Black History Month: What it means to travel as a black person

Travel is exciting. Whether it’s a solo trip or a group holiday, discovering the world should be a thrilling adventure but for people of colour, travelling abroad can often be difficult with some unforeseen stresses. Whether you are travelling around Europe or backpacking around the world, the most important thing to consider is safety.

From transport to food, globe trotters need to take everything into consideration to ensure their trip is as fun as possible. However, for people of colour there is another aspect to consider: is the country you want to explore going to treat you badly because of the colour of your skin? Racism and prejudices around the world can make travelling as a black tourist incredibly upsetting.

The treatment I receive is often more aggressive than my white counterparts. Gawking eyes that follow white travellers are usually that of adoration, especially in countries where Eurocentric features dominate beauty standards. In Europe, white privilege and postcolonial thinking has shaped the way some black people are treated while holidaying.

Many travel companies appreciate travelling as a woman has additional worries and therefore cater to that market, however there are very few options available to make sure that as a person of colour you feel comfortable. This feeling of being unwelcome is not isolated to Europe. A recent Harvard University study[1] found that guests with more traditionally African-American names are 16% less likely to be approved by Airbnb hosts than identical guests with stereotypically white names. Personally I’ve experienced travel racism in various degrees.

I remember being asked to take pictures with small children in Paris as a teen. I just remember feeling confused and before I could object, families had already started posing around me. Awkwardly, I smiled and went on about my day unaware I was treated as a spectacle.

I know I’m black. I’ve been black for the past 25 years, I don’t need to be reminded on Discount Holidays © holiday by locals and other tourists who take pictures, point and stroke me. In those moments, you feel like a zoo animal.

Over half a million Brits visit Morocco every year in search for sun, sea and new adventures. Known for the beautiful sandy beaches in Agadir, the rainbow spice markets in Marrakech and the rugged wilderness of the Atlas Mountains, it’s no wonder it’s a premier destination for couples, friends and families. I visited Morocco earlier this year and I was called the n-word by five men as I walked back to the hotel I was staying in.

Although the trip wasn’t ruined, it was tainted with currents of racist abuse. Abuse no-one should have to experience. More recently, I was in Germany, when I noticed how many eyes were on me as I toured Dusseldorf.

It was not the kind of stare that leads you to question if you have food on your face, but one that leaves you feeling small. A look that is examining the hijab on my head, wondering what my heritage is, coming to conclusions about my character based on the colour of my skin. These were looks of contempt.

In recent months Germany has seen a surge in refugees, mostly from Syria, flocking to its shores seeking asylum. The anti-migrant sentiment was evident to me as a British Muslim woman of colour.

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From Europe to the Middle East and other places in between, racial discrimination became a norm for me. It’s in these moments that I realise how much I’ve taken London for granted.

The capital comes with its own set problems and hasn’t eliminated racism but its diversity promotes cultural tolerance at the very least. Although visibility of black travellers is growing, thanks to social media, in my opinion the travel industry fails to make an effort to authentically connect with the black community. According to a study by DigitasLBi[2], 70% of black millennial travellers are willing to pay more to travel with a brand that understands them.

Today, the internet is rife with travel bloggers writing tips on how to travel while black, places to avoid and what to expect. You can see the similarities in the reviews to a book written in 1936, by Victor Hugo Green, called ‘The Negro Motorist Green Book’, in which he reviewed hotels and restaurants that did business with African Americans during the era of Jim Crow laws. His book was a guide for black travellers on places to avoid discrimination.

While people of colour should be aware of places to actively avoid for fear of discrimination there is still a need to educate the world. And Black History Month[3] reminds everyone we need to continue fighting inequality and encourage change. This is why this month is so important.

We need to push for more acceptance, not only in Britain, but across the globe, because old colonial sentiment is still an issue across the world.

More about: | Black History Month[4]

References

  1. ^ A recent Harvard University study (www.benedelman.org)
  2. ^ DigitasLBi (www.digitas.com)
  3. Black History Month (www.standard.co.uk)
  4. Black History Month (www.standard.co.uk)

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