Africa Black Travel Cultural Clashes Keepin' It Real

Black Travelers: We Need To Have This Talk

Estimated Reading Time: 25 minutes


Cape Town, South Africa

Black people. Oh, how I love us. Diaspora dialogue will have you vibin’ and jivin’ to our melanin melody, because the black community just has a way of putting literal and figurative color into life.

We have our own language(s), culture, and unspoken truths that make our existence so unique, dynamic, and admired by many.

Black people are arguably some of the most versatile people in the world. And we flex and adapt based on our surroundings because… well, we have to.

You could get Lacy one second and LaQuisha the next. David one minute and Darnell the other. Hashtag, we lit!

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With Las Morenas de España founder + crew in Barcelona, Spain

Jokes aside, we never lose sight of our roots.

But even in all our sunkissed skin unity, we’re our own worst critics and enemies, especially when it comes to how we deal with each other.

And we’ve seemed to form this exclusivity about our culture that makes it hard for people on the outside to understand us better.

There's a conversation that the black travel community has needed to have for a while. Let's talk. Click To Tweet

But before I get into that, allow me to contextualize my journey, my travels, and this article a bit, so that you can understand my perspective and why I’m so bothered by this.

I graduated from college in 2013, and 10 days later, packed my life into a suitcase or three and “moved” to Europe on a one-way ticket.

How long did I plan to travel? I had no idea. What I did have, was about $500 to my name and determination to see as many countries as possible with that amount.

No one, including my mother, knew how broke I was. But I’m sure she had a clue as she constantly called to remind me to get a rill jobe!” in her very Nigerian accent.

But I knew money was fleeting. There’s always money to be made, and money to be paid. So I just tried to do the best with what I had.

If that meant my meals for the day would be a large loaf of bread divided into three parts so that I could have something for breakfast, lunch, and dinner — so be it.

If I was sneaky enough to slip a couple butter packs from my hostel into my purse, I did. And then I’d treat myself to a ham slice or two if I was starving shameless enough.

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My cute AirBnb hut in Livingstone, Zambia

If you’ve read my book, you know a bit about my troubled childhood.

I’m from a family of eight, and the third daughter of two Nigerian-born and raised parents who immigrated to California to raise our family in the 80’s.

I lived a very sheltered [but typical African] life, where God and education were at the forefront of everything.

I was a 4.5 GPA student, loved writing, and started my first blog at 11 years old. I was glued to computers, obsessed with creating things, and always found ways to express myself through digital means.

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My beautiful family minus my dad who passed away in 2012 (and yes, that’s my mom slaying in the middle)

Despite all that, since I didn’t have the same childhood freedoms as my [white American] friends growing up, I rebelled in every way possible and was regularly suspended from elementary and middle school.

I hated how strict and closed off life was for me. Here was this imaginative girl, with little room to explore it.

Needless to say, how could I dream of anything beyond the realm of what my parents had already sculpted for my life?

This became my teenage struggle for years.

But when I got to college on a basketball scholarship, and someone planted the idea of studying abroad for a semester, I practically scoffed at the idea, as I didn’t think it was something black people did (see: snowboarding, giving time-outs, living in North Dakota, etc).

I couldn’t even afford to pay attention in biology class, so what did I look like trying to prioritize my peasantry with plane tickets?

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Baker University Fall Class of 2013, Baldwin City, Kansas, USA

Traveling to me was very much considered a rich man’s hobby and it was cute that someone thought I fit the bill, but I kept the receipt and put a “return-to-sender” on the thought, because, naw son.

But then an academic advisor suggested I try it. And then a professor. And then a coach. And pretty soon I had enough encouragement to apply, get accepted, and make this unrealistic idea a reality.

Being Nigerian, of course my mom thought I was crazy.

“I came all dee way to Ah-merry-cah for you to leaf? FOOLISH GOAT!” Nigerian parents love insulting their kids with random nouns. All out of love of course 🙂

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On the front lawn of my study abroad campus, Harlaxton College. Not too shabby, eh?

You have to understand, if you are born in Africa and immigrate to the states to start a family, your people back home will literally think you’ve made it and will expect you to start sending them back all your riches at your earliest convenience.

Therefore you have this obligation to build up a life (your kids included), be successful, and prove all your relatives right through means of a lucrative career in medicine, law, or engineering.

So the idea of me leaving a country she spent the better years of her life trying to assimilate into, was a bit insulting. And I understood that. And I asked God for forgiveness, not permission, soooooo, off I went.

