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Traveling While Black: Racism vs. Just Mean

I’ve been blessed to live a life of travel. To date, I’ve been to 21 countries on 4 continents, merely for exploration, adventure, and pleasure…rarely for work. In each place, I am curious about the life of the citizens, but particularly the Black citizens of that particular country. I wonder:

What is life like for you?

Do you enjoy living in this country?

Are you treated fairly in this country?

What is the effect of colonialism in this country?

Are white people racist or just mean, in your country?

And yes, I do ask people because…well, I am me and I talk a lot and listen a lot too. Oftentimes, I hear positive answers from the Black people of each country. Fairly, it could be because I am a tourist and they don’t want to make their country look bad…because word of mouth and reputation are REAL things when it comes to tourism. So, to be fair, they could just be being nice to me.

But, I also think their experience in their country as a Black person is different from my experience as a Black person in the United States, especially because their ancestors made the choice to migrate and my ancestors were forced to come to this land. Anyways, I’m not about to get political here. I’m just noting that this difference, based on choice, may influence how one sees her/his/their lives in their country.

I can’t remember my first (white) racist moment. I grew up in Southern Cal and my neighborhood was racially diverse with minorities, but not many white people, so there wasn’t a large probability that I would face racial discrimination or remarks from white people. However, I do remember my first really mean moment with a white person. It was right after the Rodney King riots. I was in middle school and we were released early after the trial results were read. I’m not sure what prompted this odd decision but me and my friends took off and began our walk home to try to catch a rerun of a Maury show. On the way home, a white man swiftly came behind us and told us that he (Rodney King) got what He deserved and the same thing will happen to us. We began running. I ran into a corner store screaming and crouched behind the counter, clinching Mr. Lee’s leg. The man ran off. Reluctantly, I went home, scared and confused. Was that racism or was he just mean? I was 11 years old.

I recently came back from Europe. I had the chance to visit Portugal, the Netherlands, and Italy. Each has its own history with Black people, whether they are close to Africa and have also participated in trade, transit living, or slavery. I was in a store, shopping (of course, I’m a collector...of things) and touching items, bringing them eye level, holding and envisioning me in the outfit...and in my thought clouds when I was rudely interrupted by a white man. He was asking questions and I did not fully understand what he was talking about. I did feel verbally attacked though. And, my first reaction was to yell back and argue. But, I was also confused because I didn’t know whether he was being racist towards me or if he was just mean. And yes, the difference matters. And, yes, I was 42 when it happened.

This year, I’ve taken 12 international and national trips. I’m tired. I’ve seen a lot and did a lot. Anyways, I was walking through the international section of the airport in the United States, when a white man rudely walked right in front of me, slowed down, then stopped. Terrible move in a busy airport. Anyways, I almost walked right into him but I swerved and kept walking. And, I could not stop thinking: Was this man racist or was he just mean? Are some white people mean to everyone or just to Black people? Are racist people racists just to Black people or to other people too?

All these thoughts floated around because, at 43, I can’t make a choice. I can’t tell. I can assume based on location but I cannot tell. And, it’s even harder for me when I’m traveling. And yes, it matters. And yes, it should matter to me. And yet, I wish it did not matter or matter to me because…one of my goals in traveling is to escape being a Black person in America…and yet the same thoughts get on the plane with me and take up an aisle seat.

I know this is not a favorable blog…but it was important to me to write it because I’ve been thinking about it and I want to process it so it can go away…soon. So, what are your self-thoughts and self-talk while traveling while Black?

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