Black History Month

Black History Month – Does Colour Really Matter?

For persons of colour visiting tourist sites to persons of colour being visited by tourists, skin colour does impact the travel experience.

I remember being asked in Australia by an American to describe the significance of Ayers Rock to ‘my people.’ (Had I been a mouthy sarcastic person I would have explained that it is important to ‘my people’, the Canadians, because it is a huge rock on the other side of the world.) Other times I’m asked to translate the local dialect to other tourists. As much as I enjoy learning languages, I am not fluent in Jamaican patois or Swahili. And when I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself in a 4 or 5 star establishment, people look at me as though I’m the hired help and wonder what I’m doing on ‘this side’ of the table/door etc. With locals, however, my skin colour can work in my favour.

Some give me better deals when bargaining, others treat me with less resistance because I’m like “one of them”  while some locals just leave me alone. On my not-so-recent trip to Ethiopia, the children all clamoured around the ‘farangi’ or foreigners (all the Caucasian tourists) and ignored me. Since I looked like them I held no novelty.

On the flip side, persons of colour in tourist destinations often fall into one of 3 categories:

  • where one expects to find them: Africa
    One is lead to expect certain things of what they will find in a destination. Though not overtly stated in tourist brochures, it is covertly suggested that you “come see the half-naked and primitive people while on safari in Africa“. Imagine going to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, and having a coffee and delightful chocolate pastry in the company of well-dressed affluent Ethiopians? Africa is a huge continent with a massive variety of cultures, languages and dress and yes well-established and long-standing black communities exist outside of Africa too.
  • where one doesn’t expect to find them: Scandinavia
    Imagine going to Stockholm and encountering Marcus Samuelsson. This celebrity chef is Ethiopian born and now resides in the States. However, he was raised in Sweden. On a very not-so-recent trip to Syria, I met a gentleman who looked like he walked out of a Bollywood film and when he opened his mouth sounded like he was related to Colin Farrell (Irish actor).
  • where one assumes they will be but it’s not on the itinerary: Ghettos of the Americas.
    The slums of Rio de Janeiro and the no-go zones of Compton, Los Angeles or Harlem, New York are not often on the main tourist trail. Though tourists don’t make an effort to visit impoverished minorities in the Americas, they, ironically, are content to visit and take pictures of them when travelling to developing countries.

Travel can inspire, educate and inform and for these reasons people of colour should get out to see and be seen. Whether they are the visitors or the visited, people of colour around the world can help augment the best a travel experience has to offer.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.
~Mark Twain from Innocents Abroad~

Blog post: Why It Is An Imperative That People of Colour Travel The World
Pathfinders Travel: The Travel Magazine for People of Colour


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