The fact that travel media is STILL so white in this day and age is disappointing. But here are my suggestions for how to increase diversity and inclusion.
In the last week, I’ve been tagged in a number of conversations on social media about the lack of diversity in travel media (thanks Fidel from My Leiover for the most recent tag on Instagram yesterday). Most of the dialogues appear to be sparked by an article making its rounds on the internet that asks whether the travel community is “too white”. In it, Australian journalist Ben Groundwater writes:
Think about it: the vast majority of successful travel bloggers and influencers out there, the ones you probably follow on social media and draw inspiration from on a daily basis are skinny, good-looking white people. The travel presenters you see on TV are skinny, good-looking white people. And even the vast majority of successful writers in traditional media are also – well, white people.
There’s a noticeable homogeneity to the voices of travel throughout the world. The majority of the people who document and analyse the globe from a travellers’ perspective are white, and privileged. They see the planet from a certain standpoint. They move through the world in a certain way.
But here’s the thing. This discussion is far from new– it’s been on the hearts, minds, and tongues of POC travellers for years (POC = people of colour, by the way).
And those who have been following me for some time will know that I’ve been very vocal about the inherent whiteness of the travel industry, penning a number of articles decrying the paucity of “melanin-blessed” folks in the travel space.
That fact is that mainstream travel media is embarrassingly devoid of diverse faces, voices, and perspectives– instead, tourism campaigns and travel programming are rife with the same old (tired!) images and viewpoints from travellers who are both white and Western. This has not gone unnoticed by me or my fellow POC travel blogger/ journalist/ influencer friends.
In this piece, for example, I lamented the fact that even a Google search for the word “traveller” yields images that depict the quintessential globetrotter as white– despite the fact that more people of colour are travelling (for fun, work, education, and spiritual growth) than ever before. I mean, according to the New York Times, the Mandala Research firm found that nearly one-fifth of African-Americans take one or more international trips per year, and they spend $48 billion on travel within the United States *alone*!
And in my article “The Lack of Black in Travel Blogging and Travel Media” (which I wrote in December of 2014!), I point to why the lack of representation of and opportunities for black travel bloggers and journalists in mainstream travel media are highly problematic:
Because, for those of us hoping to become the next Anthony Bourdain or Samantha Brown, being blanked by the “big dogs” in mainstream media means losing out on lucrative partnerships, collaborations, and sponsorship deals.
Because, more importantly, not being invited to summits like the one at the White House means that our unique voices and points of view are excluded from the important conversations that ultimately help change the world and inform our global perspective.
Because, our absence from the mainstream perpetuates the single story of whiteness in travel and helps to perpetuate the notion that travelling isn’t something people of colour do.
Frankly? It’s both disappointing and discouraging that mainstream travel media is still so white and monolithic, even three years after I wrote the above article. But rather than continue to belabour or lament the obvious, here are, in my opinion, some practical, actionable ways to increase diversity and inclusion in this space.
Prioritize diverse voices and perspectives
This is a big one. Brands, tourism boards, publications, and television/digital networks need to make it a mandate to explicitly seek out diverse talent. Making lofty claims about how they are “equal opportunity” companies does absolutely nothing to increase opportunities and visibility for POC travellers and POC travel content creators.
I’ve said time and time again that the most critical issue in the travel media industry is that the people making the decisions about both who to hire (for jobs/campaigns) and who to highlight (in press features) are typically white; this becomes problematic because, guess what? Their social and professional circles are just as white and homogenous, too.
Now ask yourself: what do you think happens when the people you surround yourself with look like you, act like you, and think like you? What you do think happens when you’re the status quo, the majority, and don’t have to think about “The Other”?
Regrettably, the white people in charge primarily end up engaging, employing, and featuring other white people, who have voices and perspectives that mirror their own. However, implementing initiatives that specifically seek out travellers that are not only racially diverse, but also diverse with regards to their culture, sexuality, ability, physicality, gender identity, etc. combats the exclusion that can often occur.
Decolonize travel writing
Bani Amor, of the amazing blog Everywhere All the Time: Decolonizing Travel Culture, is a noted author and editor who has written at great length about how most mainstream travel reporting is rooted in colonialism, othering, and even white superiority. Other than being low-key racist, this is problematic because travel media as a whole becomes extremely white-centered and Western-centered.
In these cases, one-sided, privileged viewpoints are being positioned as the standard or norm, and the resulting content is often derivative, lazy, and devoid of intersectionality. However, when we strive to be more judicious, empathetic, respectful, and inclusive in our travel reporting we more accurately reflect the spaces we inhabit in the world, and promote voices that have been silenced or ignored in the past. And often, these voices can provide more enlightened viewpoints, since as “The Other” or “The Other”-adjacent they have heightened insight and sensitivity to the people they encounter on their travels.
“Mainstream” bloggers and influencers: Use your platforms to amplify POC voices
So many popular bloggers and influencers say they want the space to be more diverse and inclusive, yet few actually use their platforms to highlight the work and experiences of POC travellers and/or travel content creators. The only person I can think of who has done this was popular travel blogger Adventurous Kate, whose “Viewpoints” interview series explored travel through the lenses of POC and disabled travellers. It is SO important to be an ally when you are in a position of power.
