Racial justice is about making sure people of all races are treated equally everywhere. That means that anyone, anywhere, can help. As travelers, our actions can either contribute to racial injustice or help alleviate the problem. If you want to ensure you’re supporting people of color as a traveler, here are a few ways you can help.
1. Stay at hotels and eat at restaurants owned by people of color.
A 2016 study from the Institute for Policy Studies found that in the United States, the average black family would need 228 years to build the wealth of a white family today. For Latino families, it would take 84 years. Around the world, in the travel industry specifically, there is also a racial wealth gap. In some countries reliant on tourism, money ends up in the pockets of foreign-owned (and mostly white) tour operators, airlines, hotels, etc. This phenomenon is called “tourism leakage.”
Whenever possible, stay at black-owned hotels or hotels run by people of color in the US. When traveling abroad, always stay at hotels and hostels run by locals to ensure your tourist money is actually benefiting the country you’re traveling to.
2. Consider your implicit bias when hosting guests.
In 2016, the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack trended on Twitter and exposed several instances of racism experienced by black travelers using the site. Several black travelers shared disturbing experiences of dealing with white Airbnb hosts: Some hosts openly used racial epithets; some denied black travelers a room while later welcoming white travelers to visit.
The controversy sparked the creation of start-ups like Noirbnb, which caters to travelers of color who don’t want to have to deal with racial discrimination. Noirbnb offers a “global travel community that provides experiences and events with a focus on including and celebrating travelers of color.”
Often, these incidents have nothing to do with blatant racism and everything to do with implicit bias. Psychologists have found that our brains have already been programmed to racially discriminate. This can cause even the most well-intentioned people to make racist choices, even though they’re not aware of it.
If you’re hosting on any travel website — Couchsurfing, Airbnb, WWOOF, Workaway, etc. — take some time first to read about implicit bias, and make sure you’re not falling under the same trap.
3. If you are white, acknowledge your privilege.
There are plenty of examples of how white privilege affects our day-to-day interactions at home. If you need more convincing that white privilege still applies even if you’re a “broke white person,” there are many essays on the topic to learn more. If you need more proof that it still applies when you’re traveling abroad, here are more essays written by travelers of color describing how race affected their travel experience (a quick google search will bring you plenty more).
This doesn’t mean white travelers are required to feel guilty during their trip or spend their entire vacation apologizing. But it does mean that they should acknowledge the problematic, unjust, or potentially dangerous behavior that travelers of color are forced to confront while on the road. And it means that if you see any of that behavior happening in front of you, it’s time to speak up.
4. Check your word choices when speaking with locals or writing about your travel experience to people back home.
There is a long history of white travelers reporting back on their travels using racially insensitive and ignorant language. Often, white writers also portray their travels through a “white savior” narrative that disregards the agency of non-white locals and instead portrays them as people who can’t help themselves.
Even when done unintentionally, writing like this offends and disempowers people of color. Consider how your word choices could be interpreted by people of color, and reflect on the history that perhaps made you choose a certain word to describe a group of people.
5. Research the racial histories and tensions of the places you visit.
Issues like slavery, genocide, immigration, and others can greatly impact how much a country has thought about race. Not every country is going to approach a topic through the same context. Even racial labeling can vary greatly between countries. For example, in the United States, it’s generally now frowned upon to use the word “colored” while in South Africa “coloured” has an entirely different meaning, racial classification, and history attached to it.
Don’t make assumptions by labeling people based on the racial categories you know back home. And don’t assume that the way your country confronts race is the same way (or the best way) that others deal with the issue. Instead, ask people how they identify and why, and get curious about how their racial identity has been formed through the unique experiences of race in their home country.
6. Speak up.
The most important thing you can do as a traveler is to be a vocal advocate. If you hear something racially insensitive at a hostel bar, or on a tour group outing, call it out. Encourage others to go through the same process you’re going through as a racially conscious traveler. Get educated about racial issues, reflect on your own unintentional biases and assumptions, and become more self-aware.
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