abroad, African-American, Belvedere, Black, Bratislava, Budapest, Eastern Europe, Europe, gypsy, international travel, Limerick, Macgillycuddy, Mississippi, Prague, racsim, travel, traveling while black, Vienna, Vienna Woods, woman
Yes, it is safe for Black folks to travel around the world! It’s as safe as traveling to NYC or rural Mississippi. Both have their hazards, but both are filled with generous and warm people. If your Spidey Sense tingles in NYC or Mississippi to warn you to move it along or get out, then it will work in other parts of the world. If you’re a little Mr. Magoo with it, make sure you take along a more street-savvy travel buddy.
A quick search on “traveling while Black” on the Web yields dozens of articles and blogs by and about Black people visiting, living, and conducting business in every part of the world. If they can do it, so can you and I.
Why leave the comfort of the U.S., get a passport, and go places where people act, look, and eat “funny”? Because you’ll learn something. And you never know. You may actually enjoy yourself and become addicted.
The New York Times, at the beginning of 2014, published an article — “Traveling While Black.” Its author, Farai Chideya, is a published book author, broadcaster, and journalism professor at New York University. Professor Chideya experiences a sort of cure for her wanderlust when she travels outside of the country: “As a black traveler, I seek liberation through exploration and find myself seeming freer, at least in mind and heart, on the road than at home.”
I agree with her assessment. Traveling internationally is not scary; it’s liberating! When I push the boundaries of the known and break free into the unknown, I get to know myself a little better every time. If I never left the United States, I would have died not knowing my true self.
Would I be such a fan of accordion music if I had not been serenaded with song after song in a quaint Heurigen (wine tavern) in the Vienna Woods in the foothills of the Austrian alps? Would I have connected the unlikely correlation between American jazz and traditional Irish music had I not experienced a Craic or ceilidh (Gaelic party/jam session) while visiting Limerick in Ireland? Could I have truly appreciated Rodin or Gustav Klimt’s brilliance had I not seen their original works within the halls of the Upper Belvedere Palace in Vienna? Might I have realized that there are truly forty shades of green, and there are places where the earth and sky meet, if I had not traveled throughout the Irish countryside and gazed upon Macgillycuddy’s Reeks? Or, would I have been able to recognize the hypnotizing call of gypsy music from afar if I had not traveled all over Eastern Europe?
The answer to all of these questions would be no. I encourage you not to stick to “safe” international destinations like the United Kingdom or countries in the Caribbean. Consider countries that were on the other side of the Cold War. I had one of the best times of my life in Eastern Europe.
If I never left the United States, I would have died not knowing my true self.
I can just hear your thoughts — aren’t those countries gloomy and scary? Doesn’t Communism still thrive over there? Isn’t everyone poor?
The answer is that countries in Eastern Europe have great food (says the picky eater), beautiful architecture, and safe cities. I wholeheartedly enjoyed my time visiting places like Budapest, Prague, and Bratislava.
Did I experience some rude people, like the puppeteer in Prague who yelled at me because I took too many pictures of his puppets with no intention to buy? Or, the Russian woman who cut me in line while I was queuing for the front desk at the Hilton? Sure I did. Yet I chalked it up to being a foreigner unfamiliar with certain customs (do not take pictures of people or their things without permission in other countries), and a nice American used to waiting her turn instead of cutting the line as everyone else in the world does. In my mind, their behavior was not racially motivated.
I’m very observant and generally sensitive to racism. I can honestly tell you that I haven’t yet encountered obvious mistreatment because I’m Black. As a matter of fact, the only people in Eastern Europe who I saw ever give me a double-take were a pair of African men in Prague who were likely startled by my light-brown skin tone. They didn’t talk to me, but I could practically see the wheels turning in their head as they likely tried to determine from whence I hailed.
Based on the other blogs I have read of Blacks’ experiences abroad, I would have to agree that people in other countries assume that Black people traveling internationally are from the African continent. Even if they learn that we are American, they tend not to harass us. It’s been my experience that if anything, they may try to identify with us because they have internalized so much of our music, sayings, and culture. It’s astounding how much people in other countries know about America — its history, politics, structure, and geography — while we know very little about their culture. That’s fodder for another post.
I have probably received more dirty looks in America based on race than I have during my two overseas/eight country trips. Therefore, I can’t let potential racism in other parts of the world hold me back. You should not, either. Just as your preconceived notions about the rest of the world should shatter upon experiencing other cultures, so should other cultures’ preconceived notions about African-Americans disintegrate upon meeting you.
Sail away with me. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Together we can explore, dream, and discover.