Should your ethnicity impact travel destinations?

People don’t like to talk about race, it’s like the elephant in the room, at least it is when you’re in a multicultural space as everyone is trying to be politically correct and not step on any racial toes. If I were in a room filled with only my black or ethnic minority friends, then maybe they would tease me for saying I enjoy skiing, ‘because black people don’t like the cold’, or if we talked about going on a diving holiday I know more than a few friends whose noses would wrinkle up at the idea of purposefully getting their hair wet. Stereotypical? Yes. But true? In my experience, yeah.

There are some places in the world that, due to stereotypes, either of how I imagine I would be seen or how I believe the people in the country will act, I have reservations about exploring. This is a shame, it’s the 21st Century but there are places in this world that I feel unsafe or wary of due to my colour. I’m not alone in this though. For me it may be my ethnic make up but for others it might be their religion or sexual identity which will deem a nation an unattractive destination for their wanderlusting needs.

Earlier on today I read an interesting blog post written by ‘an African woman trying to lead a more abundant life’, gosh I love the way that phrase just rolls off of the tongue. I quoted it straight from her about me page. Nneka, the author of the blog post writes on Afros y Paella about her time in Spain, the struggles, the joys and all that falls in between. You can tell she was is a talented, creative, passionate journalist by the way her words pull you in. I’d read her post on being black and travelling and had that odd feeling of hearing your own experiences being spoken through another person’s mouth. Not all of what she’d experienced had happened to me but some of them totally had! The airport security gingerly rubbing your scalp through your afro looking for hidden contraband? Mmm hhhm, been there! Twice.

We can get cheap flights to Croatia, Lithuania. Poland and other beautiful European cities, yet I’m fearful to travel to them solo. I’ve watched documentaries highlighting the level of racism and violent attacks meted out towards professional footballers as well as immigrants living within their countries, so what hope is there for a single black woman just looking for great places to eat and to explore the cultural wonders of a fresh, new destination?

Travel warms me, it fills my soul and makes me excited in a way I haven’t felt since I was a young child on Christmas Eve. That special tingle you get knowing that the next day will bring unknown gifts, only my gifts are experiences now, not pink My Little Pony toys or Cabbage Patch Kids. I’d love to travel through every single country in this world, hopefully one day this will be fulfilled, but for now, yes I admit to being cautious in choosing which ones I go to. I don’t run from confrontation or bad experiences, but right now I’m not trying to intentionally court it either.

I love my colourful, mixed up heritage and wouldn’t wish to be anyone but who I am. With the skin colour I have. My nappy hair, broad nose and wide hips are all a part of what makes me, well ‘me’. At the same time, I can’t ignore the fact that sometimes I feel like my non-Western name or my appearance has an impact on the reception I received from people who do not know me. I can’t ignore the way an old lady ran across the road when I lived in China, shielding herself from my sight with her parasol whilst screaming ‘“demon”, so strong was her shock at seeing her first black woman. I can’t ignore the young teenaged boy who whispered the n word at me within hours of touching ground in Alicante, Spain many years ago. My race can make me stick out like a sore thumb in some travel destinations, which can make anonymity near impossible. It won’t stop me travelling though – the wanderlust has well and truly set up shop within this kinky haired kindred spirit.

Has your ethnicity ever impacted the choices you make with travel destinations? Should it? Should we all just throw caution to the wind, take any hostility or simple ignorance on the chin and see it as part and parcel of a travel experience or are we as travellers more savvy for planning our destinations with this in mind? I would LOVE to hear your thoughts!

11 Comments

    • Thank YOU for reading mine! I really enjoyed your writing style and of course, what you wrote about. I’m now a loyal Afros y Paella reader xx

  1. Brilliant post Tinuke, so resonant. I must admit I laughed about the Chinese woman although I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time. I had experiences e.g. when I was little on a ski trip to Bulgaria, where strangers pointed or came up to touch my hair etc. I think being Black in the world outside your home country (or if your home country is majority non-Black) you have to develop a much thicker skin than many other nationalities whose difference isn’t quite so stark or visible.

    That said, it shouldn’t put anyone off their dreams of exploring and the more places we reach, the more we open up the world to all shades and types of people and relationships. As an Igbo woman by heritage, I know that the Igbos in particular are known for traversing the globe and setting up roots in far flung places and funnily I also remember running into 2 Igbo men in Bulgaria back in the ’80s, which I really hadn’t expected!

