While in Sayulita this January, my friend Curt Barter showed me the wonders of Quora. Recently, I made a Quora account to comment on an article, but didn’t understand what it was so it was pretty serendipitous that he asked me if I’d ever heard of it while hanging out one night. Yesterday, I answered my first Quora question
As an African American where are the best places to travel without experiencing racism?
I couldn’t think of a more perfect question to be my first Quora answer. I’ve been asked this by several friends and family members and is something I want to explore here on ‘NAPW more. Here is my answer for Quora with a bonus FIVE MORE locations for my ‘N A Perfect World readers.
From childhood, I’ve traveled with my Caribbean American family. As founder of my blogand travel writer for places like Du Jour, Vice and Popsugar magazine I’ve been to dozens of countries all over the world and have lived in Italy (in Milan and a small beach town in Salento).
It would be ignorant to say that we’re in a post-racial society and that it’s something you shouldn’t think about when you’re traveling. I have traveled abroad during both the Bush Jr. and the Obama presidency and there was a huge difference between how Americans were treated during both. It will be extremely interesting to navigate travel politics during Trump’s presidency; something I’ve already experienced having been to Anguilla, London and Mexico since he’s been President-Elect.
I encourage people of color to go out and see the world. That is the only way these boundaries / stereotypes can be broken. I’ve rarely experienced travel prejudices vs. curiosities (i.e. an Asian family in Singapore asking to for a photo of me with their child). This all being said, here are 10 places I’ve traveled that I was particularly well received as an African American woman.
- Italy (both North and South): There’s a funny stereotype that Italian men love black women — from my experience over the last 10 years, it’s true. I’ve been met with kindness, love and curiosity during my times spent in Italy — especially for black American culture. I’ve also found an openness there, a willingness to ask questions that break down walls. Questions that would be un-PC to ask in the US but when coming from a place of genuine curiosity are quite helpful in dispelling untruths and myths.
- London, UK: I’m from New York and find London to be equally, if not more-so culturally diverse and thriving. As a person of color, you do not stand out at all, maybe as an American, but there are tons of those there as well ;).
- Geneva & Lausanne, Switzerland: Less than an hour apart, Geneva and Lausanne are like two very different sisters. Geneva playing the affluent older sister home to the WHO, international banks, nestled under Mt. Geneva. Lausanne is a hip, hilly, college town, filled with dancing, late night bars and an active student population. In both places I noticed a large amount of I.R.C (interracial couples) and families. There is also a large population of very wealthy black people from African countries like Nigeria in Geneva.
- Anguilla, The West Indies: Many islands in the Caribbean are predominantly people of color with a rich history due to the native population, colonization, the slave trade and immigration patterns. The motto of the island of Jamaica best describes it “Out of many, one people.” Due to proximity, and our immigration patterns here in the United States, African American travelers are pretty normal in many Caribbean countries, so why Anguilla? The food culture! On this tiny island, there are over 100 restaurants!
- Japan: Japan is really awesome. There is a strong culture dating back to ancient times that everyone should experience. There’s also a pretty cool Japanese hip hop culture dating back to the 1980s. As hip hop developed from African Americans in the cities of the United States, DJ Hiroshi Fujiwara started playing it back an Japan. There is a strong affinity for African Americans in this niche part of Japanese culture and it’s definitely interesting to experience.
- Medellín, Colombia: Colombia is a multi-cultural South American country teeming with Afro-Colombians, especially in cities like Medellín. Typically there is a class disparity that you’ll see between black and white Colombians and the race issues of most countries with multiple races but I was extremely well received by all types of Colombians while I was there.
- Havana, Cuba: The Afro-Cuban culture is rich and strong with many of the most known aspects of the Cuban culture being derived from Afro-Cubans like Celia Cruz. Much like Colombia, there is an obvious class disparity between the races despite the notions of Communism eliminating this. I really encourage black Americans to travel to Cuba. At this point, especially in Havana, many Cubans are used to tourists. However, I had a pretty heart warming moment with an Afro-Cuban waitress that was so thrilled to see my mother and I in Havana. She hadn’t met a black American before and you really saw how much it meant for her to see other black people doing well enough to travel.
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Here’s another South American country with a vibrant black population with a strong influence on the culture, from dance & the arts to the science.
- Tel-Aviv, Israel: Israel is a very special place. I was thoroughly moved visiting Mary’s tomb in Jerusalem and no matter what religion you are, the energy is palpable. Tel Aviv is this wonderful combination of Miami and San Francisco with a thriving food and arts culture and I found no qualms about being a black American there. In fact, many Israelis came up to me speaking Hebrew — a friend told me that they probably thought I was an Ethiopian jew.
- Paris, France: From Josephine Baker to James Baldwin, there is a long history of black Americans seeing Frances as an escape from the racism in the United States. Dating back to the early 1700’s, wealthy French colonists sent their mixed-race sons and their black or mixed-race mistresses to Paris to be educated, at a time when it was illegal in most of the U.S. for black people to even learn to read. The gens de colour, as they were called, made up a middle class of sorts in many French colonies, such as New Orleans and Haiti. There are obviously two sides of the coin to this idea as the French are fraught with their own stereotypes and racial issues — like the fact that France refuses to collect any racial demographics statistics. There’s a strange invisible line, and elevated distinction if you will, that you experience as a black American in Paris that I’d definitely encourage you to explore. However, besides the typical sites to see in the City of Lights, it’s an amazing place to explore black American ex-pat history too!
Something I’ve often noticed, especially in the cases of Medellín & Havana, use your skin color to your advantage. I’ve often found myself gaining access to places and situations that I know I wouldn’t necessarily have had access to if I were white. I take pride in this and happily eat up all of these moments. Be safe, be cognizant of your surroundings but EXPLORE EXPLORE EXPLORE!