Traveling internationally can be eye opening, inspiring and beautiful. It can also bring its own challenges like forgetting your passport at home and realizing it when you’re 15 minutes from the airport, ensuring that you’re up to date on certain vaccinations (depending on where you’re visiting) and making sure that you’ve packed everything in your luggage. I can’t count how many times I’ve forgotten my toothbrush at home. (Don’t judge!) However, something I never forget is that I’m traveling somewhere else and my Blackness will always travel with me.
I remember the first time this came up in conversation; I planned to do an alternative spring break in Spain. This was my first time going out of the country and I was beyond excited to bask in Spanish culture and test out my skills with the language. As one of three Black students going on the trip (all of whom I knew — one of them I was dating), being “the only one” or “one of few” in my class was one thing; however, going to a country where, in my mind, no one would remotely resemble me or understand my experience was a bit nerve wracking. I remember inquiring about the presence of Black communities in Spain with my white professor and being met with uncertainty. Honestly, how could he really know? My family also had a limited view, as majority of my family had not gone out of the country and those who did went as far as Niagara Falls, on the Canadian side. So, I was left in the dark on understanding how to navigate Spanish society without looking like a Spaniard — or so I thought, since Black Spaniards are very much a part of the country.
Nevertheless, I went and loved every moment of my trip and came out unscathed. Yet, this notion of concerning myself with how my Blackness is perceived in various nations always comes up before traveling abroad, let alone domestic trips. Being Black in the United States versus being Black outside of it brings forth common situations and a variety of differences. With Black folks being in the United States since the first group of slaves arrived on the eastern shores of Virginia in 1619, the forced labor of the Black community has always been a part of the economic bedrock of this nation. Yet, Black folks have and continue to be on the receiving end of a multitude of injustices on a social, economic and political level here in this country. So, whether it’s covert or overt, most Black folks are familiar with adverse treatment for just existing in the United States, but experiences outside of the States can be just as daunting. Of course, being able to travel within and outside of the U.S. brings with it an air of privilege, but that fades into the background pretty quickly when faced with situations that place assumptions about our race into the forefront.
Black people are everywhere and there are numerous countries with either majority Black populations or with sizable Black enclaves, but what about the countries that aren’t full of the "highly melanated?” What does that experience mean for us there? Well, it means a different form of socialization towards Black people, that in turn, can produce some incredibly eye-opening, yet harmful experiences. In other words, it can go from mild to wild really quick. A few examples:
– Two Black friends of mine traveled to Italy and Greece one summer and couldn’t hail a taxi as quickly as their Grecian (white) counterparts.
– Having standard water cooler talk and hearing your Black co-workers describe their experience traversing through east Asia while being gawked at or mistaken for multiple Black celebrities that look nothing like you.
– Or my own experience in Montreal, Canada, where I remember walking into a bar with my boyfriend and being asked “What are a couple of dark guys like you doing here?”; no joke.
These are just a few isolated incidents, but are more than enough to jumpstart the past experiences of others who have endured similar situations. Anti-Black sentiment has an international reach that is more pervasive than what we think at times. While we shouldn’t be subjected to blatant and discreet forms of racism anywhere, due to anti-Black socialization within certain countries, it makes it hard to miss. With limited Black representation and nuanced understanding of Black people across the globe, skewed depictions of our culture, and interactions that make you feel like you’re in the setting of “Get Out,” traveling to places where being Black isn’t the norm can sometimes feel like you’re traveling into a minefield full of microaggressions waiting to be stepped on.
So, should we cease all travel? Of course not. How else are we going to see beautiful, Black people living their best lives on Instagram? We deserve to explore the world just like anyone else. To expand our own perspectives and to connect with others we may never have had the chance to connect with before. With that being said, here are a few things to keep in mind:
– Educate yourself, beyond Wikipedia, on the location you’re visiting. Research what the country’s demographic is like and review the country’s history. Use digital resources like Lonely Planet to your advantage to prep yourself for your stay. Remember that it’s not your job to educate others about who you are, but you can educate yourself on what to expect from them.
– Seek out online groups that provide support to Black travelers. It takes a village to raise a child they say. Well, it also takes a village to raise a well-rounded traveler. Lean into these online communities to gain critical insight from others who have been there, done that, and want to ensure that others don’t have to go down the same roads they’ve trodden. Sites like Black & Abroad, Black Girls Travel Too, Black Travel Movement, Noirbnb and Travel Noire.
– When things get too rough, step away from the situation and elevate your own self-preservation with self-care. Take time to meditate, journal or even take a few deep breathes if you prefer solitary self-care. Apps like Headspace and Diario can assist you with these. Otherwise, if you’re not traveling alone and prefer getting your energy replenished from others, spend time with travel companions. Debrief and decompress with them and get what you need to get back to 100. Don’t risk internalizing those negative emotions that can come from dealing with racism.
– Bring things with you that remind you of how great your blackness is while on these trips. Whether it’s that favorite shirt, necklace or something as simple as a written affirmation, keep that with you to keep yourself centered and remind yourself of your #BlackBoyJoy, #BlackGirlMagic or #BlackNonBinaryBliss.
Travel where you want to and make memories that will last for a lifetime. Recognize that the world views Black folks in different ways and not all of them are in the most flattering of lights. Yet, don’t let that deter you from living your best life and from exploring the world in your full, beautiful, Black self. Catch that next flight out, explore the world and find yourself on a life changing adventure.