Borobudur Temple in Yogyakarta, Java, was the first place I’ve been in the world where my racial ambiguity was ignored instead of being questioned.

My friends and I visited the Borobudur Temple compounds, the world’s largest Buddhist temple, in central Java on an overcast and humid day. Built in the eighth and ninth centuries, the temple is aa UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered a potential eighth wonder of the world, so it was unsurprising to see it flooded with tourists.

When we arrived at the temple complex, our program director warned us: “People will want to take pictures with you.” As soon as my friends and I split off from our guide, groups of young Indonesian students flocked around us, giggling nervously.

“Hello, can we take picture with you?” one of them asked. While my friends were swarmed for photos, I was ignored.

I was astonished at how unabashed people were to reveal they were gawking at us based on our skin tones. They didn’t consider it rude to marvel at pale or dark skin or to ask to document the encounters so they could show their Facebook friends. It seemed we were almost as intriguing as the ancient temple they came to visit.

My skin didn’t expose my identity as a foreigner the way my friends’ skin exposed theirs. Unlike them, I was not approached directly. It was not until the students realized I was also American, and in fact with the other foreign tourists, that I was encouraged to join the photos. If I had been on my own, I probably would not have been asked at all.

For the past 10 days, my friends and I have been staying in the village of Godean, Yogyakarta, on the island of Java. In preparation for a performance of a traditional Javanese dance, we sat down to get our makeup done.

The women remarked to each other in Bahasa Indonesia that I looked Indonesian. Over the years, I’ve been told I look Brazilian, Dominican, Indian and Chinese. Now I can add Indonesian to the list.

Throughout my time in Indonesia, I’d seen native women wearing makeup several shades lighter than their natural skin color. When the woman was done with my makeup, I looked in the mirror to find a pale version of myself looking back at me — proof of colorism, or prejudice against individuals with darker skin tones, in Indonesia.

At times, it can be hard to not be identified for what I am: I am proud of my Jamaican heritage and the blackness that reveals itself through my loose-curl pattern and latte-colored skin. My racial ambiguity is a blessing; because of my ambiguous features, I am often treated the same as natives, and for that, I am extremely grateful.

I am fully aware of the light-skin privilege that follows me when I walk into a grocery store or raise my hand in class. There is an inescapable weight of knowing that if I shared the same shading as my father, I may be treated worse.

Still, I have also been trapped by the feeling that people are treating my family differently because they don’t approve of our existence. I have felt singled out by random bag inspections while white people stroll by. I have been ashamed of my blackness at times for fear that others would be less inclined to receive me. I am reluctant to admit that, as a child, I would tell people I was “the whitest black person you’ll ever meet” without understanding the latent self-hatred that burdened the statement.

I’ve also been told I’m “not that black,” as though my mannerisms nullified the blackness that flows through my veins and pumps my heart — the same amount of blackness that exists in icons of the black community like J. Cole or Barack Obama. Like for any other person of color, race is an inescapable lens through which I see the world and through which it receives me. No matter how light my skin, my worldview will always reflect the Jamaican in my blood.

Racial ambiguity could allow me to hide my blackness in most places I reside, but I refuse. I will always be proud to identify as the daughter of a first-generation Caribbean immigrant whose family lived the American dream — every beautiful, broken, oppressive part of it.

Olivia Buckley is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Between Bali and Me appears in print every other Friday.

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