Photo by William Stitt on Unsplash
Judging from the comments I read in many of the travel groups I am a member of traveling while black is a concern of many black American travelers. Naturally, you look for people that look like you when you venture out into the world. I look for other faces like mine while traveling but if I don’t see any I don’t panic. The main purpose of my international travel is to experience other cultures and allow other cultures to experience me in all my melanin goodness. I think that some American blacks fail to comprehend that some areas have limited or no exposure to other cultures. When you live in a homogeneous society sometimes your only exposure to people of color is via television and the dreaded “reality show”.
One thing that bothers me about some of the comments that I read is that the authors of these comments try to convince others not to travel to a particular place because the said place is not black folk friendly.
One particular place that is notorious for its anti-blackness is Italy. I was shocked. I have been to Italy more than once and my first opinion of the Italian people was that they were the friendliest of all the countries we visited on that particular trip. We were kissed by our taxi driver, our hotel clerk went to the train station looking for us because my friend left her coat, shop keepers held lengthy conversations with us, and an elderly woman warned me about pickpockets on the train.
I realize that some ethnicities have experienced varying degrees of difficulty in Italy, but I do not believe that the entire country deserves to be banned or crossed off your bucket list because of it. We went to several different regions in Italy and I left feeling good about the country as a whole. Upon reading some negative comments about Italy, I called my friends who had traveled with me and asked them their opinion about our trip. I am fallible so I wanted other opinions to verify that my recollections we indeed accurate. I do not want to attempt to downplay anyone’s experiences but what I have observed while traveling is that some American blacks draw a lot of attention to themselves when they travel. Sometimes this attention is not positive in nature.
I feel that we as American blacks are so shell shocked by trying to navigate the racism in America that we just automatically assume when we go to a new place that people treat us a certain way due to our skin color and in actuality, it is due to our nationality which is American.
Another region I have heard a lot of warning against is China. I have heard that the Chinese touch you, take pictures without permission etc. I have yet to venture to mainland China but I have been to Hong Kong. I will say that while I did not find the people of Hong Kong particularly friendly. I did not feel racially profiled or gawked at. I did have a street vendor come up and take a picture with me while I was trying to browse his cart. I am sure he just wanted a picture of a black girl. It just felt quirky. I thought who wants to take a picture with a random person they don’t know? I am sure if I had to endure that on a daily basis it would probably work my last nerve but it was one incident and I really didn’t feel one way or the other about it.
There are other regions that many have written off due to the perceptions of others in the black travel community but I implore every traveler to do their own research and take “opinions” with a grain of salt. If cultural understanding is the goal of your travels then you are going to have to step out of your comfort zone sometimes.