Trippin While Black
As a Black traveller, the act of crossing borders—of finding oneself in new and unfamiliar enclaves of our isle of wonders—comes with its own idiosyncrasies and challenges, in a world that seems intimately acquainted and saturated with anti-Black racism: with offence and aggressions both micro and macro alike.
Many Black travellers, including those we spoke with, often report suspicion, offensive submissions and hostility from travel and border officials. There are mitigating and exacerbating factors that mean there can be no single story of the Black traveller; colourism, passing, class, nationality and so on; but both statistically and anecdotally, our wanderlust seems almost destined to come with some added wary. We reached out to the Black members of our well-travelled Trippin community to find out their experiences of trippin while Black, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and their tips and advice for safe and fulfilling globetrotting.
Google is your friend
Many of the Black travellers we spoke to admitted googling the levels of racism that they might face before travelling. Asa Pojmann-Ezeonyilo, an LA-based Marketing Strategist who has been solo-travelling since she was 17, tells us about googling Germany while studying abroad, to figure out if a trip while Black would be a positive experience. "Studying abroad in Spain we were encouraged to take weekend trips to other countries. I was one of the two Black people in the program and when brainstorming weekend trips to go on Germany came into the conversation. I was ignorant about German culture and what I did know was from conversations, what I saw in the media and historical events. However, race - specifically Blackness wasn't something that seemed to ever come up. I did some research to see if Germany was a safe and enjoyable place for Black people to go. After reading about widespread antiblackness and the discrimination that Black Germans and tourists faced, it didn't seem worth the trip."
She also has some great and practical advice for solo travellers: "Share your location with people you trust, and set up your Med-ID if you have an iPhone. Try to find an online community of people also travelling solo if you're into it. It's normal to feel a little out of place, don't be afraid to approach people and spark up a conversation."
Waves of curiosity
For one of our travellers, Sinead Obeng, who has done a mix of solo, backpacking, teenage jaunts and family trips across the globe, travelling to India while Black proved to be uniquely alienating. "In India, I was stared at en masse. it was incredibly uncomfortable - especially as these were deadpan almost-afraid-type looks. Further to this, people kept pushing in front of me in queues." There does tend to be a sense of sad inevitability (even in our globalised context), that in countries and continents where Black people form an infinitesimally small minority otherwise subsumed by and large by racial homogeneity, there will be at the very least stares, othering gazes, and microaggressions of that nature. But as is demonstrated by Sinead's account, it is not always helpful to presume, or indeed respond, with malice.
"I was only two days into my trip so I thought, what can I do about this because I'm gonna be here for 10 days. Like the genius I am, I decided to wave at everyone that stared at me. 90% of the starers waved back and about 10% looked away super embarrassed. In this situation, it felt prejudiced at first but after testing and diffusing the situation I realised most people were just intrigued to see a Black woman in their local area…Most people around the world respond well to people that are happy to be there and I truly believe that trying your best to not allow any racist idiot (or preconceptions if nothing has happened yet) to dim your light is the best route to an awesome experience."
Gravitate towards the soul
Some of the most tender advice came courtesy of Femi Koleoso, avid traveller and bandleader of the British Jazz quintet, Ezra Collective and Gorillaz drummer. His advice for his fellow Black travellers:
"Gravitate towards the soul. Find the record stores, the independent book shops, the galleries, the museums. These people tend to be the allies, they will help you discover a city for its beauty."
Seek out the diaspora
Put the pan in pan-African! Find your people. In a white supremacist world, Black people persist and thrive, find and create safe enclaves and bastions of Black culture all across the diaspora, wherever they may be found. Seek out the local Black community of countries you're travelling today, areas, neighbourhoods and provinces, where Black people and culture are and have found space; eat and drink and be merry with them; hear their stories, histories, and their truths, their loves and their hardships. They'll give you the know-how, where to go and avoid, and what is worth your time and energy during your time in their country.
Embrace a Blackness and a Black experience and culture, that might be prima facie divergent and different from yours, but at its core fosters the same indelible beauty. If you come with an open mind and heart, and a willingness to learn and share, they will more than likely embrace you with open arms. Asa's strategy is thus: "I like to just go up and talk to Black people when I'm in any space where we are the minority. Tik Tok has great resources on where Black people hang out if you just search things like "Black girl travel *insert city*". However, It is important to note that information around certain destinations may be sparse, but don’t let that deter you from taking that trip and possibly even creating a guide yourself.
British radio and television presenter Clara Amfo recommends going straigt to the sauce and searching for where Black locals get their hair done. "Research the areas where Black locals go to get their hair done! I have found from there you are led to great food and night spots." She also follows up with some advice on encountering negative experiences abroad.
"If the country you are going to doesn’t have much of/zero Black community I would say be prepared for ignorant comments. How you choose to react is your choice, especially considering safety etc but I would always advocate for correcting people who are disrespectful whether intentional or not. You shouldn’t have your existence trivialised by a lazy black celeb lookalike nickname when trying to enjoy a new country!”
This world is yours to explore as much as anyone else's. A world of multitudes: one of racism and aggressions, and other unique ills, but also one of miracles and kindnesses, small and large. All travel comes with risk, and there are undeniably added risks and challenges of travelling while Black, but the ultimate disservice you do to yourself in an anti-Black world is to shrink your sphere of exploration—to narrow the paradigm-altering experiences one could and deserves to be exposed to—in response.
In Sinead's words, "Just go! Unfortunately, not all countries educate their citizens about what exists beyond their boundaries and subsequently the appropriate ways to behave. Sometimes you’ll be fetishised, sometimes you’ll be given the worst table in the restaurant, sometimes a crowd of 20 people will randomly ask for a photograph or you’ll get a horribly dirty look just for being you. Don’t let other people’s ignorance deter you. Politely defend yourself, if you need to, smile and have a wicked time!