In case you missed it, I’m Black. My family is Caribbean, and my distant ancestors were West Africans brought to the Americas as slaves. I have lived in the UK all my life and dress like any reasonably normal twenty something Western girl. I wear my hair in long braids or big afros and rarely any other style. In big UK and Northwestern European (Paris, Barcelona, Amsterdam etc) cities, these facts are inconsequential. No one would take a second glance at me.
This is not the case almost anywhere else in the world. Positive or negative, being a black, Western, British young woman colours my experience of travel in a way which is, in my experience, worth talking about. It ranges from gawping in Budapest, glares in Greece, to white Americans realising they mistook me for African American and suddenly treating me much better when they realise I’m British.
For those who have never felt the need to google “is (country) safe for (race) people”, it may seem pointless and unnecessary in a dynamic and cosmopolitan world. For everyone else, race and the fear of racism is another weight to carry in our suitcase, and the reality is that we know once we step out of our bubble where people like us are ten a penny, we will be treated differently and that can get exhausting. For me, that has never been a reason to stop me from travelling but enough of a reason to prevent me from visiting certain parts of the world for my own safety.
That’s why I’m starting to write about my specific experiences when travelling. I feel so alone when I talk about these experiences – people who don’t get what it feels like to be ‘othered’ in a way much more significant to white travellers can be dismissive. I’ve been told that I get stares and pointing because I look cool, or they think I’m pretty, that I should take it as a compliment. My upset over poor treatment, of being served last and ignored is seen as dramatic. That racist hassling in Morocco “happens to everyone” so don’t worry. It’s isolating when no one recognises that travelling can be so tiresome when you’re not white but there’s a unique relief when people understand. When fellow travellers of colour can empathise.
I hope that by writing about my experiences, other brown travellers can feel less alone. Not only that but I hope my experiences will give an insight into what to expect for future travellers. There is a lot written for solo female travellers, and spatterings of information on travelling for LGBT travellers. I hope my Travelling When Black series can contribute to the information available for black and brown travellers.