telling me tale the same way.
“Indonesians are so funny. The broker says we have to move because the owner of the apartment says he doesn’t want Black people in his place. I told him we are not moving. Six months rent have already been paid. They always do this to Blacks here.”
My jaw dropped. I looked at the calendar. Yep, it was still 2012 and not 1955 Jim Crow.
“They always do this to Blacks here.” JP’s words resonated with me. Was this a reasonable request here in Indonesia? I asked around and apparently, it is. I was told of a nearby apartment complex, that banned blacks from living there. A former white English teacher was dating a Black man and security told her he wasn’t allowed to visit her anymore. On Facebook, I was messaged by a young lady who used to live here and was thrown out of a restaurant because she was Black. Apparently she’d missed the “No Blacks” sign posted in French.
This last experience has left me feeling sick. My mind keeps going back to a time when a demand like this was entirely reasonable. A time when our defiance would have been met with a lynch mob. I posted this experience on my personal Facebook page and many people suggested that I move out of concern for my safety. So far, the landlord and the broker have been quiet since our refusal. We are not moving because his reason is bullshit. Secondly, there has been no talk of us getting our money back. So, if he intends to keep our money then we will be here until the lease expires. We are staying for our dignity, our pride and our right to be treated like human beings. We are staying because we believe the lyrics to “War” by Bob Marley and “Imagine” by John Lennon aren’t entirely possible until mindsets are changed. Sure it is not our responsibility to change racist mindsets, but judging from the Facebook comments, who else will do it our situation? The landlord might have our money, but he most certainly will not have our obedience.