The article on MSN Travel Voices featured a young African American woman, traveling in Japan.
Here are some of her thoughts and observations:
When I go abroad, I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders to be a good example of a black woman so negative stereotypes don’t continue, especially in homogeneous cultures where there is a lack of diversity. The media doesn’t exactly portray black people incredibly well, and people watch it and make assumptions about what we’re like based on the color of our skin. In some places, they’ve rarely even seen a black person in real life.
I am constantly aware of every move I make when I step outside of the United States. There is not a single moment when I am not cognizant of how I’m representing myself as I walk through the streets of Bangkok or photograph the monuments of Paris. It’s a stinging fear of my presence in their country not being a positive one and therefore contributing to their biases toward people who look like me. When a white person does something unfortunate, they don’t become an example of their entire race. But when one black person does something wrong, it paints us all that way in the eyes of others.
Transposing her experiences over to my own, I have a vastly different awareness of my ethnic heritage and citizenship. I have shared many of those with you, and may end of repeating stories you have already seen.
First, when I am overseas, people always seem to ask “What are you?” They hear my perfect English, and observe my nice, understated but very American style of clothing. Then when I proudly say that I am an American, they seem totally perplexed. Then I have to explain that Americans can look like anyone, including them!! Perhaps it continues to perplex them?
Second, have I ever experienced racial discrimination while traveling on foreign soil? Rarely, on a racial basis, perhaps a little more for being an American. But I must tell you that I have been welcomed all over the world, with little negativity. People love Americans, they just can’t figure out why Trump became the President!!!
Of course in third world countries, the local people think all Americans are wealthy. When they ask about owning a home, or how many cars we own, they are astounded. They are not shy about asking about our economic status.
Most often, I try to explain my ethnicity, how my grandfather came to California in 1896, and that I am a third generation American. Yet, I still get the feeling that they do not entirely believe me.
I am certain that travel is significantly more challenging for African Americans, and Americans with roots in the Middle East. Add to this equation, the challenges for women, gays, handicapped, and larger sized people.
But I firmly believe the world is changing. I think we can transcend the politics, and rhetoric of our countries, and simply deal with people on a very personal level. Often times, it just takes a smile, helping hand, or acquiring a small custom from the country I am visiting. Other times, a small gift or trinket opens the door to smiles and conversation.
Why not try???