Travelling while Black

They tell you in the guidebooks what to expect if you're gay or if you're a woman. Hell, they need to do it for if you're recognisably black.  
 "Americanah" - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi

Ain't this the truth! Ain't this the truth!

*Ms Adichi speaks a whole lot of truth in Americanah, by the way.*

So while I am not sure what is going on with my life and what 2015 will hold, I still have to at least think of vacation ideas. It's bad enough being a solo traveller - having to find places where a solo traveller feels safe and secure. It's bad enough being a solo female traveller - having to be extra careful in the choices you make as it relates to hotels, travel etc. But add being black to that - it's just a whole other thing altogether.

Travelling while black is real - the notion that this is an issue, I mean. Shopping trips to Miami and New York - no problem. It's like being at home. London - such a melting pot that it's rare that I actually feel like an alien. Londoners ignore everyone - black, white.  But there are some places where I have felt totally out of sorts. The Rome experience to this day, always makes me a bit upset.

Vacations should be carefree for everyone.
This is not me, btw
Luckily, the good experiences outweigh the bad, and though there have been several moments of "wtf!" on my trips, I think they usually had less to do with racism and more to do with:

Plain and simple ignorance - Dear Europe - all black people do not live in Africa. Ever heard the word "diaspora"? I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked to say an English word in "my language". For example - old guy in Florence, Italy. Worse yet, when they find out I am not from Africa, then I just HAVE TO BE American, even if my accent does not quite fit the bill. "Ever been to New York?" Yes, I have been to New York but that is the magic of air travel. I am not American. If someone actually knows where Trinidad is after I tell them, I give them a virtual hug because it is almost miraculous! I am truly an oddity which takes me to the next point...

Curiousity - I heard someone refer to the impolite staring as "rarism" as opposed to"racism". In some of these quasi-homogeneous cities, people like me are a rarity. You are like the raisin in the bowl of milk so they stop and stare and you check to make sure you don't have something in your nose or that your fly is not open because the stares are so pervasive and invasive. Worse, in some cities, the black people there tend to be immigrants, and in my experience, they were usually street vendors/scam artists or hooking. Enter well-dressed black woman and it's like "wtf"? You have now confused the people even more with your bourgie blackness. For me it is always a bit bizarre, especially coming from a place where people stare at you cause they like your ass and want to grab it. Noone stares at my hair, or wants to touch it here, but it is a real phenomenon in some of these places - one that is not cute no matter how clueless or genuinely curious the people may be. There should be a guidebook for residents of these cities - Dos and Don'ts of Meeting Black People for the First Time.

They are just naturally unfriendly and surly - The haterade may actually have nothing to do with the colour of your skin. The people sometimes are just plain unmannerly, unfriendly, uncouth and as we say in Trinidad, "just not on you" and have no damn "broughtupsy".Sad to say, London always comes to mind. They are just a special breed of homo sapien - totally divorced from the reality of life all around them, but when you get around the cold exterior, and get them to put down the iPhone, they can be lovely people. In some places though, they are just like this - fullstop.

But don't get me wrong - travelling while black has the real issues of racism. I have had bus drivers ignore me, waitresses take their damn time to serve me and when they did, I got none of the smiles and sweetness the white customers got. I have had border control brace me as though I were some kind of hoodlum, and Customs stop me to search my luggage and when I looked around, everyone else being searched looked like me. My friend had the cops called on her as she was pumping gas at an isolated gas station behind God's back in the US. And let's not forget another friend who was followed to her hotel room by a hotel employee, accosted and told that prostitutes were not allowed in the hotel.

And it does not matter that we are not drug mules or international escorts. It does not matter that I am educated to Master's level, have a very nice job, with paid vacation and international medical coverage, and zero desire to stay past the time on my visa. The fact of the matter is my passport looks strange and worse yet, I look strange cause I am dark skinned, with dark brown eyes and dark hair. Oh, I'm black. Right. Forgot about that.

But it would also be unfair to paint one city black (pun very well intended) because of the idiocy of a few. Most of my experiences have been positive and a city like Rome, for example, is so beautiful that you just ignore the nonsense and try to make the best of it until you can get the hell outta there. Not to mention I had the chance to meet a friend for the first time ever, so there were a lot of good memories from that trip. I have learnt over time to not miss the opportunities in front of me because of any stereotypes or prejudice people may have. That's on them.

That being said, I am not sure where to go this year. My tolerance levels for nonsense are at an all time low, and it would be nice to travel among more people like myself, but still - the world is my oyster so onward! Ideas still welcome, keeping in mind the solo, female bit as well.

16 comments:

  1. Love this post! I travel alone for business quite often and I deal with this a lot. Add in the fact that I am almost 6 feet tall and it add another dimension to the interaction. Especially when I travelled to South Korea!