I was pretty much half rebel, half @%$hole the majority of my life. I’ve come to terms with it.

As a broke college student who spent my book money investing in a camera to teach myself photography, my mom knew I wouldn’t be able to afford a plane ticket to get anywhere but an @$%whooping.

What she didn’t know, is that I turned that one-time $500 camera investment, into the gift that kept on giving, booking anywhere from 3-5 photo shoots per week.

As an Aries and Nigerian, if there’s something I want, there’s nothing that will stop me from getting it.

I’m stubborn and dedicated in my desires, and it was only a matter of time before my blessings manifested before my eyes.

Ticket, booked! So off I went.

Studying abroad in the UK was by far the best thing to happen to me, because that led to my first job upon graduation, and my love for solo travel soon after.

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Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Most people think of a semester in a foreign country as an opportunity to drink and let loose for 4 months, especially as the drinking age is 3 years less in most other countries outside of the U.S.

Though it’s 21 stateside, I waited until I was 22 just because I wanted to finish out my collegiate basketball and tennis season as focused as possible.

I also made some decent change on weekends being my friends’ and teammates’ designated drivers. Again, #TheNaijaHustle

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Irish at heart | Dublin, Ireland

But as soon as I started my semester abroad, I wanted to make sure I made the most of every opportunity and experience, because Lord knows my broke ass wallet wouldn’t be able to afford to do this ever again.

People don’t understand how much of a privilege traveling is. Not to mention how much of a privilege it is when you have a first world passport.

Within the first week of studying abroad, I applied and was hired as an Ambassador, a Resident Assistant, and a Campus Blogger.

While only one of those three positions were paid, it was more than the money I was after. I knew I would gain professional experience that would hopefully lead to other opportunities.

And sure enough — it did! I got my first job post-college as a Multimedia and Student Development Intern at the very place I studied abroad. BOOM! Manifestation.

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Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

I was literally getting paid to travel with the students, run the campus social media, and create marketing materials both in digital and print.

Though the job was extremely tasking and time-consuming, I still made time for my blog as much as I could.

And I snuck away to travel as much as possible too. Solo jaunts to any random territory my black ass could get to.

And being based in the UK for a year meant that the most affordable travel options from there were of course, around Europe.

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Being extra like guacamole | Lloret de Mar, Spain

I got to cross off so many incredible destinations and places I would’ve never thought I’d see beyond a television screen.

And then I started venturing further east and into territories where I became the first black encounters many of the locals were having, which was unfathomable for me, but amusing, nonetheless.

I then started transitioning the focus of my blog to address some of these experiences as a black woman, because I was learning things about the black travel experience the hard way.

Though these harsher experiences were far and few between, I still wish someone would’ve gave me a heads up that they happened.

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Florence, Italy

I wish someone would’ve told me that waiting for the night bus in Rome meant that cars may slow down every few minutes and wave 100 euros my way, assuming I was a prostitute. (For the record, I’d like to think I’m worth 100x that price, I digress).

I wish someone would’ve warned me that people in some countries will spit in my path to let me know they didn’t approve of me being there.

I wish someone would’ve let me know that a restaurant may deny me service because they don’t think I could afford to eat there because I’m black — meaning impoverished, to many people. 

So I finally mustered up the courage to open up about these raw and real isolated experiencesNOT to deter black people from traveling there, but to let them know, it happens, and that the good will still outweigh the bad.

It’s a quick and reassuring, “Hey, sis, I experienced that too, so don’t trip!”

To remind them that the unmitigated ignorance of a few doesn’t dictate nor reflect the feelings of the entire country.

That beyond these inevitable and blatant acts of hatred, we are allowed to exist anywhere we please and not to let these @%$holes ruin a trip for you.

Again, I was so broke, yet so eager to see the world, that my sole goal was to stretch my dollar as far as I could for as long as I could, and figure out a way to make it work en route.

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Always down for a plane selfie! PLELFIE? | Cyprus-bound

It means I moved to a new country (Spain) with less than $75 to my name.

It means that I didn’t care to cross off bucket list destinations, as much as I cared to just experience any new territory that I could afford to get to.

And God bless the Schengen zone, because it meant my American passport [and privilege] afforded me the opportunity to pass through 26 countries by plane, boat, train, or bus and I’d get to bypass any visas, fees, or paperwork.

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Schwetzingen, Germany

And time and time again, I learned how there was still an overwhelmingly negative global perception of black people.

I mean, you try throwing a race into the same stereotypical movie roles for decades and see what it subconsciously does to the psyche of people everywhere.

