Civil unrest. Political protests. Terrorist threats. Embassy closures. Anti-American Sentiment
With all of these things going on in the world, one must ask themselves “Why travel?”
Well, to start us off, I thought it time to explain what I mean when I say “People of Color”. The term “People of color” is a direct translation of the French term used in the Louisiana Territory during French rule, “Gents du Couleur“, which was used to refer to free Blacks, often mixed with French blood. But I am also writing this blog for “People of Color”, people of any heritage who realize that they live in a world with people of many shades, cultures, and traditions… and like it that way. The blog is for people who are citizens of the world first and are keen to travel for understanding, tolerance, pleasure, relaxation, and excitement.
Here are the Top Five Reasons for People of Color to Travel the World:
1. Connecting the Dots of the Diaspora – Making International Connections
Trayvon Martin Protest at the American Embassy in London
Not to get all preachy up in here, but there is one clear, resounding answer to the question “Why Travel?” for people of color: because we must see the world and let the world see us in order to move forward. We must build our own international relationships and have our own foreign policy that will allow us to create international businesses or to take advantage of an international system of support. For example, when Trayvon Martin was shot, Black Britons marched on the United States Embassy in London in protest. They also marched after the verdict was announced. It was a sign of solidarity that was very moving and very powerful.
Trayvon Martin Protest in London
The Trayvon Martin case was not just national news. It was covered all over the world. But, I don’t think many of us even heard of Trayvon’s mom’s trip to London where she met with the mother of a Black British teenager named
UK’s Stephen Lawrence
Stephen Lawrence, who was slain by haters back in 1993. Check out the memorial edition of the coverage of this historic case by the Black British newspaper The Voice.
Few people noticed that the uprising in the Paris banlieue (Suburbs) coincided with the unspeakable tragedy that was Hurricane Katrina. There are so many questions that stem from that realization. Could France’s actions, which resulted in the deaths of two young people of color, have been influenced by the obvious laissez faire attitude of American leadership around the Hurricane Katrina disaster?
We are a world community. Connecting the dots is a profound adventure. It is quite amazing to meet other people who look like us, but don’t act like us. It brings home the point that there are many ways to live in this world, not just our way of life at home. When I was studying in Italy, I had the pleasure, and, let me just say it, the shock of meeting lots of African students from various countries on the continent. It was the first time where I had the opportunity to live “among” a predominantly African Continental Black population and it was eye opening. Behaviors common to western folks were comfortable for me, but some of the behaviors of the African folks were so foreign that I found myself quite nonplussed sometimes as to why they did what they did, but, to be fair, I felt that way about the Italians too. One day, as I was sitting at a café in the main piazza, contemplating this very phenomenon, an African gentleman named Beau-Beau, who was a student at the university and wicked smart, appeared almost magically by my side. He looked at me with a sage smile and said “Your heritage is from Africa, but you are not African. Your way of life is very different than ours.” I just kind of smiled back and nodded my head, appreciating his timely observation confirming what I, myself, had just realized. I love my African roots, but I am not going to pretend that I can relate to all things African. However, I would like to try. That’s why I love travel.
It is an understatement to say that traveling the world as a POC is very different than traveling the world as a Caucasian American. When I first started traveling in Europe, everywhere I went, the nationals thought that Americans were all blond and had blue eyes and that I was just some poor wretch from some ghetto, one step up from slavery, who was probably in their country looking for a better life. Having been raised by two university-educated parents with an upper middle-class lifestyle, it was always a lot of fun to watch people struggle with this new perception as they got to know me and realized that I was just another western person, just like them, who had a nice life, but just wanted to see a bit of the world. But it is only a small part of the world where we stand out upon sight as foreign. In many other nations of the world, even in Asia and the Middle East, we blend into the population making it a different experience for us to travel than for Caucasians. POCs speak Portuguese, Arabic, Spanish, French, A slew of Bantu languages, Some East Indian varietals, and lest we forget, with a distinct Aussie twang. For this reason, places where American travel is discouraged for one reason or another, can be less dangerous for POCs.
When we travel, we are the ambassadors for POCs everywhere. It is very powerful. POCs are responsible for the world perception of who they are. It is up to us to create and maintain our own narrative, not to let others do it for us. We are more than just our nationality. We must travel so that people in other countries get to what we are about, up close and personal, not through the media that is imported to their countries. Keep in mind that they play television series like America’s Most Wanted and Cops in a whole lot of countries overseas and this is the closest a lot of these folks will ever get to a Black person. These programs prey on the uninitiated and uphold the prejudices of those who would have it that Black people are ignorant, inferior beings. What if POCs in the US protested the export of these programs and their skewed points of view? Fortunately, Black folks are far too fascinating for people to ignore or to write off. Jazz, blues, rap, R&B, hip hop are the soundtracks of the world. Sports excellence in basketball, football, tennis, golf, track and field have not only won over fans, but have made a place for POCs from emerging countries to make their mark. Engineering, the sciences, and politics have all benefited from POCs’ over the course of many years, contributions showing a multifaceted community with a lot of talent. The lack of POCs in Silicon Valley though, does give one to wonder what that’s all about. We must travel to make sure that we represent ourselves (Represent!) and that we are the authors of our own narrative.
