Note: this article was originally posted in April, 2023
A recently posted video of a Ghanaian woman being treated with fanfare in Turkey drew a flurry of reactions in the African Twitter community.
In the video, Claudia Darlene, a tall, beautiful dark-skinned woman sporting a massive afro, is asked by crowds of strangers if they can take pictures with her, followed around by a little boy and even asked if her hair can be touched by a Caucasian woman.
The video, and a couple others which were also originally posted on Darlene’s TikTok account, first made it to Twitter in 2022, garnering over 8 million views.
The other videos showed a man asking if her hair was real, another man calling her Shakira, an elderly woman giving her a free necklace, and several people asking for more photos with and of her.
More disturbingly, Darlene caught a few people sneaking pictures of her while she was walking.
While Darlene was all smiles with the starstruck strangers, she admitted that she eventually felt awkward and had to retreat home. Nonetheless, she made it clear that she had a great time.
In reaction to the videos, many said the treatment was expected, considering Turkey has a small population and most of them had probably never seen a black person before, let alone one so beautiful.
On the contrary, a number of people corrected the notion that sighting black people in Turkey was such a rare occurrence.
The transcontinental country has a black population of over 100,000 people, including Afro-Turks who are descendants of African slaves and African migrants who only moved there in recent decades.
Still, with a population of over 80 million, Black people make up less than 1% of the Turkish population, so the appearance of a Black tourist in less ethnically diverse cities may be a bigger event than an outsider would expect it to be.
A few people shared similar experiences they had in Turkey and a few countries in Europe and Asia. While some of them enjoyed the attention and perceived hospitality, others shared that it made them uncomfortable moving around in those areas.
An overwhelming amount of the people who reacted to the videos, however, asserted that the way Darlene was treated was an insidious form of racism and even shamed Darlene for basking in the attention.
Africans or people of African descent being treated like spectacles seems to be a running theme in Turkey.
A Black British woman shared her similar experience as a tourist in Antalya, the same city where Darlene had her encounters, in 2019 via a YouTube video.
Over the years, there have been several reports of Black people being subjected to more pronounced forms of racism in Turkey, though they are often side-lined by the Turkish public.
Perhaps the most popular case was the 2013 incident in which racial slurs were hurled at African players Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Eboué during a football match.
The players were compared to monkeys and someone reportedly pointed a banana at them.
Treated Like a Zoo Animal
A common sentiment shared was that Darlene and others who had similar experiences were being objectified and treated like animals at a zoo.
Darlene’s treatment in the video was reminiscent of the repulsive history of human zoos, where Africans were exhibited for Caucasian observers, often held in chains and fed like animals in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Portraying Africans as savages, the human zoos were a tool through which colonisers could use exoticism to fuel racism and present the Western world as the pinnacle of civilisation.
It was a wildly successful tool at that, considering these zoos were reportedly seen by over 1 billion observers.
While Darlene was seemingly met with much more admiration than condescension, it is still rather disturbing to be treated as a spectacle to the point of discomfort.
“I’m tired of people framing this as a compliment. Treating us like an animal at a circus is racism. Also this, amongst other things, illustrates why “going on holiday” peacefully without having to think about this type of behaviour is a privilege”, said Twitter user @mateimnotmagic.
Nonetheless, many failed to see the harmfulness in the video as a reverse scenario could be brought to mind.
It is common for White people to also be treated with fanfare in places where sighting one is a rarer occurrence than a blue moon.
In my home country Nigeria, I have witnessed locals in less developed areas rally round to marvel at White, or even Asian, people.
However, it could be argued that such exaltation stems from an inferiority complex originating from colonialism.
Perhaps those Nigerians were so thrilled to see those foreigners because they thought, by virtue of the colour of their skin, they were better.
Or perhaps those Nigerians were just awe-stricken to see people who looked so different from them.
From a more balanced outlook, it could even be considered to be a combination of both factors and this could be stretched to Darlene’s case, with the reverse being the case for the former factor.
Nonetheless, it is hard to view such an incident in a positive light on the backdrop of such a painful history of racism.
It is hard to be balanced when racism has wounded, and continues to wound, our people so badly.
It is hard to see such gestures as harmless when in the past, they have often been a precursor to harm.