Have you ever traveled and experienced “The Stare”? You know the stare you get when you’re the only black person or one of the few black people in the region. One minute you're minding your business and the next you feel eyes on you and you realize you’ve become the main attraction. I ask this question as a black woman, because most times my skin color is the reason I get this stare.
My first time really experiencing it was when I studied abroad in Denmark & Amsterdam, but I became more aware of it when I traveled to Germany. Prior to this I typically traveled to Caribbean islands, where my skin color was the majority and not the minority, so I wasn’t fully aware of the stare. Coming from America, it’s easy to attribute “the stare” solely to racism and dislike for black people, but the more you experience it, the more you realize that a lot of these people, not all, are looking at you in confusion, amazement or bewilderment. In some parts of the world many have never seen a black person in their country before or rarely see one, so seeing a black traveler may have disheveled them. Now this isn’t to say that all of “the stares” are just confusion or amazement and none are fueled by racist thoughts, because I’m sure some are, but it is to say that they are staring at you because you are different from what they know.
I once met a man in Germany who was so amazed that I was a black American woman, because all the black people he encountered were from countries within Africa. He initially assumed I was from a country in Africa but was met with an American accent, which I assume probably shocked him. However, from having a conversation with him, you could see there was a lack of information about black people fueled by a ton of stereotypes they may encounter about us and a major disconnect. When I traveled to Amsterdam a few years ago and London a few weeks ago, “the stares” weren’t as noticeably as in Germany and Denmark, but I attribute that to the diversity in both locations. I wasn’t the unknown. But every once in a while you’ll catch a stare from a few people here and there. This is, of course, from my own experience. Some people may have different experiences from my own. Now I personally haven’t experienced traveling while black in Asia, but from the videos we see on instagram, with people flocking to take pictures of black travelers, trying to touch their hair, etc, it just goes to show that we are out of the ordinary to them, which is unfortunate.
This is why black travel is so important. The more we travel, the more we spread and exchange information, the more we make ourselves known in this world, the less likely those stares of confusion occur. Instead we are welcomed with familiarity. Black Travel is not only good for us, but it’s good for the world and for humanity.I always say this; people are afraid of the unknown, but when the unknown becomes familiar, there's no longer anything to be afraid of. Despite “the stare”, we should continue to travel the world without fear of being cast out or judged. We are here to educate and be educated.
As Black Americans we all understand what it feels like to enter a non-black space and be the only person with any melanin in the room. That feeling is all to common to me, I live in a predominantly white area, went to a PWI, and my career choice as scientist puts me in places where very few people of color exist. Unless I’m traveling to West Indies, where with my skin color I become one of many instead of one of the few, I always keep in mind about how I’m perceived to non-black people. When I initially learned I would be moving to Germany, my first thought was, “how would they perceive me?”. I knew that all the people I would be working with, interacting with, and living with would be not only white but also somewhat prejudice against Black Americans as we are usually portrayed in the media as a gruesome caricature of ghettoness, aggressiveness, and anger. Living in a small town (a suburb of Frankfurt) in Germany I got many many stares, they ranged from amazement, wonder, curiosity and racism. I found that most people are just interested, most had never met a black American woman, they had no context for me outside of what they see in rap videos and Instagram. But as I grew confident in my place as a solo traveler and as a global citizen I began not to feel as uncomfortable as I use to with “the stare”, I except it as part of my travels, and I view it as I’m bringing a new piece of the world with me to every place that I go. Had I let “the stare” stop me from traveling or meeting new people I wouldn’t have experienced:
Watching the 2016 Fifa World Cup in a Spanish bar in the middle of Frankfurt (Real Madrid won!)
Becoming a Barcelona Family with all the people in my hostel room and getting locked in Park de Guell after dark.
Experiencing Berlin’s West Indian Carnival (Karneval de Kulture) and fete'n all weekend long.
Experiencing some of the best food in my life off a recommendation from a Maltese taxi driver in Malta.
Experiencing the best sunset from a rooftop in Seville with cheap (but good) sangria, a pool, and great friends for life.
These are just a few experiences that I’ve had while traveling, it makes the times when I’ve gotten “the stare” or had an unwelcoming experience much less important.The reason why Black Travel Worldwide is so important is to make black travelers feel comfortable with expanding their horizon and become fearless to experience new cultures and countries. While people may perceive you one way, don’t let their closed off mindset stop us from advancing and becoming more in-tune with our global culture.
Being a black traveler in this world means we are often met with a variety of feelings, but it doesn’t mean we should stop traveling the world. Have you ever encountered “The Stare” we talked about in this post or been the only black person in a non-black space? What do you do when you faces these predicaments? Aside from the stare, have you received an other feelings or reactions, whether positive or negative? Do they make you feel uncomfortable or unwelcome? Does the fear of not being welcomed in a country, as a result of your skin color, prevent you from traveling to new places? Opening the dialogue about what it’s like traveling while black makes people more aware of situations like this. If we continue to travel the world, we educate ourselves and the people who lack information about who we really are. We are more than the stereotypes that are portrayed in media and the best way to show it to the world, is to travel the world and leave a piece of us wherever we go. Make a new friend, experience a new culture, learn a new perspective, exchange your beliefs and ideals with someone, go the road less traveled and leave a mark!