I want to be very frank: I’m disappointed that in 2016, this topic is still relevant. It’s a shame to see that women of color like myself aren’t traveling more often, so much so that when looking at the landscape of travel bloggers and vloggers, I’m one of a handful, and because of that, I’m expected to speak on behalf of my entire kind; black women in general.
I want to express that my experience shouldn’t be symbolic of the entire demographic of black women, but that as a black woman, these are various things I’ve experienced, noticed, and would like to bring attention to.
1. We barely exist.
It’s 2016, and yet when you see black women traveling, they’re usually immigrants fighting for better lives for themselves and their children taking jobs as housekeepers and nannies, just as my mother did. Of course, there are black women traveling the world every single day, but the ratio to everyone else traveling is minuscule.
As traveling is a privilege, it is simply not seen as something for people of color; which is upsetting as a person of color who’s actively trying to change that perspective.
After actively traveling for about six years, I haven’t seen more than a dozen black women on flights, in tour groups, or in hotels and hostels. It gets lonely not seeing people who look like you.
2. We carry more weight than the average traveler.
Because there are so few of us out there traveling, when we come back from a life-changing trip, we swallow the moral duty to share our experience with the world, and more importantly, to other black women. Whether we come back with stories of racism, praise, ignorance, or friendships in uncommon places, we want to share our journey. As it’s in most women’s nature to help causes, and people, we feel personally responsible to bring up our kind.
As a travel influencer, I feel this burden more with each new subscriber or reader. We carry the weight and responsibility of speaking on behalf of our entire kind.
3. We experience more than the average cat-calling.
Of course, all women have to deal with the annoying and entitled action of rude men catcalling as we casually walk around, even in our own cities. There was that viral catcalling video that showcased a white woman walking around NYC and secretly filming all of the catcalling she experienced; most of the times by black or latin men. I remember reading criticism on that video, black and Hispanic women felt that a white woman couldn’t nearly depict what we have to experience in regards to harassment by men.
Then I understood their angst during my latest trip to Cuba, where I was enraged at how many Cuban men, mostly mulatto or black men would loudly blow kisses, whistle, scream “BEAUTIFUL LADY,” and follow me for blocks down the street. I ignored them and used my silence to reflect and observe. I saw that they wouldn’t do the same to white women traveling; at least I never witnessed the same persistence and aggression.
This kind of treatment isn’t only limited to Cuba, it’s anywhere black and mixed men are. I’ve experienced the same instance in Harlem, where my white guy friend blatantly told me not even his blonde bombshell girlfriends get harassed as much as I did.
There’s a sense of respect that white women receive without knowing it; at least from black and latin men. As there’s an unspoken understanding that white women are protected by white men, so black men simply don’t feel it’s their place to harass a white woman. Whereas black men see black women as “their people” and therefore feel that they can act and say whatever they like.
Who’s protecting the black women? That’s what I want to know.
4. We are seen as ugly in most countries.
Despite the high level of harassment we receive, we’re not seen as beautiful by most of the world, mostly because societies simply aren’t used to our thick hair, brown skin, and curvy bodies. The stereotypes that societies hold on to about black women never have the words: beautiful, graceful, or intelligent, attached; something that I learned while on a trip to Egypt.
I was so surprised at the honesty I heard from Egyptian locals that I made a video about being a black woman while traveling. What I heard is “Jo jo, you’re the first black woman that I’ve ever seen who’s pretty, I always thought they would be big and fat, loud and ugly.” Homeboy said those words to my face, and I wasn’t even mad at him, I was frustrated at the ignorance behind international beauty standards.
I’ve experienced several instances of being ignored in restaurants and stores when I was traveling with my best friends who, although ethnic, have lighter skin than me. They would have to ask for the check, order more drinks, or request service in order for us to be attended with a smile.
5. We surprise people.
Because of all of these preconceived notions about black women around the world, when we travel, we’re helping soothe the worlds’ ignorance about us. The more we become present in the travel space, the more we’ll change “ugly black women” stereotypes. I’ve had several conversations with men and women who are genuinely surprised at my ability to not only travel but to have created a business out of my lifestyle; when I start speaking to them in several languages, I blow their minds. It shouldn’t be a surprise, but at least we have the pleasure of seeing eyes bug out of heads.
6. No, you can’t touch our hair.
I’m almost 99% positive that all black women have had moments where strangers go full throttle to grab a hair strand, to feel a lock, or to try to bounce a curl; and it’s not ok. Of course, we’re willing to help educate your questions about our hair, but why would anyone think it’s ok to stick their grubby fingers in someone else’s scalp?!
On the subject of hair; I know all women struggle keeping their luscious manes on par while on the road, but finding black hair products abroad is harder than finding a needle in a haystack; part of the reason why my hair gets bigger and bigger with every trip. Most women who travel keep their hair as natural as possible, it’s just easier that way.
7. We’re curious about other black women.
All black women have different stories, but having these two badges attached to our lives gets us thinking about the trials and tribulations of being a black woman elsewhere. Are they praised in Cuba? Are they honored in Portugal? Are they shunned in Denmark? Can they marry anyone of their choosing in South Africa? We have questions on what being a black woman means globally and we empathize with our sisters.
8. We’re role models and we’re proud.
As we’re scarce in the travel community, and there are several confusions attached with our experience, we feel a sense of pride after every trip. Anytime we step outside of our homes and set out on a new journey, it’s not just to see something beautiful, or to take great pictures for a blog; it’s about changing the reputation of black women everywhere.