I’m always surprised when people around me are shocked when I tell them stories about what happens to me on the road, anecdotes linked to my color skin. Traveling while black means going through different experiences than my fellow white or Asian travelers. The more I travel, the more I realize it. Although I’ve never felt like I was in any danger, it definitely heightens your awareness levels. Traveling while black means going through different experiences than travelers may go through; good, bad, or ugly.
I must say, one thing that used to get to me is the constant staring. However, now, I realize they are just intrigued by all of this black girl magic. But I can see how it could bother some people.
People are going to stop talking to stare at you; they may even come up to you, and in some rare cases they may even try to touch you. I’ve had a few travelers tell me that a crowded restaurant has gone completely silent in less than 10 seconds when a black person walks in. I personally haven’t had that experience, but I will occasionally catch a stare or two. When I was in Russia, I felt like a overnight celebrity. I had one young man that was totally smitten by me and another young black lady I was with. He couldn’t stop touching our hair (braids), and every chance he got, he was always sitting next to us. This may make some uncomfortable, but I never felt as if they were intentionally being disrespectful.
In most places that I’ve traveled, the locals will greet you warmly. Some of them will come up to you to talk, while others will just wave and keep it pushing. At the same time, there are some place, like Morocco, where I’ve heard travelers experience a lot of name calling. Will that stop you from going there? Unless there are safety concerns, It probably wouldn’t stop me from going. The one thing about traveling is that humbles you a little bit, so I welcome the experiences.
It’s crazy when you put things into perspective. People you know barely want to take picture with you. But we turn away the ones that do. However, in some areas of the world, where they are not used to seeing black people, many locals want to ask for a picture but they’re hesitant. But as soon as they see someone else asking, and you agree, all of a sudden, 15 or more people, come out of nowhere “I want to get a picture, too!” But I have traveled with many black people who are annoyed by all the picture requests, or other ones who don’t have a lot of patience. Just be prepared if you go to an area with few black people! Yes, you are on vacation, but just as you are taking pictures of the beautiful things in their country, they are taking pictures of the beautiful Kings and Queens in their presence. Unintentionally, you become a representative of the whole black community, and the experience the locals will have with you will be decisive of what they’re going to think about black people in general afterward. Many locals will interact for the first time with a black person and they want to know “what it’s like” (not sure why they think it would be any different than any other human being…but hey!). They’re going to observe you; a mix between curiosity, questioning, and admiration in their eyes. If everything goes well, they’re going to roll out the red carpet for the next black person stopping by! On the contrary, if you’re a douchebag, it’s probably going to make them stereotype other black travelers in the future!
Traveling while black isn’t insurmountable, on condition that you show patience and open-mindedness. I know a lot of black people are afraid to go to some countries out of fear of potential discrimination (Russia, India, Italy, Spain…), or they sometimes boycott some countries based on what someone else said, but I don’t think it’s the solution. There’s racism everywhere, not just overseas….. but also just a few blocks away from your place. No matter which country, you’ll find someone who has had a bad experience there. Write your own story. Live life with an open mind, an open heart…and go wherever you want to!