“There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment.” – Victor Hugo Green, founder of the Negro Motorist Green Book
During segregation and Jim Crow, blacks in America followed this annual guidebook to stay informed on the safest places to eat, sleep and receive services while traveling. First published in 1936 by Harlem-based mailman Victor Hugo Green, this guide also alerted blacks on “Sundown towns” – or all-white neighborhoods where blacks weren’t allowed after nightfall. Historically, traveling while black in America has led to discrimination and even dangerous incidents when venturing outside of our neighborhoods.
Fast-forward to today and you see more blacks traveling both domestically and internationally, an opportunity that wasn’t granted to our ancestors. Unfortunately, we are still misrepresented and underrepresented in the travel space, but that’s changing thanks to the internet. With the presence of bloggers, vloggers, etc. seeing black people travel is no longer taboo. However, there are many things black travelers realize and experience when abroad, such as:
1. Being the First Black Person Locals Have Encountered
Most people in other countries have never seen a black person in the flesh. In most cases, you might be the first black person they’ve ever seen outside of TV. This means that you may get stares, confused for a celebrity or even get asked to take a photo. While I’ve never experienced the latter, I have, however, gotten stares. I never take it personally as I know it’s just curiosity and not a sign that I’m not welcomed. Throughout my international travels, I’ve realized that most people aren’t racist or malicious. Rather, they’re curious and unaware as they’ve never encountered a black person.
2. Becoming the Representation for Other Black People
Whether you realize it, you may become a representation of other black people. Like I stated above, people from other countries have never seen a black person. Many countries lack diversity and only know about other cultures and people based on what they see in the media. The thing is, black people aren’t always represented positively in the media. The last thing you want to do is play into the negative stereotypes that many may have of black people. This can be a huge weight on your shoulders, but this can also be a great time to educate others. I always make sure to represent my people with pride and dispel negative stereotypes.
3. Being the Only Black Person for Miles
When in Thailand, I was shocked by how many black people I came across. But this may not always happen. In some instances, you might be the only black foreigner around. There’s nothing wrong with this and there’s no reason to feel discouraged. There’s plenty of places I’ve traveled to where I was the only black person for miles, and it didn’t impact my trip (e.g. Scotland)!
4. Being Fetishized as a Black Woman
There are men out there that have a fetish for black women and see us as sex objects. When I was studying abroad in Spain, I encountered men who would cat-call and say things like, “Bella morena.” Part of this could be fetishism, part of this could also be that I was mistaken for a prostitute as there are unfortunately many African women who do so in Europe. When in Berlin, I encountered an Australian guy who legit said I was beautiful for a black woman 😒. As a black woman, you will encounter men who may be attracted to you due to your skin color and the notions that come with that. Trust me, you’ll know the difference between harmless admiration and fetishism.
5. Having Your Hair Become an Attraction of its Own:
Sometimes your hair becomes its own attraction because locals haven’t seen textured hair before. Although I haven’t experienced people wanting to touch my hair, I know other naturalistas that have. However, when I was getting a massage in Krabi, Thailand, the masseuse couldn’t get over my curls. At one point, when massaging my neck, I had to move my hair and she smiled and said to me, “Your hair is so beautiful.” I was honestly shocked as I was nervous to rock my natural hair in Thailand out of fear of unwanted attention.
Traveling provides a different experience for blacks than for non-blacks. Often times, you’re judged by your skin color first before being judged by anything else. However, traveling while black is necessary because we need to be seen and heard. We need more black and brown people traveling to help dispel negative stereotypes, prove that the world is our oyster, too, and let the world know, we exist.
What has your experience been traveling as a person of color?