Traveling As A Black Woman:
Let me start this post by saying that everyone will have a different experience abroad. You’ll go to different places and run into different people but the fact of the matter is that certain groups of people have different concerns when they travel. Women are concerned about being assaulted and people of color are concerned with facing discrimination.
I made a whole post on safety tips for women but sadly I don’t have any advice on how to protect against discrimination. I’m still trying to wrap my head around why people even act that way at all. But I will share my experiences with black female travel and maybe they will prepare you for what could happen.
Whilst ambling down the street in Paris I passed by an older woman. She slowed down and made direct eye contact with me. She looked me up in down in disgust and very loudly scoffed. I don’t know what was going on in her mind of course but she clearly wanted me to know how much she disapproved of me.
While I was in London on three separate occasions random people on the street figured out I was a tourist. I mean, I wasn’t wearing an “American and Proud!” shirt or anything obvious like that. Anyway, I told someone that this kept happening and they said, “It’s because Black people are different here. You know…they are more like African-African. They look like Africans.”
Cinque Terre, Italy
This time I was standing in line waiting to buy my trail card. The lady at the counter checks out the people before me and then when I step to counter she pretends she doesn’t see me and asks how she can help the people behind me. Her temporary blindness only cleared up when I got visibly angry.
Tragically, a bad case of temporary blindness was going around in Europe during the time I was there. While visiting the La Sagrada Familia I approached one of the staff outside to ask where the line was for the people who pre-purchased tickets. She pretends not to see me or hear my “excuse me”. She steps away to speak other visitors but I’m nothing if not persistent. I follow, still saying “excuse me” and she still pretends not to hear and instead helps the other people who approached her after me.
But because I’ve played this game before I just keep getting back into her line of sight and repeating my “excuse me.” Eventually, she looks in my general direction, avoiding eye contact, and holds up a hand to signal she is no longer pretending to be blind. She once again speaks to someone who approached her after me and then finally turns to ask how she can help me.
Busan, South Korea
I went to a spa with friends and one of the receptionists pretended they were fully booked and wouldn’t let us buy a package. Wondering how I knew they weren’t actually booked? Two reasons, one because I leaned over the counter and caught a glimpse of the appointment book. The time we wanted had nothing scheduled underneath it.
Two, we had a feeling there was something going on so we walked away from the first receptionist and asked another receptionist if we could book a package for that time. She said “Sure!” and asked for payment when receptionist number one comes running over, whispers something to her in Korean and send receptionist number two away. She says again that they are “booked”.
A friend and I tried to enter a club only to be turned away with a very blunt: “Koreans only.”
The night after Incident Number Two. The posse and I tried to enter a completely different club. The bouncers stop up and say we have to make a reservation to get in. We say, “Okay, we would like to make a reservation. How do we do that?”
Response: “…Uh…well…actually, this club is for Koreans only. Try the club around the corner.”
Why am I sharing these incidents with you?
I love traveling and despite the things that have happened, I don’t regret going to these places and still had a great time but I don’t want to paint a false picture of what traveling is like. People are still people wherever you go and they are far from perfect.
In my case no one tried to hurt me nor did they use stronger language. There are stories out there that are much worse and there are people that don’t face any issues at all. If I hadn’t been dealing with variations of this kind of behavior my whole life I might have been able to explain away some of these incidents but I can’t because I know what it means when people say “They look African”. I know why people pretend not to see me and refuse to serve me. I know why people give me dirty looks in the street.
Changing locations doesn’t change reality and the reality is that you can face discrimination and racism anywhere. The question is how will you handle it if you do?
I won’t tell you not to get angry because I did then and I’m still angry now. I won’t tell you to take it in silence because I didn’t do that either. But I will say not to let it stop you from traveling.
You should still go to Paris because the view from the top of the Effiel Tower is amazing and the Catacombs are unreal. Explore London because the Tower of London is like really, really cool and Westminster Abbey is a marvel. Hike through Cinque Terre because it might possibly be the most beautiful place in the world. And you know what, you should go to Busan too because those four people I mentioned do not represent the rest of Korea, which is otherwise an amazing place filled with kind, welcoming people.
Don’t let the fear of discrimination stop you from traveling because then they win. They want us to stay in the boxes and the stereotypes they put us in but I can’t think of one good reason why we should give them what they want. Don’t them stop you from getting on that plane because you belong everywhere that you want to be.
So happy travels, ladies! I hope to see you out there.