People don’t like to talk about race, it’s like the elephant in the room, at least it is when you’re in a multicultural space as everyone is trying to be politically correct and not step on any racial toes. If I were in a room filled with only my black or ethnic minority friends, then maybe they would tease me for saying I enjoy skiing, ‘because black people don’t like the cold’, or if we talked about going on a diving holiday I know more than a few friends whose noses would wrinkle up at the idea of purposefully getting their hair wet. Stereotypical? Yes. But true? In my experience, yeah.
There are some places in the world that, due to stereotypes, either of how I imagine I would be seen or how I believe the people in the country will act, I have reservations about exploring. This is a shame, it’s the 21st Century but there are places in this world that I feel unsafe or wary of due to my colour. I’m not alone in this though. For me it may be my ethnic make up but for others it might be their religion or sexual identity which will deem a nation an unattractive destination for their wanderlusting needs.
Earlier on today I read an interesting blog post written by ‘an African woman trying to lead a more abundant life’, gosh I love the way that phrase just rolls off of the tongue. I quoted it straight from her about me page. Nneka, the author of the blog post writes on Afros y Paella about her time in Spain, the struggles, the joys and all that falls in between. You can tell she was is a talented, creative, passionate journalist by the way her words pull you in. I’d read her post on being black and travelling and had that odd feeling of hearing your own experiences being spoken through another person’s mouth. Not all of what she’d experienced had happened to me but some of them totally had! The airport security gingerly rubbing your scalp through your afro looking for hidden contraband? Mmm hhhm, been there! Twice.
We can get cheap flights to Croatia, Lithuania. Poland and other beautiful European cities, yet I’m fearful to travel to them solo. I’ve watched documentaries highlighting the level of racism and violent attacks meted out towards professional footballers as well as immigrants living within their countries, so what hope is there for a single black woman just looking for great places to eat and to explore the cultural wonders of a fresh, new destination?
Travel warms me, it fills my soul and makes me excited in a way I haven’t felt since I was a young child on Christmas Eve. That special tingle you get knowing that the next day will bring unknown gifts, only my gifts are experiences now, not pink My Little Pony toys or Cabbage Patch Kids. I’d love to travel through every single country in this world, hopefully one day this will be fulfilled, but for now, yes I admit to being cautious in choosing which ones I go to. I don’t run from confrontation or bad experiences, but right now I’m not trying to intentionally court it either.
I love my colourful, mixed up heritage and wouldn’t wish to be anyone but who I am. With the skin colour I have. My nappy hair, broad nose and wide hips are all a part of what makes me, well ‘me’. At the same time, I can’t ignore the fact that sometimes I feel like my non-Western name or my appearance has an impact on the reception I received from people who do not know me. I can’t ignore the way an old lady ran across the road when I lived in China, shielding herself from my sight with her parasol whilst screaming ‘“demon”, so strong was her shock at seeing her first black woman. I can’t ignore the young teenaged boy who whispered the n word at me within hours of touching ground in Alicante, Spain many years ago. My race can make me stick out like a sore thumb in some travel destinations, which can make anonymity near impossible. It won’t stop me travelling though – the wanderlust has well and truly set up shop within this kinky haired kindred spirit.
Has your ethnicity ever impacted the choices you make with travel destinations? Should it? Should we all just throw caution to the wind, take any hostility or simple ignorance on the chin and see it as part and parcel of a travel experience or are we as travellers more savvy for planning our destinations with this in mind? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts!