Traveling while black is never uneventful. I cannot attest to what a black person living in the United states or the UK face each and every day of their lives, but traveling as an African to especially majority non-black countries, see that, that I can talk about.
Regardless if you want to hid in the walls like a wallflower, or let your personality and vibrancy shine like the brightest star, you are still going to attract attention by simply being, black.
Why is this such an important thing? In light of the 91st academy awards held a week ago, there has been chatter whether the movie Green Book deserved winning Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. A little background on the original Green book and why it is relevant in this day and age.
The Green book is a book produced from
Unfettered travel was only possible by white people until Victor Green created the book which served as an aid for travels for black people. Without going into the politics of whether the win for the movie was deserving or not, (detailed article by the Vox) I want to talk about how it is traveling while black.
If you’re like me and have to travel somewhere, you do a background research on where you’re going; the weather, how to dress, interesting sites to see etcetera etcetera. But, for an African like me (or black people in general) you research whether it is an atmosphere you can visit and be comfortable.
It’s kind of like the Green Book where a traveler seeks out blogs and travel vlogs by black travelers and influencers and see whether your destination is a suitable travel destination.
While I admit there have been people who travel a lot or have travelled before and not faced any kind of discrimination, microaggresion or even racism(must be nice), most times you have to be hyper aware of your surroundings. Generally this is something you have to be aware of when you are in a foreign place, but by the mere fact of having a different colour on your skin makes you hyper aware.
I have been in situations where I could not read if it was discrimination or just the general culture of the people of that country to be cool, whether being followed around in a store is because I am being suspected of something or they’re just trying to help find what I am looking for, and situations where we may be in the wrong, but if how it was handled was extreme.
In addition, I have been in situations where somebody asked to touch my skin, or even my hair, asked if everyone in Africa is poor because that’s what the media shows them. I blame partly this ignorance on the part the media plays by pushing these narratives and stereotypes which is why representation especially in pop culture matters. I have had friends disclose that they felt like animals in zoos just by being themselves, to the fascination of others. Being asked to take pictures just randomly on the street.
But sometimes I take everything with a grain of salt. Sometimes people are just curios and that’s that. They’ve probably never seen a black person before and this curiosity may rub many in a wrong way. A friend once told me thatmany people believe their country to be racist towards black people but the truth of the matter was that not many of them have ever encountered a black person. Therefore they may stare or ask intrusive questions but that chalks up to curiosity.
I have been asked a lot about my hair, but instead of immediately taking the offended route,I indulge them. I have been asked my name before and when I say Natalie, you can tell a sigh of relief in some because I don’t have a complicated first African name that they would probably butcher if they tried to say it.
It is all about how you want your experience to be. If you travel with a passive aggressive attitude then probably that’s what you also get back. I enjoy talking with locals, sharing and hearing some of their stories, haggling for good prices, and that usually comes accompanied with questions about myself and where I am coming from and good-naturedly, I answer.
My advice is live the experiences, make memories, foster friendships, push beyond personal comfort zones and appreciate the culture.