Traveling While Black

Traveling While Black

On my travels , I have noticed that not many African Americans travel.  I have also realized that many in the world have a distorted (i.e negative) view of African Americans from movies and television.  If you don’t have any real life interaction  with black people and all you see are negative, stereotypical portrayals on mass media, I don’t blame you for that.  From the beginning, my goal was to show the world the most positive view of an African American woman as much as possible and to be open to discussion.  That was one of the main reasons that I moved to Turkey in 2011 for a year.

Here, I will discuss a few of my encounters I have had while traveling…..

Hair:  Before moving abroad in 2011, I was anxious about the usual things.  How would the people receive me as an American, How will I get along with limited language skills etc…….But the one thing that worried me the most was, where would I get my hair done and/or find products in a country that is mostly homogeneously non-black.  Crazy I know, but it was an issue all the same.  I’ve had plenty of trouble right here in the good ol’ US of A finding good and professional places to get my hair done, so I was a bit worried.  Turns out that once I went to a local beauty shop in Turkey, I found that they did the best job and didn’t seem “frightened” by me or my hair.  I say “frightened” because I have gotten that look more than once here in America walking into a beauty salon for the first time.  In Turkey, hair dressers didn’t bat and eyelash and gave me the best service I think I have ever gotten.  My hair never looked so good!  Lesson learned……give it a try, especially if you are staying for awhile.  People are more accepting than you think.

At the beauty shop in Turkey.
At the beauty shop in Turkey.

Further more, it is amazing how much people are curious about my hair.  I get questions all the time, (once people are comfortable enough to ask).  Is your hair soft?  Is it curly?  Why do you put oil in it?  Why don’t you wash it everyday? etc…… Some students in Turkey even wanted to touch my hair.  We all should be more open to questions because learning is what will combat ignorance, right?

Stares:  If you are black, you may be stared at any place that you travel, especially in countries where black people are a rare sight.  For example Asia.  Traveling around mainland China and other places outside of large cities will get you a few stares.  Be ready for this. I was because I had encountered this before and thought the curiosity was, well refreshing.  More often than not, the stares, are pure curiosity and not to be taken as negative.  In Turkey, I was stared at daily, sometimes pointed to and other times greeted with squeals because it was the first time many had seen a black person live and in person. 

One day, while walking down the street of the small town in Turkey where I lived, a woman stopped me.  She looked to be beside herself with delight. She smiled and said something to me that was indistinguishable and squealed with joy.  She proceeded to kiss me on the cheek and we spent the next several minutes taking pictures together.  One with me and her and with me and her daughter and so on… Now I know how Beyoncé feels.  Apparently, it was the very first time that she had ever seen a black person.  To me, that meeting of two cultures was fascinating because I could see the amazement in this lady’s eyes.   I welcomed the attention to a certain extent and the questions.  In fact, I felt like I was a celebrity after awhile with the pointing, stares and occasional photo requests.

Me (sunglasses on head) with the surprised lady, her daughter and a friend of mine, Rachel.
From left: the “surprised” lady’s daughter, me, surprised lady and a friend of mine, Rachel.

After starting this post, I have decided to expand on it with another post or 2 about the subject.  Before I moved abroad, I looked for information like this, but was unsuccessful in finding other’s experiences in traveling while black.  What I know for sure is to have an open mind and you will learn something everyday and  you will teach someone else something along the way.

 bri in cappadocia

What are your experiences in traveling while _____?



2 thoughts on “Traveling While Black

  1. I’ve been looking for narratives such as this, and I thought that if I finally wrote it, I would be the first. THANK YOU! You speak truth. As for myself in my travels, especially while hanging with other travelers when I briefly lived in Brazil, I enjoy defying stereotypes. I became a teacher, of sorts, everywhere I went as people asked me about my hair with such genuine ignorance and curiosity that could never, ever get mad. “Yes, you can touch it, yes, I just added water, yes, these are my struggles because I wear my hair naturally.”

    One particular experience in Bahia, I went in deep with an Estonian woman who was absolutely surprised to learn how political Black hair is as I told her about my journey since cutting my hair and going natural. Then she went and educated herself some more and came back to me with such excitement and distress about the information she had learned as she delved deeper into the subject matter of our conversation. I’ll never forget that experience because I completely changed her perspective and opened her eyes to something that she had truly never known before, and she’s told me how she’s shared it with others.

    More people need to consider this, that traveling while “*insert something here*” while a little scary, can be an opportunity for a lot of people to learn, including yourself, if you’re open enough to entertain difficult/taboo conversation. It certainly was for me.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experiences! I still can’t believe how political our hair is, but the more we talk about it openly, the more people will understand.
      I have learned so many things through travel and sharing with others and I just hope that I have opened a few minds. 🙂

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