In light of the recent events that have rocked my place of birth and propelled us into a territory of racial tension which has not (at least in my opinion) been seen in years, I’ve been reflecting on my experiences in the past ten years of domestic and international travel. I continue to regard myself as blessed to have the opportunity and means to have traveled extensively around the world. However, deep in the depths of my mind the thought of being looked at in complete disgust for simply being me still festers like a disease. Traveling while black is not an imaginary tale, it is quite real. The overwhelming majority of travel stories I hold close to me are positive. Unfortunately, I have encountered a few incidents that no matter how hard I try to forget, I can’t.
On my Facebook page, my caption reads “They took this without me knowing, lol.” I never revealed on my page the reason why I had such an expression.
Place: Sicily, Italy
As a flight crew, we were enjoying a stroll down the streets of Sicily when two elderly women gave me what could possibly be the nastiest look I’ve ever seen.
“Why are they looking at me like that?”
“Oh, they probably think you’re African.”
“Um, well I am African.”
“Oh. Well they are mad because African immigrants are taking jobs.”
That makes it better.
When my co-worker replied that the reasoning behind this (as though there could even be a legit reason) was due to my perceived ethnic background, I remember a feeling of anger, bewilderment, and slight sadness. I thought to myself what I may have done to get such a reaction. Just then, I remembered. I was black.
My sole crime was looking like what I was. My crime was being a natural haired, black woman with a dark complexion.
While Sicily is beautiful in its architecture and history, it was that experience in which I cite when I explain why I do not wish to go back. I never want to be looked at in that way again.
Doors Wide Shut
Place: Leipzig, Germany
During my many work trips to Leipzig in my tenure as a flight attendant, I often ventured out by myself into the city. Going to the mall, restaurants, or wherever else my heart desired. I never experienced a moment where there was an attempt to make me feel lower as a black woman. As a human being…until this particular day.
I just walked back to my hotel after taking a walk around the city. I was in high spirits, especially after encountering some co-workers who just arrived (there would often be nearly two dozen employees in this particular hotel at any given time). After waiting patiently, I get in the elevator. Before the door can shut, a group of Lufthansa Flight Crew members walk in. Although I tried my best ignore, I could not help but feel on their eyes on me. There was no insecurity over my attire to be felt, as I was well dressed. Even so, it was hard to tune out my feelings of discomfort.
The elevator stops. My floor is up. I smile at one of the flight crew, and walk out.
Just then, like a bully who found the perfect moment, lone male crew member says something in German.
The entire crew laughs.
Not giggle, laughs.
Before I can get to the door to reopen it, the doors shut. All I could do is walk to my room, and fight the tear that tried so desperately to leave my eye.
Bad for Business
Place: Pattaya, Thailand (Walking Street Bar)
In Pattaya, there are an array of bars, strip clubs, and other places where many acts of debauchery take place. Many of the bars moonlight (or out in the light depending on you ask) as makeshift brothels where men interested in “indulging” meet up with women (or ladyboys) of the night. Our crew stops at one inviting bar for a few drinks.
I’m in a very relaxed mood. We are talking, laughing, and just having a great time.
That is until, we are asked to leave.
Of course, we wonder why. The reasoning was ludicrous.
“She is hurting the business.”
She, as in me.
Apparently, an attractive black female can’t stay in a bar because she’ll attract the other patrons who are in a desperate search for hooker vagina.
I suppose some women would be flattered that there were considered to be so “exotic” looking (at that time, black female tourists were not a common sight) that they would attract the attention of men….but not me. There I was. A young woman with common West African features, being mistook for a prostitute. It wasn’t the first time, and it wasn’t the last (it wasn’t even the last time on that trip). Don’t believe me? Take a look.
While looking for my co-workers by myself a few days later I was bombarded with stares, grunts, sly smiles, and even a greeting of “Umm Africa!” I laughed it off for years, often repeating the story to friends and acquaintances. In hindsight, the joke was on me.
In no way am I seeking any sort of sympathy. My brief stories of prejudice pale in comparison to some of the disgusting things my brothers and sisters who look like me have endured. I guess the reason why I am sharing this is because every once in awhile I get the sobering reminder that it doesn’t matter that I hold a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Science degree. It doesn’t matter that I am long time educator who has helped countless children find the joy in learning about history. History says to me that despite all of my accomplishments and triumphs, due to the color of my skin there are people out there who will always reduce me to a punchline.
As someone who sells her body.
As a nuisance.
Angry and full of attitude.
My passport can’t save me from hate and bigotry.
At the end of the day, not only am I a traveler, I am a traveler with black skin. Even though I hardly need a reminder, every once in awhile I get exactly that.