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5 things to expect when travelling while black

New video!

The explosion of the Black Travel Movement in recent years has meant that more brothers and sisters are discovering foreign lands than ever before. But with this increased global mobility comes the question: “How will my skin colour be perceived abroad, especially in places where there are very few people who look like me?”

As a travel blogger and serial expat, my inbox is often flooded with anxious queries from would-be black jetsetters. While they are curious about the world around them, they are also unsure of what it’s like to navigate it as a person of African descent. I thus decided to make a video outlining the 5 things to expect when Travelling While Black (because, yes, T.W.B. is *totally* a phenomenon).

So take a gander at the video below and let me know what you think. Have any of these things happened to you? And for those non-black folks out there, have you had any similar experiences even though you’re not black?

 

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28 Comments

  • Reply
    Amy
    December 28, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    Thumbs up for the video and thumbs down for any racism you’ve encountered in your travels. That makes me sick. I’m ghostly pale which is unusual in small town Thailand where I used to live so I got a lot of the staring, unsolicited touching and paparazzi photos. My students were fascinated by my arm hair and would like to stroke my arm as though I were a cat. That was a little weird. I didn’t mind most of it though as I know it was all in the name of curiosity.

    • Reply
      Carolyn Young
      February 18, 2016 at 1:32 pm

      Loved Loved Loved your video. The information you presented is spot on and well communicated. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Joy
      February 25, 2016 at 3:11 pm

      Loved this! Here’s something I think is interesting. I’m black and most of my travel has been in Africa (Egypt, Morocco, Ethiopia, Benin, Nigeria, Togo, Ghana, Senegal, Cape Verde). Though I’ve traveled in Europe too (UK, France, Spain, Portugal, and The Netherlands), I find myself most disturbed by the racial things I get from people in sub-Saharan W. Africa! Comments about my natural hair and their basic lack of knowledge about African Americans…that kind of thing. The “Yes, but where are you REALLY from?” question always gets me! Definitely have encountered shade from other travelers, too. Based on your pictures, I think we have the being in an interracial marriage thing in common too! That’s another topic! This video was worth all the time it took to load (I’m writing from Benin!).

    • Reply
      Rosilyn P
      May 2, 2016 at 4:13 pm

      Thank you so much Oneika,
      This is so needed as some blacks are apprehensive about European Travel.

      Some friends of mine went to Barcelona, Spain last summer
      and left early because they felt they were treated poorly because they were black.
      They said they were not even served at a couple of eateries.

      I could not believe it because I was there for 3 weeks in 2005, and found nothing
      racist at all anywhere because Blacks appeared to be everywhere.

      Have you encountered anyone with this kind of experience?

    • Reply
      kim
      August 3, 2016 at 3:06 pm

      Thumbs up, this will be one of my first time travelling alone and always had questions about it. You answer all my questions and somewhat brighten my horizon a little more.

  • Reply
    Moanica
    December 29, 2015 at 9:14 pm

    I LOL’d on the “black celebrity” one. I usually get Kerry Washington — they will say “Scandal, Scandal!” And the micro-aggressions are real. My husband and I will sometimes find ourselves on a luxury cruise, tour, or whatever and we’re the only blacks. The inquiries designed to determine how we were able to afford such an outing are so predictable, We’re like you, though, and try to take it in stride. We love travel too much to do otherwise! Love your videos!

  • Reply
    Brenda Davenport
    December 29, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    I really appreciate your very informative video so I know what to expect when I travel outside of the U.S. I’ve gotten similar reactions while traveling here in the U.S. whiich I find very strange. I mean this is the 21st century and even poor countries have TVs and magazines and it seems that everyone would have seen a Black person in either one of those places. It’s not like we’re from outerspace and have two heads, five arms or one big eye in the middle of our forehead. I just don’t understand why in this day and time some people still look at us as some sort of oddity. Can you imagine how it would be if we lived in the “Star Wars” world where beings were really different?

  • Reply
    Elizabeth Hilton
    December 30, 2015 at 1:46 am

    I really loved this video. I was raised in a biracial family, so being treated differently in Virginia came with the territory. However, I found it interesting to hear your perspective on the treatment of people of African American descent as travelers outside the United States. I shared the video on my Facebook page Adventures in Fluency. The focus of my blog is connecting to different cultures by learning the language and traveling. However, connections can happen on so many different levels. Just being exposed to people of a different skin color creates a desire to understand and connect. I liked what you said about both the traveler and the inhabitants being curious about each other. It is so important to keep an open mind and a sense of humor as we travel. You seem to have mastered this technique well. When we travel, we expose the world to our differences as we also come to understand our similarities.

