Let's Talk About Racism While Traveling
Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime - Mark Twain.
According to Rooben Fils on CNN, for many Black travelers, preparing for a trip is more than just purchasing tickets and packing trendy outfits; it also requires preparing mentally for how others will look at or treat them as a Black person in their country.
Whether we notice or not, Black travelers will often ask questions like, "how will the locals see me or treat me?" "Will they be welcoming or hostile towards me?" "Do they even like my race there?" As a result, these questions stop some people of color from traveling to certain places.
A question I frequently get, usually from Black individuals, is, "Why do you travel to (primarily) white countries?" Following with, "Aren't they racist there?" "They don't like Black people, right?" And my answer is usually always, "Isn't America racist, too?"
When I hear these questions, it's hard for me to answer, mainly because they are not wrong to say or ask; asserting racism no longer exists is utopian. Sadly, racism is everywhere, but that doesn't mean it should stop you from seeing this world.
Racism is everywhere, but that doesn't mean it should stop you from seeing this world.
Only a few times have I walked around in a foreign country and was only recognized or seen by what I looked like. One time was in Germany, where I heard people calling me "Jamaica," "Serena Williams," or "African girl," which is probably the most extreme thing really. Another time was when I was asked to take pictures with some locals while touring alone in Barcelona. I guess they don't see many Black people there... However, it seems unrealistic to think that in 2023, no one has ever seen a Black person in real life before.
Nevertheless, while I have heard stories of people mocking Black bodies or touching their hair, for the most part, I mainly get stares or I am the only Black person in the vicinity. The rule I follow is as long as no one is verbally racist/offensive or touching me, I don't let it bother me or steal my joy of traveling.
Of course, when I travel, I don't go looking for racism, and although I've heard some alarming stories about certain destinations, I'd say 98% of my travels so far have gone smoothly. I've found that humans worldwide are primarily good-natured, and traveling will help you realize the same. In my opinion, despite our differences, the same people over here in America are the same overseas, meaning while there are good people everywhere, there are also ignorant people as well.
This leads me to my next point: countries abroad can be just as racist as in America. Black Americans and other BIPOC communities in the USA face substantial prejudice right at home, so we are not irrational for asking or being skeptical of traveling to different areas.
In fact, blogger Rooben Fils quotes a Canadian Black woman who asks, "how can you be scared to go to Italy when you live in the US?" Implying that some Canadians are more reluctant to travel to the USA than to Italy. In addition, Rhonda Colvin from the Washington Post discusses how some people feel safer traveling abroad than in their home country since America has an extensive history of being and upholding racist policies.
As for myself, to this day, my vulnerability extends to various regions of America, and I know I am not alone in this feeling. Therefore, when I travel abroad, I don't get too offended when I experience these things, mainly because I live in a country that does the same thing.
Still, I don't think it is okay, and it does frustrate me that we live in a time where your skin color meets the person before you do. So, it is no surprise that some Black travelers are eager to figure out what they can anticipate in another country and how they will be treated there.
Colvin shares how author and travel blogger Nadeen White expresses similar concerns. She states, "I live in Atlanta, Georgia, and the Southern states scare me. Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, and even parts of North Carolina and Florida," she says. "During the past two elections, my husband and I were cautious about traveling to these areas and canceled a road trip to Tennessee."
Colvin further notes how other ethnicities face these problems, explaining how a Korean woman in 2017 was "rejected by an Airbnb host because of her race." On another account, an Asian-American colleague shared that she and her family avoid traveling because she fears people won't accept them or understand their accents. Therefore, the fear of traveling due to race happens to all BIPOC communities.
How can you say this is the greatest country in the world if you've never traveled and seen what else is out there?
Though these arguments on fears while traveling are valid, many BIPOC travelers, including myself, still find traveling rewarding. Whenever I have reservations about a destination, I tend to ask myself, how can I judge a country and the entirety of its people if I have never been there? For instance, how do you know that you don't like a specific kind of food if you've never tried it? And ultimately, how can you say this is the greatest country in the world if you've never traveled and seen what else is out there?
So, if you're questioning if you should travel to a particular area, here's what I recommend: Phase out the negativity of traveling as a Black person or any BIPOC ethnicity. Don't fear the prejudice, stares, or judgments from others. Don't let others' ignorance stop you from living your life or seeing the places you want to see. Of course, be safe, take precautions, and always be aware of your surroundings. Also, listen to your gut, and if you don't feel safe, leave.
Most importantly, remember to have fun and enjoy everything this world offers.
Colvin, Rhonda (2018). TRAVELING WHILE BLACK. Some Americans are afraid to explore their own country, concerns that evoke the Jim Crow-era Green Book. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/national/wp/2018/01/26/feature/traveling-while-black-why-some-americans-are-afraid-to-explore-their-own-country/
Fils, Rooben (2022). The travelers facing down racism to see the world. https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/black-travelers-facing-down-racism/index.html