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  • Alex

Traveling While Black & Refusing TO Assimilate.

I think almost every black family has those one or two family members that you can’t take anywhere because they will embarrass you. These Family members may be known for publically revealing personal information, being loud, socially disrespectful to others or not knowing how to enjoy any moments outside of clubbing and drinking a fifth of liquor on the front porch. Although you may love them to death, these particular family members just don’t know how to act outside their regular scheduled programing (element). Unbeknownst to some people of color this is how being the only Black person in all a white setting (or travel group) can feel. No one really talks about it but sometimes our white counter parts can be very ignorant when they are taken outside of their Caucasian elements and have to mingle with other ethnicities that refuse to assimilate to their standards.My first time experiencing this was when I moved to Rhinebeck New York in my mid twenties. I was serving in the AmeriCorps at a place called Ramapo for children in Rhinebeck New York (I was the only non- assimilating black person there in my opinion, there was one more brother that worked there but he had been there so long that the only thing black about him was his skin). Coming from Chicago I had never really experienced Racism or ignorance from white people to their full extent. Chicago is such a segregated city that you don’t have to see or mingle with another ethnicity outside your own as long as you choose to stay in your own ethnically dominated community. It is my experience as a Chicagoan that even if you do choose to venture out your community (Which I always do) it’s a very good chance that you want experience any racism. However, my experience living in Rhinebeck New York was totally opposite of what I was use to. One of the first incidents of ignorance that took place was with a white boy named Danny. One day while I was eating lunch in the cafeteria Danny (who I thought was a handsome guy) set next to me and began talking rather strange, “Aye yo yo yo WazZZup my G-Thang, whatchu ova hea chowin DiZZzzowwn on Ma, I see you chillen with yo deal”, he even was moving his hands in awkward positions as if he wanted to throw up gang signs while he talked. I was utterly confused. I said “Danny why are you talking like that?” “Oh well you know Ma I’m just tryna communicate with you on your level”. I was very offended by this and I snapped on him while giving this fool a run down of my credentials. I was bewildered as to why he thought communicating with me like a slave or street thug was ‘on my level’. Of course after the tongue-lashing I gave him, I was the one being insensitive and mean (Probably labeled the Angry Black Woman).

Moreover, my time working for AmeriCorps in Rhinebeck NY brought plenty more ignorant incidents (Which even included one of my colleagues asking me, "is it true that all Black Women like to get hit from the back" while out at a bar with Co-workers). One particular incident that I will also never forget is when I received a package from my mother that had cocoa butter and African Black Soap in it. One of my colleagues seemed to take interest in my products and asked if he could read the black soap container. In a joking manner he began to read the container, “ahhh it says here, African Black Soap made by black people in the Congo who get there hands cut off for not finding enough diamonds in the river" (of course the container did not say this). I was lost for words (I didn’t even snap on the guy because I was shocked), right after he makes this comment another one of my colleagues began to lecture me on how cocoa butter and African Black Soap have palm oil in it which is a much needed resource for wild monkeys, he then went on to inform me that purchasing these products made me a supporter of killing African wildlife. Of course I reported this incident and both of the guys were verbally disciplined but once again those two guys looked and acted sorrowful when I was around them. One even had the nerve to ask my supervisor why I refused to talk to him anymore. Although I really liked the work I did for AmeriCorps the 7 months that I stayed in Rhinebeck became depressing because no matter what, I could never just be a human being. The way I talked needed to be corrected, the books by the Delany sisters and W.E.B. Dubois I read needed to be put away, even the damn soap I washed my body with was an issue. However, when I asked these people if any African Americans lived in their communities the answer was always No. They all had little to no interaction with a person of color. That’s when I began to realize that some white people aren’t racist they are just very ignorant and at times privileged. Some even travel the world and still think that everyone else who does things outside of their customs is low on intellect.

Even when I went to Egypt last year a white man named Dave (who was part of my travel group) came up to a table I was sitting at with some more black women and said, “Hey how did you guys get your own table, is this segregation or something?” The table of Sistah’s I was sitting with fell quiet. I politely told Dave that although I believe his comment was meant to be a joke, we found it offensive and would appreciate if he didn’t say things like that again. Of course the next day this caused some shifty eyes and murmur amongst the other white travelers in our group but I didn’t care. Overall I’ve had some pretty cool experiences while traveling but I must say that my experiences as a black solo traveler (Sometimes being the only one in a group of white Americans) has kind of made me stay on the surface and only engage in small talk with most of them when abroad. I kind of get a fill for everybody in the group before attempting to engage in conversations with them, as I do not want my trip ruined by ignorant questions about my hair, or how I need to change something about my blackness to make my white counterparts comfortable.

On my recent trip to Kenya I met a lovely White Woman named Chris. She was awesome the entire time. We were just two women exploring Africa having girl talk. To chill and just be women without race being a factor was awesome, but I must admit based on my previous experiences this was something that I was not use to, but Chris made it easy (I enjoyed her company). However, there were some conversations or statements I knew not to engage in from other travelers. For instance one of the white travelers said that she thought most of the people in Africa enjoyed the poor conditions they lived in because if they didn’t they would change it and do better for themselves (this was one of the those look forward and put my headphones on moments for me before the Malcolm X in me jumped out my throat). Traveling really does take one out of their element; you meet new people with new ideas, backgrounds and definitions on life. You learn that everything isn’t built on the stance of American Racism. Honestly there are some people who suck and others who are awesome no matter what race they are. Traveling has also taught me that a lot of hate, privilege, and racism is an American bred concept. I have met some really cool white people from other places in the world and my experience was nothing like the experiences I’ve had in America. As much as I love the freedom my country provides I must say that America is similar to a Woman who looks gorgeous on the outside but she has a terrible personality and when she opens her mouth to speak she chases good people away. But no matter what the circumstance, I never let racism or ignorant people stop me from doing what I love to do (Having a pair of headphones handy while traveling is sooo helpful for tuning ignorant people out). In the words of Anthony Bourdain, “Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts; it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”