    Life is an adventure, not a destination. Live it in technicolor. Happy travels in 2016.

  • Reply
    Gloria
    December 30, 2015 at 1:46 am

    I have had people of course come close put their hand/arm next to mine to compare the color. In Greece some young people saw me and started crossing themselves (in the sign of the Cross). I stuck my tongue out at them and put my fingers in my ears and wiggled them in response. Anytime I would caught someone standing close trying to take a photo with me. I would grab the person and smile into the camera. And what I have found works best with stares is a smile. What gets on my nerves is Customs. Held in London for 6 hours because of suspicion of carrying drugs. Stripped search, hair inspected(was told by the Office she was glad I did not have corn rows it made her job easier), urine checked etc by Customs. And of course they let me go because I had nothing on or in me. Had some really good political conversations with the Customers Officers though. Discusing racism and its roots in the UK and US. Even returning into the US I always get stopped so I’ve learned to do my connecting flights overseas so I don’t have to worry about missing a flight here in the US to my home city (which has happened). I’ve been to over 60 countries so of course I am asked how I did it by having the job that I do.

    • Reply
      Charity Dell
      January 7, 2016 at 5:36 am

      Have you ever “returned the behavior”, such as cross yourself when you see them do it, etc.?

  • Reply
    Sanura
    December 30, 2015 at 4:04 am

    When you mentioned people touching you, I physically cringed because the idea of someone extending their hands towards me without my permission makes my skin crawl! lol But I can relate to all the points you’ve mentioned in this video. I’ve been called Serena Williams one more than one occasion but, she’s gorgeous so I take it in stride, and I get asked for pictures all the time. I’m still weary about that because my paranoia has me afraid that my face will be Photoshopped onto some inappropriate picture, and there goes my career lol. But once I do a quick assessment of whoever’s asking, as long as I feel comfortable, I oblige. Overall, I love that you took the time to create this video to enlighten others & add a little levity to a topic that can be rather heavy. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Emily in Chile
    December 30, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    Great video! I have gotten some “ooh, gringa” stuff in Latin America with people I don’t know well, but usually I blend in since I’m brunette. I would also like to take this moment to clarify that any of my comments on your hair are just because it pretty much always looks awesome (especially from my position as one of those girls who’s never had a clue about doing her hair) 🙂

  • Reply
    Leah Chibwe
    December 31, 2015 at 6:41 pm

    I am African from Zambia studying abroad and I know there are many parts in my country (distant rural places) where people (especially children) have never seen white people before and when they do, essentially the same thing happens: the stares, touching and “oohs ahhs.” It’s interesting to realize that it can happen from both sides, too. I am not a germophobe, but it would probably also freak me out a bit. I guess being respectful, understanding the circumstances behind the curiosity of others, and being polite against the touching etc goes a long way. Enlightening post! Thanks!

  • Reply
    Jamie
    January 3, 2016 at 3:10 am

    Surprisingly the only tip that threw me off was the stereotypes from other travelers. I guess I already expected to be treated differently by people in the culture I’m visiting, but I’m not sure why I assumed other travelers would be culturally sensitive. I think that would probably be the most difficult aspect on top of blatant racism. I also like how you presented this video. You gave a positive yet keep it real approach. Sometimes I think AA approach it as a “woe is me” but you just kept it open and straightforward without the emotional frustration. I have a lot of respect for your experiences and POV!

  • Reply
    Ann
    January 5, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Girlllllllll!!!! I can relate to this video. I’m Nigerian-American. I was wondering why this happened to me in Singapore & Indonesia last year. Particularly #1 and #2. Your video explains it all!! I figured as much it’s because black people barely travel to those countries and that the locals are just curious, especially Batam Island. It was my first time traveling solo. I often wonder if I would experience racism or racial profiling when abroad as I don’t recall a particular moment where I have (maybe once but I wasn’t paying attention) but I’m glad you said 99% of the time you have not and yet you have been to a LOT of countries. I applaud you for your travel blog. Please keep traveling and keep posting!!

