Traveling While Black - Volume 1
Navigating the world as a minority and what not to say/do if you're not!
I once had a conversation with a white friend of mine from Minnesota, a state void of much diversity, in which he asked me why I didn't want to venture out into Eastern Europe instead of the West and I had to politely educated him that as a blonde, white male, with blue eyes, the world is his oyster. He would fit in as though he lives just a block over, however I (we) don't have that same privilege.
When travelling, there are things everyone need to consider like what to pack, what your budget is, how are you going to get around, do you need a visa; that's normal. However, lets face it, if you are not a person of color, you don't plan your trips thinking how will I be treated because of your race. We, however, have to. Even though it is 2019, we have to deal with the stares, the slurs, the comments, and myriad of other things while traveling which deters a lot of black folk from stepping outside of their comfort zones and experience the world like everyone else.
I have not seen the film Green Book yet, but I am familiar with what it was based on.
The Negro Motorist Green Book was a guidebook for African-Americans that was simply referred to as the Green Book. It was originated and published by African American, New York City mailman, Victor Hugo Green, during the era of the racist Jim Crow Laws, when open and often legally prescribed discrimination against African Americans especially and other non-whites was widespread. Even though it was difficult for black folks to get cars, many did as soon as they could but faced variety of dangers and inconveniences along the road, from refusal of food and lodging to ridiculous arrest. Because of that, Green wrote his guide to services and places that were welcoming to African-Americans. It eventually began to spread and develop in to a travel agency.
Green said he created that guide "to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trip more enjoyable", and that is why I am writing this article now.
Historically, travel in the African American community has not been so common for several reasons. Economic disparity and fear of the unknown has caused many Black Baby Boomers and Generation Zers to remain landlocked in America. Because of this and because of the vast African Diaspora throughout the world, traveling as a black person comes with its own risks, issues, and experiences.
***NOTE, I AM A BLACK MAN! I AM WRITING THIS FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF MY BLACK EXPERIENCE***
I grew up in the south and people are actually crazy in the world. Unlike Jussie Smollet, I have actually experienced racial remarks while out and about, not only in the south but various places including LA. I have received disrespectful and racist comments online from internet trolls, and I have received really nasty looks from white folks (American and International). However, that is where its stopped for me.
Before I went to Barcelona, I spoke to a black co-worker about her experience in the city and if there was something I needed to be aware of while traveling there and she informed me that Barcelona was one of the few places in the world that she had actually experienced racism outside of the US; to the point that someone called her "the N word". That being said, when I went to Barcelona, I felt very welcomed, never felt judged or out of place and honestly forgot that there were racist people in the world. Everyone will have their own experiences but as a POC, it is still important to remain vigilant because the unfortunate truth is that there are people in the world that still harbor hatred in their hearts and ignorance in their mind.
Sometimes racism is blatant and sometimes it is just misguided ignorance or interest. The biggest issue I had traveling abroad, was when I was in Florence, Italy (I LOVE FLORENCE) and it wasn't even a major situation. As I was walking around the city, I felt as though someone was watching me. Turns out an older white male, nationality unknown, was literally staring at me as I was walking. If you know me I have no chill, I literally stopped and stared back....CAN I HELP YOU SIR? He broke his gaze as soon as he saw me meet his gaze.
Another misconception is how black people treat each other abroad. In America it is very typical as a black person, when in mostly white spaces, to acknowledge another black person passing with a nod or a smile. It helps us know we are not alone and that we appreciate each other. That does that happen in other places. The concept of race relations is very different in Europe because of the very different histories. Many times whilst abroad I have attempted to even make eye contact with another black person and would be met with an instant look away. Shocked the hell out of me! However, you learn to not take things personally when you acknowledge that you are the visitor and have lived your own life very different.
If you are one to dating outside of your race, your will be cherished abroad. In America, the culture leans itself to craving the "European standard of beauty". However, Europeans don't really see it the same. Fair skin, light eyes, and straight hair are the features that are considered to be the most beautiful in the USA. On dating apps, black people are at the bottom of the dating pool because of "racial preferences". Black women, surprisingly, are at the very bottom according to an Ok Cupid study.
Let me tell you, I have never felt more beautiful than when I was in Europe. I recognize that it largely has to do with being a new face in the dating pool but it also has a lot to do with the way they view race. It generally and GENUINELY comes from a place of adoration and not fetishization. Many black men have had to face the conversation at some point of someone craving the "BBC". (Urban Dictionary it if you don't know what that means.) Many black women have the same issue when it comes to having full figures. Honestly it drives me insane which is why meeting people in Europe is so refreshing. Our blackness is as beautiful as we always knew it was! Thank you, Next!
In the next edition of Traveling While Black, I will focus a lot more on traveling while black in the states because that is a journey in and of itself. What are some other questions you guys have about traveling while black?