Traveling while black is like an extra carryon you didn’t know you had to bring when you enter a new country. You carry this weight with you while traveling that not most people can’t relate to. Don’t get me wrong it’s not always a negative experience, but it is something you need to take into account when you travel.
I reflect often on the speech my mom gave to me when she dropped me off at the airport in route to my first solo trip to Greece. My mom is a traveler herself and has been my motivation to always step out of our comfort zone told me as I stepped out of the car, “if anyone ask you’re from Belize, you’re not black” I was perplexed… why would she tell me that? it wasn’t exactly a lie, my family is from Belize, but I was born and raised in America. I have always been stuck in the weird nationality limbo. Not quite an African American, not quite Belizean, not a “Latina” even though Belize in sandwiched between Guatemala and Mexico. Why do I tell them that? I asked standing on the curb of LAX, “They will treat you better, trust me” She said.
I didn’t really understand it at first until a few days into the trip. It’s the moment people get comfortable and realize you’re approachable and just like that you get compared to every stereotype they have seen on tv.
I have had encounters like:
-traveler-“you sing, right?”
me: No, why do you ask
traveler: “oh I thought all you people sing, you know like in the church where you run around and yell
me: no, I was not blessed with the gift of singing, have a great night.
-traveler- Serena, Serena….
me: are you talking to me?
Traveler: Ya, you look just like Serena Williams. That’s what I going to call you.
me: palm to face…. (not all black people look the same) walk away slowly
-traveler: can I touch your skin?
traveler: I heard dark skin is cold
me: I’m still a human being why in the hell would my body temperature be different?
While the ignorant question and poor perception of black culture keep coming, I have this internal debate on how to react.
Option 1-Put them in their place and make sure it is filled with attitude and eye rolls.
Option 2-Try to educate each person when they ask ridiculous questions and let them know NOT ALL BLACK PEOPLE are the same.
Option 3-Flat out slap them and walk away.
Only one of these options portrays me as the bigger person.
So, getting past the stereotypes there are some cultures that praise and admire the black culture. There are places like Italy where the men fall all over black women with an infatuation of their beautiful brown skin. I get hit on at least 30x more in a week in Italy than a year living in California (unfortunately not an exaggeration). Then there are places like China. Well, China is a whole different experience travel while black. I cannot count the number of times I have caught someone photographing me, or walking up to ask to take a photo with me, or just pointing and starring.
The beautiful part of travel is not just exposing yourself to new cultures but embracing the exchange of your culture with others.
So, either choose to travel as your own cultural ambassador or embrace the stereotype.
Share some of your experiences traveling to new cultures, did you have to shatter the stereotype?