Confessions of a Black Traveler – My Experiences Abroad

by Roni

Traveling solo is a wonderful way to see the world. You don’t have to worry about pleasing anyone else, you can come and go as you please, and you can focus on the things that make you happy. However, when you travel the globe as a Black woman, you may deal with things you haven’t dealt with before. Here are some interesting things I’ve run into as a Black traveler.  Keep these in mind as you travel the world as a Black woman.

Photo by Melody Jacob on Unsplash

I don’t think they’ve ever seen a Black person!

There are many countries around the world that simply aren’t accustomed to seeing Black people. Much of their interactions with Blackness is only through movies or TV shows. For some, seeing a Black person up close and personal is a dream come true. This may be hard to believe but it’s absolutely true. Due to the rarity of Blackness in their life, they can’t help but stare when they see you. Many times, it won’t be a subtle glance. They may stare at you and not even try to hide it. Be prepared.

Please don’t touch!

In 2019, you would think people would know to not reach out and touch a stranger’s hair. But many people haven’t gotten that common sense memo, so be prepared to have foreign fingers try and touch your hair. Your resplendent natural crown is something many foreigners have never seen and they simply can’t, or don’t, see any need to control their reflexes. Of course, this also happens in The USA, but it isn’t only an American thing so be prepared.

Having folks stare at you is one thing, but many of them may reach out and try and touch you. While in Vietnam, I had people literally reach out and try to touch my skin…without asking.

I was walking around with strapless dresses because it was excruciatingly hot, so my skin was exposed and many felt it was an invitation to touch me. It wasn’t. I had to perfect my Matrix moves and dodge all kinds of unwanted touches, to the point that I started walking around with my BOSE headphones and sunglasses so I looked unapproachable.

Guarding against unwanted touch is exhausting. I channeled my inner Beyonce, walked on by, and felt like a superstar.

I do not speak for all of Black America.

For whatever reason, people will ask questions like, “What do Black people think about…” or “Why do Black people…” and expect you to be the voice of all 42 million Black Americans.

People seem to think that Black Americans all think the same because we are on the same color spectrum. Of course, this is a ludicrous, but common, thought. And because many think that saying the phrase, “I don’t see color” is acceptable, they tend to forget that we are not monolithic.  

Many Black Americans have shared cultural experiences (if you ask a Black woman what a ‘kitchen’ is, she will probably know. And she isn’t going to say where you cook your meals). However, each black traveler is still an individual and has individual thoughts.

When people don’t have diversity in their life, they will often look at the one person they meet as the spokesperson for that race. And if you are the only Black person they have ever met, they will assign that role to you.

Black is beautiful.

As women, we tend to get attention no matter where we are. However, when you travel the world as a Black woman, your beauty and uniqueness may be appreciated in unexpected ways.

Along with the stares, there are looks of admiration, glances of intrigue, and people openly praising you for the skin you have been told is mediocre by mainstream American society.

photo by jakob-owens-unsplash

Traveling to other countries can do wonders for your self-esteem because you feel appreciated. You feel valued. The magnificent creation you are shines through, and instead of the sassy sidekick that normally represents you on Hollywood screens.

Being dark-skinned in America comes with challenges. Others tell us in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that our dark skin isn’t good enough or is inferior because of our rich melanin.

However, when traveling overseas, people often express their admiration and appreciation for the richness of your darkness. You will hear, “You are so pretty!” instead of hearing, “You are so pretty…for a dark-skinned girl.”

A Black traveler does not equal prostitute.

Can you believe some people mistake Black women travelers as prostitutes? Even though Black people spend well over $50 million dollars a year on travel, a Black woman traveling alone still is an anomaly to some. Because of this ingrained ignorance, a Black woman sitting at a bar who is minding her own melanin business may be thought of as a prostitute. Don’t take it as an offense. Remember that their assumption reflects their lack of exposure, and not your character or demeanor.

Will I marry you? No…well…maybe.

Many foreigners will see you and immediately fall in love with you. Well, they may think they are in love with you. Foreign men seem to not play the games that many American men play, so you may find that if you spend some time with someone, he may want to marry you. Of course, you need to be cautious because there are some men who will see you as a ticket to freedom because of your passport, so be careful.  

Carry-On Girls

You likely won’t see any Black travelers represented in media, souvenirs, etc.

Again, even though Black people spend well over $50 million dollars a year on travel, you rarely see them represented in the tourism industry. I decided that has got to change! Now you can decorate your travel gear with images that look like you! My stickers and magnets come in 3 shades and 4 different hairstyles, so make sure to get yours and represent your melanin!

Finally. I’m free to relax.

Even with all of the stares and touching, there is a freedom you feel when you leave The USA. I find yourself walking around feeling extremely free and having a sense of freedom that simply doesn’t exist all of the time when I’m walking around American streets.

You don’t have the fear that a policeman will pull you over and shoot you, you don’t think about being attacked by random men on the street. Horrible news stories don’t bombard you every moment showing people who look like you as villains and criminals. You have a sense of calm and peace that you didn’t realize you didn’t have while at home.

Embrace being a Black traveler

Being a Black traveler is a truly wonderful thing. You will learn so much about yourself because you will see all of the things that your history books failed to tell you. Your adventures will open a treasure trove of happiness that only a plane ticket and a new destination can give you. Embrace your melanin gifts and travel like the queen you are.

 

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