    I think the big concern is safety and yes I would have second thoughts about going solo to certain places where I might face racial animosity, but I’d also have the same hesitation about travelling solo as a female to certain areas. You have to weigh up the adventure with the risk, but that’s part and parcel of travelling eh? And frankly you can have a bad experience right outside your own front door, so really there has to be a bit of caution to the wind, seizing the day and all that malarkey. Here’s to our adventures! xoxo
    Babes about Town recently posted…Easter in London: 22 Cool Things to Do with Kids (March-April 2015)My Profile

    • Thank you for such a thought out and well put response. I really appreciate you taking the time out to comment. You’re right, I didn’t find the incident with the Chinese woman funny at first but by the time I reached my apartment and relayed the story to friends, I did!
      Getting out there more and making it more of a norm is certainly a good suggestion. The more people of colour visit or set up roots in the far corners of the world, the less of a novelty it will become and the easier it should be to travel!
      On a side note… you should SO run Babes about Town tours for families visiting London….*light bulb moment*

  2. Another brilliant post from you Mrs! I love travelling as you know Tinuke and while we lived in China I had a similar experience to you. There I heard myself referred to as yáng guǐzi – foreign devil – and chastised by the older Chinese women for not wrapping my baby up in enough clothes (it was 39 degrees by the way). But at the same time whole Chinese families would try to stroke her hair, or have their photograph taken with her as she was so white, blue eyed and tiny and they loved that. I guess there is prejudice of some sort or another – race, religion, sex, beliefs, the way we bring up our children – everywhere in the world and while it makes me sad and would certainly make me cautious about being a solo travelling in some parts of the world, I agree with Uju *waves* about getting out there and changing perceptions xx

    • Oh goodness that must have been unnerving Michelle! Although I (at times) enjoyed people trying to take photos, the physical aspect of touching was sometimes a tad too much to take – I can’t imagine how I’d felt if the attention was towards my baby!
      Great points about it being all around the world. Thank you!!!

  3. This is a brilliant post, Tinuke. I have never not considered travelling to a place due to my ethnicity, and I was going to say that I had’t considered going to anywhere particularly far flung (Eastern Europe) where there were heightened race issues. However, Spain? My experiences of Spain are so different to yours, and this is really sad. I’m (probably rather naively) shocked that people are still that brutally racist, openly or not.

    My experience of travel is usually being mistaken for locals. People trying to talk to me in their languages etc. I suppose this suggests the places I’ve been to aren’t particularly white (although not particularly dominantly Indian, either!).

    No, I don’t think that our ethnicities should affect where we travel to, but unfortunately it is a consideration that we must consider. That’s not to say we shouldn’t go to certain destinations, but we should think about how to do so as safely as possible. It is seriously sad.

    I wrote a dissertation for my degree on culture. It has a long-winded title including ‘Cultural Competence…’. In it, I discussed the terminology of ‘race’ itself. We’re all one race. All humans, one race. Our difference in appearance is actually more similar to different breeds of dog. All dogs, different breeds. I always find the concept of racism baffling on those grounds. But I seem to have digressed! I got a 1st for that dissertation, though! xx
    Fiona @ Free Range Chick recently posted…St. Bert’s: Bringing fresh new unisex clothes for kidsMy Profile

    • I like the sound of your dissertation. Is it really nerdy of me to admit that I’d enjoy giving it a read!? I’m intrigued with anything to do with cultural studies. Race is such a prominent issue and in an ideal world it would be insignificant!

  4. Not nerdy at all, but this is coming from a fellow nerd! I am very interested in race issues, ethnicity, culture etc. Although I did a nursing degree, I felt that this was an important issues to discuss as part of my course, because it can have profound effects on the way in which people care for people, and they way in which people want to be cared for.

    It should certainly be an insignificant issue. I wonder at what point people began to get judgemental based on the colour of skin? I wonder if other animals (we’re all animals) behave this way with each other – I’ll go back to the dogs analogy. Do they treat each other different based on their breeds? I suspect not. But, it isn’t an ideal world, is it?

    The dissertation is 10k words, Tin… You sure?
    Fiona @ Free Range Chick recently posted…My Palmer’s Cocoa Butter HabitMy Profile

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