3. Inspiration, Motivation, and Courage to Push Forward
A few years ago, I was having dinner with some friends at a trattoria in London. During the course of conversation, one of my friends, a White South African man, said to me “I know that everything in my country has been done to ensure my success.” I was struck by the statement and I spent the next several days contemplating the various layers of what he had said. I guess that the most impactful thing I took away from his earnest statement, meant to be self-deprecating, acknowledging that he had no excuse for being unemployed, was that I could not say the same. The way South Africa was founded and developed, it was true what he said. White folks live(d) very well with huge, gorgeous houses, lots of land, and usually a second place by the beach. The restaurants are fantastic, the weather is great, and the education is very good. Everything in the setup of the country, had been done to create avenues to success for the Europeans, but other people, the Black, Indian, or Coloured folks, live(d) in various levels of abject poverty. Of course, things have changed over the years, but equalizing things has not been an easy business and there is still a lot of work to do there.
What I realized from his comment was that, In America, the same is the case. Life was set up by our forefathers through the seminal documents of the country, but did not include Black people as they were considered property at the time, not much different than horses. The country was set up to ensure the success of White folks and laws concocted after emancipation have often worked to keep a de facto form of slavery and/or segregation going: racial profiling, uneven sentencing in the justice system, unequal education…all strategies that created a conveyor belt to incarceration and keeps the idea that Blacks are inferior alive and well even today with a POC president. An example: I recently applied for a job at an exclusive (emphasis on exclusive) travel agency hoping to learn the ins-and- outs of super high end travel. I wrote a great cover letter detailing my love of all things Italian and soon received a call from the owner. She and I chatted for a while in both English and Italian and found that we got on very well so she invited me for an in-person interview. As I entered the travel agency, I knew that all was lost. Everyone was very blond and they were staring quizzically at me with my caramel skin and long braids not quite knowing what it was that I wanted with a job in a travel agency focused on Italy. When La Signora finally finished on the phone and came out of her office to meet me, she almost hit the floor in surprise. I soldiered on. This was not the first time I was something unexpected. During the course of the interview she asked me three times if I had written my cover letter myself. In her immigrant Italian mind, I must have had someone else create the clever letter for me. All of a sudden my qualifications didn’t fit the job. That’s okay. I didn’t want to work for someone so remedial anyway. When I travel the world, every conversation I have is something profound and poignant. I love that. And I love the ability to change someone’s perception not try to live within their current ones.
4. Really Cool New Friends
The world is full of really incredible people of every nationality, every religion, and every race. Through travel, you get to know other global citizens, people with a different perspective of the world than the every day and who give you, as a fellow traveler, the opportunity to pick their brain for cool new points of view. One thing that I noticed as a POC traveler is that I usually get to know people on one side or another of the extreme. I often meet people who are rude, closed minded, and just nasty. They want to get in my face to show me their contempt or their superiority. But more frequently, I get to meet the really exceptional people. The ones who have minds so open that any thought, and point of view is valid and important. They are free-thinkers who want nothing to do with the lukewarm middle or the frigid existence of the unaccepting. Getting to know these folks is worth the fare, the trials, and the creepy folks that try to make traveling for POCs uncomfortable.
5. It’s a Lot of Fun!
Traveling is best legal high there is. It’s more mind-expanding than an acid trip and more mellowing than smoking a “J”…or so I am told. The new sounds, smells, tastes, languages, views, and activities all coalesce to make any international travel a true “Trip” that expands our minds and our world and we grow exponentially thereby. When I was growing up in a small suburban city, my parents had a blue cypress tree in front of our entryway planted in a container. For the sixteen years that I lived in that city, the tree grew to be all of four feet high. When we left that city and moved to the coast, my parents planted the tree in the open ground in our front yard. That tree now stands over sixty feet tall with branches extending out thirty feet on each side. This is what its like to travel. You grow and expand and become a person who is more rooted in humanity. It’s as if your brain is a supercomputer running one operating system and then travel wipes that system out and starts programming another, stronger one. It’s important to see the world. Full stop. End of sermon.
There is so much going on right now that you are going to notice these blog posts coming a lot more frequently. First, there is a two-month long European journey to prepare for, but please don’t think that we are going to be spending our time just rooting around the west in this blog. That was just to get us started. We are going to be hitting every continent and kicking up some dust doing everything from luxury spas to adventure canoeing down the Zambezi. Stay tuned and, by all means, chime in.