10 Insights On Traveling While Black
Travel expert Evita Robinson has seen it all.
What a time to be black and travel the world. Running Nomadness Travel Tribe, I have the ability to converse and grow with travelers of color from around the globe. It's a gift I don't take for granted. It's also a lifestyle that has its own nuances in how we perceive the world and how the world perceives us. From my over a decade on the road, I've found these insights to be powerful eye openers amongst the travelers of color I know.
1. Make it a point to travel to places where being black is celebrated.
Nothing feels better than stepping off a plane in South Africa and hearing "hello sister", "hello brother", or "welcome home." There is a completely different energy when you are traveling to a country in which being black is revered instead of something you feel you have to constantly defend. The armor falls, and, even in this land far from home, you're around family.
I feel this, without fail, every time I visit Johannesburg, South Africa. The specific neighborhood of Maboneng is the catalyst of young, black, cross-cultural exchange. It seems like the biggest incubator for interaction is the neighborhood hostel, Curiocity Backpackers. Curiocity, owned by 23-year-old Bheki Dube, is also run by his friends and family--a staff wholly of twenty-somethings making their mark in their neighborhood, and the world.
2. Not everyone is racist. Some people are truly curious and unaware.
There are some travelers who pull the race card entirely too fast, in my opinion. Please, intelligently, learn to decipher the difference between someone who is actually curious about your culture versus someone trying to appropriate it. In addition, allow the natural flow of open dialogue to happen. If someone abroad truly wants to know about the black experience, don't assume they're trying to bring the struggle to your international doorstep.
3. Acknowledge one another.
However you see fit, please acknowledge other travelers of color. We do this in various communities at home, and it shouldn't change abroad. Sometimes, all fellow travelers need is a quick head nod or a smile. Something, anything, to just let them know, "I see you."
4. Yes, your hair may become its own tourist attraction... and there's nothing you can do about it.
Embrace it. And if you are cool with it, let others embrace it too. If not, stand your ground and tell them they can't touch it. This rings true especially for my fellow natural hair rockers--let them love it, and all its glory, even if from afar.
I was in Ferropolis, Germany a few years back attending the splash! Hip Hop festival for the second time. I felt something at the back of my head and turned around. There was a German kid apologizing profusely. "I'm so sorry. I just love your hair. I shouldn't have touched it. The curls are beautiful. I'm so sorry," he said.
And he was right... he shouldn't have touched it. If I was someone else, the encounter could have ended a lot differently. But, I took the teachable moment into my control, told him he shouldn't do that, but I appreciated how much he adored my curls. Then, I voluntarily offered over a curl if he wanted a closer inspection. He politely declined. Point made.
5. You may be the only black foreigner you see and that's cool.
Represent us right. Understand that you may be the only one of "us" you come across wherever you are. It's okay. Represent us with pride and dignity because...
6. The first representation many people have of black Americans is what the media peddles out.
This is a disturbing, cold fact. It's the scantily clad music videos and flipping tables on reality television that make up the mental equation. You can't be mad at someone who assumes that you don't know how to act if that's all they have seen represented elsewhere. Use the teachable moment for people abroad, showing through action, that we are way more than how we are portrayed in the media.
7. Embrace how much the world loves hip-hop culture... and Obama.
I remember my first week teaching in Nigatta, Japan and giving instructions on the sentence structure "Yes I do" and "No I don't." As I was writing "yes--" on the board, I heard one of my students yell out, "Yes, we can!" This was within two months of President Obama starting his first term.
8. Don't be surprised when the last nationality they think you are is American.
I have gotten everything--South African, Ethiopian, Dominican, Brazilian, Samoan. That same look of "yeah right!" comes across every face when they hear I am American. It's like they are dumbstruck, and this happens everywhere!
Last time I checked, the number of Americans with passports was less than 40%, and that doesn't take into consideration the lower percentage who actually use them. This insight is two-fold. First, they don't see many Americans. Secondly, they damn sure don't see many black Americans traveling. Welcome to being part of the cool international kids.
9. Find your tribe.
The Internet has truly shrunk the world. It's easier now than ever to connect with people at every corner of the earth. With the likes of groups like Nomadness Travel Tribe, you are able to find just that, your tribe. Even when traveling alone, you don't have to be truly alone. There is a beauty, and unspoken permission, in the urban travel community to belong wherever the hell you want to. It's my members running with the bulls in and Pamplona, celebrating Holi in India, and trekking all the way to Samoa for Nomadness trips just because we can, and we want to.
10. Don't you dare dim your shine!
Know that your black is beautiful (and handsome, fellas.) Be all that you are, and unapologetically so. I don't care what side of the complexion pendulum you reside, be proud of your blackness and let the rest of the world bask in your internal and external beauty as well.
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