    Http://www.LivingHappierAfter.com

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    1. Wow. I can only imagine how you must be so rudely gawked at. But how awesome that you get to travel for work. I can only wish. lol.

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  2. How about somewhere on the African continent next? The comparison should be anthropologically speaking an interesting one.

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    1. Well, we have discussed this offline but I will make it happen - mark my words!

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  3. Well done! I relate to much of this.

    "Londoners ignore everyone - black, white."

    Lol, so true. I found Londoners on the street to be so cold and at times rude. I didn't enjoy my time there because of it. If I ever go back, I'll be sure not to go alone, 'cause it was lonely.

    It actually kind of bugs me that some people need to be told multiple times that Black people can be American or Caribbean. We live here too and contribute too.

    I've enjoyed my time in South and Central America the most. Yes, they have their own complicated history with peoples of African descent - but at least there are more of them (Argentina being a notable exception). In Brazil, I felt appreciated for my dark skin - especially in Bahia, an amazing place to visit. In Costa Rica my race wasn't really an issue. They see brown people often enough.

    In Tanzania, I was stared at sometimes because I"m told I dressed differently - like a Kenyan who has money, lol - or, especially when I would walk around with my white fellow volunteers - that really confused some people. But, it was curious staring and people were open.

    I like Europe, but the issues they have with African immigrants and the resulting stereotypes that impact my treatment as a Black American traveler gets tiring to deal with. I really do not care to be started at. I don't care how "rare" I am. I'm a person!

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    1. London is indeed a very lonely city. I can attest to that. But it is my favourite city. I love all its little quirks but the people can take some getting used to - this is true. I hope you will go back and enjoy it as much as I do.

      A Kenyan who has money? lol.

      Sadly, a lot of these people have no basic training as my granny used to say so while we were taught not to stare at people because it is rude, clearly they never got the memo. And the prejudice is often so vile that we are not even considered as persons. It is really sad. God help them.

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  4. Travel to Canada!!! :P
    These types of things, at least for the vast majority of us, are unfathomable- not because we don't know *that* it exists but because we can't, for the life of us, understand *why*. Very sad to read, although I'm happy to feel like I know you a bit more and glad that you've shared this experience.

    Best wishes for future travels- I'm stopping by from SITS and My Domestic Dish <3

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    1. It happens, sadly, and you never get used to it, if you are like me and live in hope that people can redeem themselves. Still, once I am not in any physical danger, I can deal with it to a degree. Thanks so much for visiting. Will pop over in a bit.

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  5. You know, after I wrote that email to you I remembered your experience in Rome and it made me shudder. I realize that I happen to come from a very diverse part of the US where people can walk around freely without so much as a second glance, which is why I find this so baffling. But also, it makes me sad that you have to take all of these things (female, solo traveler, and black) into consideration when you choose your next travel destination--I wish you could have wonderful, POSITIVE experiences everywhere you went. That said, New York always welcomes you with arms wide open :) Sharing your post now, my sweet. And can't wait to hear about your solo travels. XOXO

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    1. I love NY, Charlotte. Love! Love! Love! So if I visit this year and I do hope so, coffee and/or dinner - a must! At least I know in NY I will not be gawked at like a party trick.

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  6. Le sigh. So I am as white as a ghost, but my mother's family immigrated to Colombia from Morocco, Africa. Half my family is black. My father is Northern European and I am the first kid born in the US. Somehow I got his white features... I travel a lone a lot for work and I find people incredibly wonderful and friendly - especially Londoners. I know I'm treated differently because of my skin. Ironically, in Colombia people have no idea I speak Spanish and understand what they're saying and often they are left with very red faces because of it. Oh when will the world stop judging books by their covers? I hate to read that you've been through these types of situations. People are...just so ignorant.

    And by the way, I love Trinidad and its people (and I can easily tell you where it is). SO MANY wonderful memories of all my friends from Trinidad with whom I went to school (Miami). Beautiful, beautiful.

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    1. I am so glad you had such a great experience in Trinidad. I think that is what makes encountering this negativity when I travel so hard to take because Trinis are maybe too friendly to foreigners. It is just not in my nature to be mean unless I am pushed to being mean (or hungry!!! lol).

      Thanks for visiting. :-)

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  7. OK I say that I take you to London next time ladies, and show you the London that I know where they will serve you a great pint and a story. Will make you eat fish and chips and keep you out way past your bed time. I will show you the warmer side of those stiff upper lips and British no stares....

    I think we should meet in Cuba, and have an awesome time exploring the history.....

    Thoughts on this ladies????

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    1. I am very, very down with Cuba! :-)

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    2. I feel a vacation coming on next year!!!! :)

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