What is it like being African American (Black) while traveling? To tell you the truth, I never really thought about it much until recently. I began to wonder how I’m being viewed while traveling in other countries when you consider we seem to live in a growing world filled with so much hatred and ignorance.
From my vantage point, there are two points to make here:
Black and American depending on where I go, can be seen in two completely different ways. Before Donald Trump’s election, many British people would hear my American accent and then automatically start talking about the election. ‘Do you think Trump is going to win?’ ‘Who would vote for him?’ It was like they automatically assumed I was never going to be a Trump supporter as an American. They would always ask about American culture compared to English culture, but then some people would ask me this.
Person: “Where are you from?”
Me: “I’m from Chicago”
Person: “No, where are you from!?”
This bring me to my heritage. During my travels, people in other countries assume that I am an African living in the United Kingdom. Of course, African and African American are two completely different things. So, when people ask me where I’m from, they are expecting me to say an African country, but I am American first.
My heritage is from Africa, but I am an American. I was born and raised in America, and don’t identity much with any African place such as Ghana or South Africa, compared to those who were born and raised there. When some Europeans identity me as African, they also identify me as an immigrant. Many Africans migrated to Europe and European citizens see them as a threat to jobs, just as the U.S. views Mexicans or other immigrants as a threat to their jobs.
There is also another part to this – if African Americans are rarely seen in a certain country, then I tend to get stared at. Not in a negative way, but more in an observational way. When I turn and look back at them, they normally look away; or if I flash a smile, they will do the same and then respect my space. Nonetheless, the curiosity is still there.
I recall an occasion where I mentioned to my friend that I had just passed the first black person I had seen in Slovenia. My friend said “I didn’t even notice, I think that makes me racist.” People aren’t afraid of me, they just haven’t seen many of my race. Yet, at the same time, people are excited to talk to me sometimes and it feels somewhat abnormal. They have so many questions about my natural hair and black culture that it’s almost like I’m on display in an art gallery. They hear my accent, see my skin color and are interested in my story.
I don’t know how other people see it, but the more I travel to places where blacks aren’t as prevalent, the more and more I notice how others react to me. Being able to hear from other people about their own experiences of being black and traveling helps me to know what to expect and learn to be more tolerant wherever I am in the world. Unfortunately, it’s sad that things like this need to be mentioned.
About the Author: The EM, Inc. Travel “Guru” Kayla Brock grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, Ill. She chose to go to an international university in London for her bachelor’s degree because it offered her an opportunity to study journalism and communications in ways that she felt she would not experience in the United States. Being overseas was an easy decision for her because she had the freedom to travel and explore different cultures from her own. So far, she has been to 20 countries and also has traveled to 24 out of 50 states in the U.S. Kayla enjoys travel writing, photography (digital and film), video editing, hiking, and adventure sports.
Traveling While Black (TWB)