  • Reply
    Sheena
    January 6, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Your video spoke volumes to me. As a beginner traveler this was always my fear, even after I travelled. But, during my travels to Ireland for an internship and France for a quick get away from Dublin, I noticed that the stares and questions came from Africans that resided in both countries. A lot of it had to do with my naturally long, black hair (bra strap length). I had one lady, while in Paris, ask me if my hair was real and how it was able to get long. Her questioning was innocent, curious, and friendly. She has never seen a person of color (from my assumption and observation of the situation) with long hair before. But, I got this from every individual of African descent in France. However, in Ireland, those of African descent were not staring but glaring. That was about the only part in Ireland that made me uncomfortable, along with the stereotyping from other travelers. I too stayed with a group of young white women and maybe a few non-white (but who were still light skin). A group of Brazilians that were traveling always turned their nose up toward me, all while my white friends were always asked to go clubbing. They only tolerated me. However, I wasn’t there for the Brazilians but for the Irish, LOL.

    • Reply
      Charity Dell
      January 7, 2016 at 5:34 am

      I loved the video, as I have also traveled in England, Scotland, Mexico and Panama; I am an African-American female, also.

      1. What do you think was the reason those of African descent were glaring at you in France and Ireland?

      2. Why should they be resentful of you as a Black woman traveling?

      3. Do you think they resented you being “western” or “North American”? (Were the Brazilians “branco-brasileiros (white Brazilians?)

      Also, have you ever “returned the behavior in kind”, such as:

      A. “Staring back”;
      B. Rubbing the skin of the offending party;
      C. Putting your hand in THEIR hair as if you were just as curious, etc., and
      acting just as “enchanted” with THEM. 🙂
      D. Making the sign of the cross, yourself….

      I’d be curious as to their reactions if you “returned the behavior” in a curious,
      friendly way…:-)

  • Reply
    Zuki
    January 8, 2016 at 10:11 am

    So true about the stereotypes of other travelers. I am a Black South African female and recently came back from Zanzibar where I met other tourists, who asked questions like “Isn’t it expensive for you to travel?” like uhhhh, “what business is that of yours?” I have traveled to Tanzania, Kenya, Mozambique, the UK, Qatar, UAE, France, the States and coming from South Africa – the racist capital of the world, I thought the so-called 1st World countries would have “less racism” if there is such a term. As a traveler I make it a priority to understand the culture and basic language of the place I am visiting, so that I am not shocked when shocking things happen to me.

  • Reply
    Karen
    January 8, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    Great video, I should have checked out before traveling to Barcelona over the New Year holiday. But what I noticed was slightly different. I actually felt like I was treated like I was invisible. In the elevator of the hotel, I didn’t get acknowledged, and on the subways I felt as though people tried not to look at me and many took other seats instead of sitting next to me if they were available. I did noticed white European children staring at times. They were pleasant if there was direct conversations, and shop owners were pleasant. And what really threw me is that the Black people in Barcelona did not acknowledge another Black person as we passed. You know there is sort of a code to speak or nod when seeing another Black person, especially when we are in the minority, but this did not happen. (only once as woman left the elevator, she said “bye”, and another time when a Black person took the time to say “Happy New Year”.) and that felt good!!

    • Reply
      Rosilyn P
      May 2, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      Now I believe my friends because they reported the exact same responses from other non-American Blacks abroad, particularly in Barcelona.

      What happened ? I don’t know.
      Have a Black friend that lived in Spain for 35 years, but has moved back home recently.
      Says the country has become more conservative just as the rest of the world.

  • Reply
    Beverly Chandran
    January 17, 2016 at 2:41 am

    I experienced both racism and long looks while traveling alone in Japan, China and Hong Kong. Racism; a very long delay by immigration when entering into China. No explanation as to why. In Japan and China excessively long looks at my hair (wore braided), was followed by groups of Asians who were interested in my attire/fashion, and while in Hong Kong in a department store, women behind the counter wanting to see if my features were real. Too much touching without permission. Several used lip liner to make their lips look larger to resemble mine, which years later became a style via make-up and botox! lol!

    • Reply
      Danyale Reed
      February 2, 2016 at 12:16 am

      We’ll be traveling to Asia this summer for an extended stay and I have so many questions about this! We stayed in Hawaii for 10 months and, with the large population of Asian tourists and natives, we got a taste of what to expect but there was a big difference because we were still not IN Asia. How long did you stay?

