“The Stare”…what is it you may ask? I define “The Stare” as that ephemeral moment when you realize that a stranger is observing you intensely, peeking glances in your direction when they think you aren’t paying attention or non-verbally questioning the intersections of your presumed identity and current location. “The Stare” can last for a millisecond, ten minutes, or maintain an even longer continuity- all dependent on how impudent the “starer” is. Not only does “The Stare” vary in terms of duration, but also in terms of the catalyzing force behind it. In my experience, certain conditions and circumstances seem to automatically provoke “The Stare” more than others. Deviating from the norm in any capacity will easily do the trick. As an African-American Washingtonian who attends college in Maine, I’m no stranger to “The Stare”. Whether it be a Waterville local who gives me dubious glare as I walk down Main Street while whispering something offensive under his breath or the mansplainer in my class who’s never heard a black girl use the word “vitriol” in a sentence, I’m used to people staring at me. Aside from when I’m with my family or in a familiar environment, I don’t look like most people and that always seems to invite “The Stare”.
Since I’ve been in Tokyo, I’ve developed a very different connection to “The Stare” and I can say with utmost certainty that this new relationship is divergent from what I’m accustomed to back home in the States. At home, I feel as though the impetus behind “The Stare” generally stems from intolerance, ignorance, or prejudice. Alternatively, in Tokyo, I’ve concluded that “The Stare” frequently originates from either fear or genuine curiosity. I’ve had Japanese children purposefully move away from me on the subway towards a more congested car with alarmed expressions. I’ve had a few Japanese people take one look at me and cross the street, despite walking in the same direction, when I’m on my way home from classes in the evening. Conversely, I’ve experienced elderly Japanese people stare at me incessantly on the subway with a look of wonder in their eyes – tacitly questioning something. Last week, an African-American friend of mine told me that a Japanese school-girl tried to wipe her “blackness” off with a towel while she was volunteering at a pre-school.
I’ve come to realize that “The Stare” can manifest in a myriad of ways and doesn’t have a hard and fast definition or explanation. While unsuccessful as of this current moment, I’m still trying to determine which force behind “The Stare” makes me more uncomfortable. While I definitely feel less physically threatened in Tokyo by “The Stare”, it still presents a challenging obstacle that I’m grappling with during these first few weeks into my semester.