I’m on an almost daily mission to continue reversing those stereotypes about black people and black women.

But who knew this mission would fall on deaf ears to a demographic I wanted nothing more than to help liberate.

Because like I said, the good experiences outweighed the bad ones by a mile.

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Hitchhiking in Montenegro! 12/10 would recommend. Super fun, but maybe because I put that I was Serena Williams on my sign #TravelingWhileBlack

My words and my experiences are freeing and empowering for me, and I wanted my fellow Black Americans to come experience this for themselves.

To get used to what it’s like to have someone think you’re a celebrity, instead of a drug dealer or criminal.

To get used to what it’s like to not be followed everywhere in a store.

To get used to what it’s like to be amongst people who actually want to listen and learn about your culture, not just criticize and judge it.

I never dreamed I’d still be on the road 4 years since that first flight across the Atlantic, still able to find ways to get paid to do what I love — travel.

“You know you can’t do this forever right?” I’m reminded daily by both people online and on the road. But who said that was the goal? People seem to feel threatened by someone else’s confidence, as if it’s a reminder of their own shortcomings. Or the risks they didn’t take. The options they didn’t explore. The happiness they never achieved. Living out of a suitcase full time is every bit as glamorous as it sounds (lol, it’s not). But it’s a small price to pay for the things I get to experience. The goal isn’t to live forever. The goal is to create a legacy that will. And if I can inspire people in the slightest to dream a bit deeper, explore a bit further, or live a bit crazier, then my work here is done, and your approval simply isn’t necessary. So to my risk-takers and hustlers who dare to dream, don’t ever let anyone try to limit your imagination. You were made for this. 🙌🏾✊🏾

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From the 6-year-old boy who found it necessary to rub dirt on my wrist and inform me that they’re basically the same color, to the Greek man who gently placed my arm next to his and exclaimed, “The contrast! It’s so beautiful!”

*electric slides away in Swahili*

However offensive or disturbing, there is always an opportunity for at least one person to come away from the experience more enlightened.

Spoiler Alert: It usually won’t be you.

We are simply an enigma in some places and I just wanted the black community (especially in the western world) to come experience this firsthand.

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No matter how many times they insisted on biting my hand (because, chocolate), I adored these little humans | Barcelona, Spain

I never intended on this blog becoming my “job”. I simply loved to write and explore — and I combined the two and made a lifestyle out of it.

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I’ve gotten used to talking quite candidly about all the ups and downs of traveling while black.

But my words of empowerment, vulnerability, and inspiration to the black community were instead reciprocated with slander, hate, and shame.

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Flamenco Beach, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico

I never thought that documenting my journey fresh out of college, with nothing more than a degree and a few dollars to my name would yield so much vitriol from the very people I tried to write for and inspire.

I never knew that being a role model for my future kids and struggling black teenagers (like I was in my past) would land me on the receiving end of some of the most hateful things I’ve ever heard in my life.

And 99% of it would come from the black community. Why?

All because my first few travel experiences came from Europe — the only continent I could even afford to travel to in the first place.

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Salzburg, Austria

Black travelers, black community, black people, I beg you, I beg us, to please stop this cancerous culture of travel shaming by way of this virtual hierarchy that adds or subtracts shades to our blackness.

Learning about other cultures is NOT an act of disregard for our own. Click To Tweet

Stop shaming black people for traveling to Europe before Africa.

Stop acting like traveling around Africa is as cheap as it is in Europe.

Stop using our travel itineraries to validate our levels of “wokeness”. You could be a Hotep hoteppin’ in Namibia just as hard as someone traveling through Spain.

Stop acting like the colonizers and slave owners of the past are somehow embedded in the souls of white people today.

Stop acting like traveling to Europe should be something reserved for only white people.

Stop with the mentality that we are not to mix and mingle with people who aren’t black.

Stop guilting black people into feeling inadequate for not prioritizing Africa over other travel destinations.

Black travelers, the travel shaming in our community has GOT to stop! Click To Tweet

It is grossly exhausting, disheartening, and frustrating to get comments like this almost daily.

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Lest we forget, America was built off the backs of slaves. Black people have the right to stay and enjoy the country their ancestors helped build.

But God forbid I went on to share my positive experiences around Europe, inviting fellow Black Americans to meet me on the other side, and the hate I have to read and skim through daily in my emails is absolutely ridiculous.

As I’m re-reading these comments now, tears are hitting my keyboard not because of the words, but because of the faces of black people attached to them.