  • Reply
    Linda
    January 20, 2016 at 12:07 pm

    I’m a Black-Canadian woman that has experienced all five of these while travelling solo and with a companion. For the most part 90% of the time there are very little problems or issues. The worst for me is the touching and taking pictures without my permission. I’ve had people almost cause car accidents just to run across the street to take my picture!

    On the other hand, I believe in some cases I was treated better because I am Black. I’ve had people give me better service, free tours, upgrade, spend more attention and focus on me because I wasn’t the “typical white tourist.” In some instances my Blackness protected my from physical harm, since I was able to blend into the population. Aside from some of the negative, there are also benefits to travelling while being a Black North American.

    Travelling while in an interracial relationship also adds a whole other layer onto this as well.
    In some cases I’ve received better treatment and service because of my white partner. In other cases we have experienced racist comments/snide remarks from local males.

  • Reply
    Jodi
    January 25, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Hi Oneika! This post really hit home. YES! I have experienced all of the above. From the Black Paparazzi to the Case of the Hair Touching. I tend to have a slightly laid back attitude towards it. Here is how I see it. I traveled to their country to see something different. I just happened to be something different for them as well.

    The lack of asking to touch me however, really can rub me the wrong way. Personal space is not something that everyone respects. If this happens to anyone while traveling, I advise you to step back and just say No.

    On a different note, most of the attention I get for being black is honestly just plain curiosity. I get it not just from the locals, but as you said, a lot of it comes from other backpackers. I’ve been referred to as Michelle Obama, even though I look nothing at all like her! I guess I’ve just accepted that this is the way it is, and it no longer makes me feel weird. It does take time to get used to though.

    Thank you for sharing your views and your experiences. Encouraging others to travel is something definitely worthwhile!

  • Reply
    Danyale Reed
    February 2, 2016 at 12:13 am

    OMG!!! This hits home soooo much! I’m writing an article about this same thing and, yes, you are correct in the stares, touching, questions and overall awkwardness you feel being a constant standout in such foreign environments. The first city my husband and I arrived to when we took on this nomadic lifestyle was Paris and, although there are many black people there, there is something very “American” Black about our demeanors (obviously) because we didn’t know what to do with the tons of stares from locals of all colors, including local blacks! We found out that most people thought we were famous (?). Now Brandon, my husband, just gets stopped no matter where we are because of his height + grey & white freeform dreads. It is so very refreshing to hear you speak of these same experiences. We’ve only been nomads for about a year and half so we’re slowly learning but THANK YOU for touching on this subject!

  • Reply
    Lissie
    March 11, 2016 at 6:57 am

    Hey! Cool video. I’m white and I live in provincial Cambodia and experience some of these things – I’m a bit curvy kind of strawberry blonde and hence have been likened Adele and Meghan Trainor. I also get people touching my arms, and my legs, and often pointing at my feet. Lots of stares all day long.

  • Reply
    tyjtravelagain
    March 11, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    I was in England years ago and I was in an Italian Restaurant. The people in the restaurant were really cold to me. Then the manager came out and started talking to me. When he found out that I was American, I was treated differently by everyone there. In fact, he ended up hugging me and told me to come back. I was in the Louvre in Paris and this little white girl looked at me like she was looking at dog do. She stared for a really long time. Another time a mime in Paris grabbed my arm. I don’t think that that had anything to do with race. I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. Other than that I have had some good times in Europe. I did have a few bad experience in Puerto Rico which was pretty surprising. I even had a bad experience when I returned to Puerto Rico during a layover going to the Dominican Republic.

    I have not traveled in years. But I am going to start again.

  • Reply
    meagan cunningham
    July 5, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    I can relate to your video. So I recently started traveling internationally and I love it. I was on a mission to visit all 50 states before 50 years old but decided to add a little international in it. Last year I went to Merida Mexico my first time in Mexico. I have to admit I was a little scared but have to say it was one of the best vacations so far. The people kept staring at us, taking our pictures and I was beginning to feel uncomfortable. When we asked the waiter why they were staring at us he explained that they were not used to seeing black people in Merida they treated us like celebrities, paid for our drinks and of course asked to take pictures with us

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