The travel sphere has historically low rates of diversity, and it is past time for that to change. Travel With Meaning strives to play a role in the effort to increase travel diversity. We want to amplify the voices and messages of the movements that fight for equality. Travel is global, so why shouldn’t the entire globe be able to experience it?
One member of the travel community with a strong voice in sharing her experiences is Oneika Raymond. A “bona-fide travel junkie,” journalist, and TV host, Oneika craves the thrill of adventure. She also encourages the conversation of travelling while black. In 2016, Oneika posted a blog on her site Oneika the Traveller - “What being Black and Abroad means to me” - that I found powerful, so I have repurposed it to share with you here.
Bringing diversity to travel is a team effort. It starts with awareness but never reaches a finite end. I encourage you to read Oneika’s story and take it with you on future journeys.
What is the significance of being a black person who travels internationally?
I recently received a t-shirt from the travel collective Black & Abroad (more about who they are later on in this post), which is timely, because lately I’ve been thinking about what being a black person who journeys far from home (i.e. both “Black” and “Abroad”) means to me:
-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means being ‘othered’ while you travel. It means fielding curious questions about your appearance, skin colour and hair texture, and constantly refuting conjectures or stereotypes (about things like your prowess on the dance floor or athletic ability) based solely on the skin you occupy.
-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means being treated like a celebrity in places where black skin is a revered anomaly. People have never seen (or have seen very few) beings who look like you in the flesh, so compare you to athletes like Lebron James (if you’re tall and male), or entertainers (like Beyonce and Rihanna) if you’re shapely and female. It means being asked to pose for pictures with strangers, hold babies, and shake hands with grandmas.
-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means being racially profiled, in airports, in shops, in government offices. You will be stopped at immigration while travellers of a lighter hue walk on by. You will be asked for your “papers” to prove you are “worthy” and “legal”. Your passport and your dollar/peso/dirham notes will be turned over and over in discerning hands to ensure that they are not counterfeit. Gazes will linger over your clothing and physical aspect, inspecting and extracting your financial status and danger quotient.
-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means going to places and doing “the nod” when you see another black person. Because in some places there aren’t many of you. You do that slight downward tilt of the head to acknowledge and recognize this phenomenon, sometimes to the surprise, glee, or discomfort of your non-black travel companions. “Do you know that guy over there?” No, I don’t. But I *see* him.
-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means being a representative of the whole black race for those who are not of African descent. You become the de facto expert on the full range of black issues the diaspora over. You will be asked about Obama and Boko Haram, Mandela and Will Smith. Your individual actions will be superimposed on the whole black community so you try to act in ways that will only reflect positively on your people– you don’t want to sully the travel waters for your brother or sister. You will be told about a black friend, acquaintance, or stranger that you resemble, though the only thing you may share is a skin colour and a sex.
-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means being a role model to little black boys and black girls (and grown black men and black women) who don’t realize that international travel– for leisure and education and even just to “find ourselves”– is something we can do, too. Every trip, every ticket stub and passport stamp, and every social media post and picture will serve as a blueprint to these people; a reminder of the beauty of possibility and the simple audacity of just going. For them, *you* have become the billboard or the endorsement of this kind of travel, because mainstream media doesn’t remember or care that we can also go places for reasons other than immigration or asylum.
-Being Black and Abroad means appreciating your privilege and living life to its fullest extent on the road. Remember that circumstances have allowed you to behold the world’s treasures, but that not every brother or sister will have the opportunity. It means being carefree but responsible, unshackled but humble. It means being cognizant of the barriers that prevent people who look like you from seeing the world, but willing to bring back and share the knowledge, power, and experience you have gleaned from it.
-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means learning about who you are, where you’re from, and connecting with your history. When you travel to some countries you stare into the faces of distant cousins and walk in the footsteps of the ancestors who birthed you. You feel the full weight of your blackness and realize how a boat or a war or a pilgrimage boarded/engaged in/taken centuries ago has directly changed the course of your life’s story.
As a white, female college student, this power of this message is one I wish to amplify rather than dilute by focusing on my own words. This is why I chose to share Oneika’s words with you today. I challenge you to recognize how you can play a role in the large movement. Often, the first step is education, so be sure to check out Oneika The Traveller!
*photos from Oneika The Traveller
Written by Garland Horwitz (UCLA undergraduate student)