Trolls or not, the number of messages I get from black people with the underlying message of how I’m a disgrace for not having traveled to the Motherland first, makes me so enraged, as if I’m not allowed to enjoy the harvest of my seeds, given my circumstances of how I started traveling in the first place.

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Salvador de Bahía, Brazil

Another common message I get is the very misogynoir-minded idea that:

“Black women love to worship their oppressors.”

Sir, WHAT?! Like, can we stop that? The manager of this restaurant literally just treated me to a 5-course meal on the house and invited me to an event with the staff later that evening for no other reason than me being black.

Sorry that I said yes to the offer and that they were so excited to introduce me to all their friends, show me around their city, and lend me their car for rides whenever I needed.

If anything, they oppressed these thighs, because I’ve put on a good 10 lbs from all the free carbs I was spoiled with.

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Hungry in Hungary!

Had I not traveled around Europe, Asia, or South America before I went to Africa, I’m not sure I’d be able to handle some of the things I had to deal with.

Let’s stop equating Africa to any other continent in the world because no place will ever come close. Africa is beautiful, difficult, enriching, humbling, frustrating, inspiring, and overwhelming in every way.

Having just spent 3 months in the Motherland, exploring seven African nations, the experience still leaves me speechless today.

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Sossuvlei, Namibia

I invested almost $4,000 into my African adventures. A dollar amount that could easily stretch me for 8 months in Asia, 6 months in Europe, and a good 4 in South America.

Searching flights from Kenya to Nigeria was anywhere from $1,000 – 3,000 USD for a one-way ticket.

Black Americans and Africans share the same skin, but have such contrasting realities and mindsets. And it’s why Black Americans might need some practice traveling through other countries before plunging right into the cradle of civilization.

Though the bribe culture is not an issue only specific to African countries, I’m not going to disregard the fact that at seven different levels of my passing through the Lagos International Airport, workers tried to extort money from me — because they simply could.

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Lagos, Nigeria

Had I not been Nigerian myself, and warned by my mother that this would happen, I may have just handed over cash every time they found a reason I violated a “law”.

The most ridiculous one was a lady who found my workout resistance bands in my carry-on and told me that they’re forbidden from being there and needed to be checked in my other luggage.

She tried to call people over to escort me back through security, and threatened to throw them away, and once she saw how unphased I was, because I knew the game, she gave up and went to try her luck on the next person.

Let’s be honest with ourselves — that will not happen to you in Scotland. Or Austria. Or Norway. Or Ireland. Or Germany. Or Denmark. Or Monaco. Should I go on?

There is corruption everywhere, but there are levels to it. And Africa is a beast you must prepare for.

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Johannesburg, South Africa

So back on a global scale, it’s not a secret, that some countries will yield better and more welcoming experiences than others.

And if the average Black American has two weeks off per year to explore the world, I want to make sure they’re spending their hard-earned dollars in a country that welcomes them.

A two-week jaunt in Europe will get you so much further than a two-week jaunt around Africa. Do we know how big Africa is?

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Your daily dose of perspective. Can’t wait to backpack around Africa on my two-week annual vacation! 🙂

Yet we’re trying to shame black people who can easily cross off 5 European countries in that span with little time lost en route via train or budget airlines.

LET THEM LIVE!

And today, we now have incredible black travel communities and groups like Black Travel Movement, Travel Noire, Nomadness Travel Tribe, and Black & Abroad who are all about celebrating, encouraging, and inspiring travel in our community to anywhere!

Did you know black people are the fastest growing demographic of American travelers, yet our own people are trying to shame and dictate where we go.

#HowSway?!

There are so many contradicting emotions about the Motherland, and it’s the reason I’ve hardly been able to put together my posts about my travels around Africa a couple months ago.

What’s even more ironic, is that we shame Black Americans for not wanting to travel to Africa right away, yet 85% of us don’t even want to be referred to as African-American.

THE CAUCASITY! I’M SO CONFUSED.

As a daughter of two Nigerian parents, I am literally African-American. Yes, you can call me black too.

But don’t erase my heritage. I hold onto that hyphen and embrace that I am AFRICAN first, born on American soil.

Hyphenating my label doesn’t make me any less American than Billy-Bob from Nebraska.

What it does do, is acknowledge my often forgotten ancestry.

My blood is 100% Naija green. I’m Ogidi and Enugukwu-made by way of both my parents. And I’m blessed to know my direct lineage and proud to embrace that hyphen.

