One of the most common questions we get when we travel abroad is this:
“Is it safe?”
This question comes with the assumption that the United States has always been a relatively safe place for people to live in comparison to other countries around the world. Yet for many people of color in the United States, their perception of American “safety” is different. For a demographic who has largely experienced violence, hate, and intimidation in this country, it’s not necessarily countries abroad that elicit feelings of unsafety. It’s right here at home.
Last year the United Nations Human Rights Council released a report acknowledging the many human rights violations in the US towards people of color. The report addressed issues like police brutality, the detention of immigration families and children, and racial profiling. And it’s not just the United Nations who believes our country’s actions and policies are a legitimate cause for concern. After the recent onslaught of police killings, the Bahamas issued a travel advisory warning its mostly black citizens to practice caution when visiting the US In their statement the foreign ministry said:
“In particular, young males are asked to exercise extreme caution in affected cities in their interactions with the police. Do not be confrontational and cooperate.”
Britain’s Foreign Office also issued a statement of caution for LGBT travelers saying: “The US is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards LGBT people differ hugely across the country.”
These advisories remind us that though we in the United States may fear the dangers we’ve heard about abroad, many marginalized people around the world also fear the dangers they’ve heard about us. Though many people in the United States would never think of our country as a “human rights violator,” for many marginalized groups, this is their reality.
After this year’s election, marginalized groups have even more reason to question their safety in this country. Disturbing footage at Trump rallies, captured by the New York Times, illustrated how racist, misogynistic, and ultimately violent the political climate had become. After the election, The New Yorker reported that the Southern Poverty Law Center had documented 437 “incidents of intimidation” between November 8th, and November 14th. These incidents targeted not only people of color, but also Muslims, immigrants, the L.G.B.T. community, and women. This blog compiled twenty-one social media descriptions of incidents of physical or verbal abuse towards people of color. Every single one mentioned our president elect’s name during the attack.
The documentary Hate Rising by Jorge Ramos revealed how the election had also made many Latino elementary school students fearful for the safety of their families. The Los Angeles Times reported findings from the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations that hate crimes against Latinos increased 69% last year. Many attackers used anti-immigrant language (for example, comments like “you don’t belong here”) during the crime.
In an interview, Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first U.S. Muslim Olympian to compete while wearing a hijab, also expressed how she perceived the danger of living in the United States: “[I feel unsafe] all the time. I had someone follow me home from practice and try to report me to police, and this is right on 28th and 7th in New York City.” The New York Times recently reported that hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. are the highest they’ve been since 9/11.
All of these numbers could even be higher. Because states like Georgia, South Carolina, and Arkansas don’t have specific hate-crime laws, it’s harder to track these incidents when they occur.
For many marginalized people, the US right now can seem far less safe than traveling to other places. In fact, for many of these people, leaving the United States to travel abroad is a way of gaining safety, not losing it. In his piece “No Country for Black Men,” writer and editor Miles Marshall Lewis expressed how his move to France for seven years was motivated by the fear from racism that he experienced in the States. The short documentary Seeking Asylum illustrates Darnell Lamont Walker’s journey through Europe to address his feeling of unsafety in the States. Last year, Kyle Canty made headlines by applying for asylum in Canada, claiming that in the United States, he fears for his life.
Our notion of “safety” in any given place largely depends on many aspects of our identity: our skin color, our religion, our nationality, etc. When we talk about “safety” in travel, it’s important to acknowledge those differences and take into account many of the dangerous realities people of every identity may experience.