POC bloggers and influencers: Collab instead of compete
Speaking of using platforms to highlight others… One of the most unfortunate things I see in the travel space is the reluctance of other black bloggers/influencers/journalists to promote their fellow content creators– for fear of competition or losing out on the (supposedly) scarce number of opportunities out there for us.
I have always believed that there’s enough room in the sky for all of our stars to shine brightly. I take great care in supporting my black travel squad; I purchase their books, write blog posts about their businesses and ventures (see here and here), and frequently shout them out on social media.
Have I ever told you about my awesome friend Jessica Nabongo aka @thecatchmeifyoucan ? She's the well- travelled boss lady behind @globaljetblack, the bespoke tour company helping people explore the world. It was her stunning photos on IG that drew me to her first. "Who's this striking sister with the baldie travelling to all these exotic places?" I asked myself. I clicked follow immediately and the cyber-stalking commenced. One rainy day she came to New York City and we connected in person for the first time over Thai food in Queens. Over green curry and spring rolls we talked travel and a friendship was borne. For in Jessica I saw myself: a woman with intense passion for discovery, a daughter of immigrants still closely connected to her ancestral homeland, and a global citizen who has lived and worked internationally. If you're not following this girl yet you must do so with a quickness– her feed is bananas. Because Jessica, a tireless wanderer who has been to nearly 100 countries, travels to places like Djibouti as though she were taking a jaunt to Delaware. As it were, we happened to cross paths in London this summer, on one of those rare blue sky, sunny days that make you feel like you could live in the UK forever. After a lunch of Thai food (what is it with us and Thai cuisine?!) we made the short walk over to Bedford Square and took a classic red phone booth photo. Because of COURSE we had to document this international black girl magic. We often talk about the negative aspects of social media, but being able to find and connect with like-minded people is truly a blessing. I'm so happy to now count Jessica among my friends and am excited to see where we meet up next!
Given my standpoint, the refusal to highlight and promote one another’s work, or the jealousy that seems to crop up when one of our cohort is successful in their endeavours, is sad to me. A tree is only as strong as its roots, so I think it’s in our best interest to cultivate a supportive foundation from which we can grow up (and glow up). Community is one of the keys to success, in my opinion. Furthermore, when travel media is flooded with more visible minorities from different walks of life, we normalize POC in the travel space… Which not only leads to more representation, but an increased number of opportunities.
When you get a seat at the table: Say Our Names
My extremely talented and successful friend Lola Akinmade Akerström wrote a compelling article about the power of subconsciously lifting others. In it, she explains the importance of saying other people’s names when we find ourselves with coveted seats at important tables:
Because sometimes, just saying “work harder” isn’t enough.
In some cases, it can be an inhumane crime if we are the ones who hold the key to unlock a world of opportunities for the person to whom we say “work harder”.
We all have the power in our own way and within our own spheres of influence to drastically change someone else’s life. To make that hard toil they constantly face on a daily basis a little easier for them.
It’s the difference between a friend just vocalizing their support for you or actually giving your name to that special contact they have that could potentially change your life.
Oftentimes, when we operate from a mentality of scarcity, we feel like there isn’t enough to go around and we hold on for dear life to the little we have instead of spreading it around.
This piece resonated with me SO MUCH. Whether you are black, white, or green, you have the power to spread the seeds of your success around by referring worthy colleagues and friends. In the case of travel media, which is blindingly white, we would do well to say the names of talented POC content creators to editors, marketing managers, and campaign leads.
I write this because I have been really lucky to have allies in the space who have said my name to “people who matter” in the industry. One of the people who has consistently done so is Lillie from Around the World L, an OG blogger whom I’ve actually never met in person! Nevertheless, she has gone to bat for me many a time, even though she has no personal interest or gain in the matter. Thank you so much for being such an amazing advocate, Lillie– I so deeply appreciate it.
POC travel bloggers and travel journalists you should know
Who then, are POC bloggers and travel journalists you should follow? Besides the incredible Lola and Bani, folks like Erick from Minority Nomad, Eulanda and Omo from Hey Dip Your Toes In, Travis from Mister Levius, Lavina from Continent Hop, Andrew “Gunnarolla” Gunadie, Jessica from Catch Me If You Can, Carol from Girl Gone Travel, Ashley from Travel Lushes, Fidel from My Leiover, Travel Channel Host Kellee Edwards of Kellee Set Go, Ernest from Fly Brother, Dani from Hotel Whisperer, Kerwin from Cruisin’ Altitude, Rachel of Rachel Travels, Heather from Globetrotting Mama, Gloria from The Blog Abroad, Nicole from I Luv 2 Globetrot, Roni the Travel Guru, Sarah from Jet Set Sarah, Nadeen from The Sophisticated Life, Olivia from O Christine, Annette from From Annette with Love , and Victoria from The British Berliner are killing the game right now… And this is really just the tip of the iceberg.
Call out the lack of diversity
Discussions like these are important. Challenging the status quo is catalyst for change. Speak up and out about the lack of diversity in travel media, be the change you want to see in this space, and offer suggestions for how to remedy the issue.
It’s 2017 and we need to do better.
PIN & SHARE with all your friends!
Have you noticed the lack of diversity in the travel industry? Do you think representation matters? If so, what are your suggestions for making travel media as a whole more inclusive?