But for those who can’t trace their African heritage, my girl Veronica nailed my thoughts…

Gabby also makes a great point for many who feel like they shouldn’t be called African-American because it somehow makes them feel less American than the next person.

If Italians, Irish, Spaniards, Greeks, etc don’t hyphenate their American label, then why do we? Valid question, and I don’t think it’s an attempt at political correctness any more than it’s meant to pay homage to our roots.

I was in Kenya when I wrote that status on my Facebook, genuinely curious as to what Black Americans want to be called these days, and when I shared the results of the poll with my Kenyan, Nigerian, South African, and Zimbabwean friends, they were both shocked and bit disheartened that so many people wanted to drop the African label.

Again, this plays into the contrasting realities and perspectives one carries as an African vs. a Black American.

And one of the biggest critiques that my African friends shared with me about Black Americans is that they get in their own way and refuse to accept the reality of their circumstances, no matter how sh*tty.

And while that oversimplifies and disregards the fact that Africans being born in a majority black continent and country means they will never experience racism to the degree of Black Americans, I was still able to digest their message, however harsh.

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Machu Picchu, Cuscuo | Photo Credit: Derio Ilari

Black Americans, as soon as we accept that no matter what we do and how hard we try, there will always be people who have a problem with our existence, the sooner we’ll be able to pivot, adjust, adapt, and flourish.

Our job is not to make people love us. Racist Randall still thinks we should be hanging outside his backyard. And I don’t mean for a BBQ.

We could spend our lives lamenting about slavery and its generational handicap in our society, hating anybody with our oppressor’s skin color, or we could learn to make the most of the opportunities we are afforded, the privileges we do have, and the mountains we can move on our own.

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Enugu, Nigeria

This is where I identify more with my Nigerian heritage than my Black American one. Nigerians don’t give three sh*ts about whether they’re wanted or welcomed somewhere.

They legit will set up shop anywhere and thrive because their success has nothing to do with the approval of others.

They’re there to hustle, get ahead, and send some funds back home to relatives. They get a reputation for loving money too much, but I will never knock their ambition.

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Jerusalem, Israel

The thing I have to remind myself often, is that Blacks weren’t the only race or ethnic group who were enslaved, murdered, raped, and oppressed by other people.

And I don’t think black people realize how resilient we are.

Visiting Brazil, home of the largest import of African slaves to the Americas (almost 5 million forcibly labored over the period of four centuries), was such a humbling experience for me.

Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery in the Western world. Not the United States! Perspective.

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Colorism is still a huge issue there because of that.

And during the abolishment movement, Brazil’s solution to get rid of their “Negro Problem” (yes, that’s what they called it), was by forced racial whitening, branqueamento.

This whitening ideology garnered massive support through the belief that the Negro race would disappear completely within a few generations of mixed breeding between whites and blacks.

And if you didn’t agree with this as a black person in Brazil, they pushed you into the hills, out of town, and off to fend for yourselves without food, running water, or any kind of governing.

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Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro

Yet and still, they found a way to survive and to this day, Afro-Brazilians still live a very rough life in the favelas, but the important thing is that they have and will continue to endure and survive.

Black people, that's what we do best. We take the sh*t the world throws at us, and press forward. Click To Tweet

We bend, but we don’t break.

And we will never get the world to be on our side if we can’t even get on each other’s.

Traveling is such a privilege in our black community, yet we still find ways to tear each other down because of the ways we choose to travel and the destinations we want to go.

Instead of dictating the direction of someone else’s dollars, why don’t we use what we learn from other cultures, to improve our own — I mean, everyone does this with our culture anyway (see: appropriation).

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Me jumping to conclusions | Salvador de Bahía, Brazil

This post will resonate with some and anger others, and that’s perfectly okay.

You’ve read the kind of messages I’m used to getting, so either there will be more of the same, or people will take a step back and do some soul-searching like I have during these past four years of traveling the world.

You can take my black card, you can call me a sellout, and you can continue spewing the hate in light of my truths.

But what you can’t take away is my dignity, my passion, and my relentless pursuit to leave this world a better, more compassionate, and more accepting place than I found it.

And that’s something my skin color nor yours, can stop us from doing.

For years, I used being black as an excuse. The reason I couldn’t do X, Y, or Z.

Now I’m choosing to use it as a source of strength, a shield of protection, and a blessing beyond comprehension.

And the travel destinations I or any other black person chooses doesn’t take an ounce away from our blackness or dedication to making our community, our people, and our culture better off.

For more daily musings, keep up with me on Instagram HERE.

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