In today’s post, I am going to share 7 Surprising Things About Traveling Abroad as a Black Women. For some of the experiences I share, I am still a little shocked at the fact that these things have happened to me or my family members.
Like all of my travel related posts and videos, my hope is to shed light on my experiences in an effort to inspire others to travel and live a bold life. Despite all that I say, please get out into the world and travel. Especially as a black woman or person of color! I would love to see more people like me taking the world by storm while learning about others and sharing the experiences of black people.
Prejudice is Everywhere
I think people have prejudices in all parts of the world whether we would like to believe it or not. As people, we grow up believing what we do because of how we were raised, where we lived, how we were socialized, and the media we consumed. Prejudice becomes a problem when unreasonable or unfair thoughts and/or feelings are manifested through actions.
When we first moved to Morocco, I have to admit, I was hyper-aware of prejudice and discrimination. This was because of the environment I had just moved from. So, when we encountered intense bag checks I felt a bit uneasy. Watching people with lighter skin complexions pass by security unchecked was not okay.
A similar feeling combined with anger was stirred up inside of me as my parents and I shopped in Madrid. There were stores we went to where we were followed around. I never asked store employees why we were followed (mainly because my Spanish was pretty rusty). But the feeling of anger would not go away.
When we traveled to France my husband and I did not personally experience any acts of prejudice because we were with family and when you are in another country with people you know and who know the area, there are fewer chances to feel targeted.
However, there were late night chats that delved deeply into the prejudice and racially motivated behavior experienced by those same family members. Because they lived life and were more immersed in their city, they could recall accounts of unfair treatment due to the simple fact that they are black.
I Really Stand Out
I say that I really stand out not in an effort to sound vain or full of myself but let’s just say that I am easily identifiable. Getting called out because I am not from any of the places I have traveled to has happened to me. If people are friendly enough, they will play the origin guessing game with me.
It also depends on how good my French comes out during the first part of a conversation. If I pass the informal French speaking test, then I get perceived to be Moroccan or from another African country. If not, I usually get Chicago or something like that. Those types of conversations happen on good days.
On more interesting days, standing out could mean getting catcalled in many different languages (again as people try to figure out where I am from). Being by myself can, in fact, be what does it the most. I think people’s curiosity can get the best of them sometimes and they feel like it’s their right to make comments directed towards me.
In Morocco, I have learned to live and deal with standing out like I do. I try not to take offense to certain comments or behavior because none of it has had a direct effect on me yet.
As an introvert, standing out can feel a bit overwhelming at times but I try to manage the best way that I can and realize that in the grand scheme of things people don’t really care about me or what I am doing after the first minute or so. Overall I feel quite safe.
Treatment Can Depend On What I Wear
Where I live in Morocco, I can literally wear whatever I want. Getting dressed in the morning is simple because there are no strict dress codes for men and women to follow.
However, we would get treated a little differently depending on what we would wear when my husband and I first moved to Morocco. We are usually dressed in business casual clothes so, during the work week, we can be treated like kings and queens when we walk the streets and go out for lunch dates.
When we are in more casual outfits, like workout clothes or loungewear people are less likely to give us the royal treatment. I think it goes back to the prejudice discussion above. Prejudice does not only occur because of race, it can be due to class, gender, and much more.
Now that we frequent certain shops, restaurants, and areas, treatment is usually the same no matter what we wear. I believe it’s because we have built relationships and trust with people in our community.
In my video, How My Clothes Have Changed In Morocco, I talk about the reason why I dress more modestly even though like I mentioned above, it’s not required. I prefer not to stand out too much as an expat living in Morocco because I want to maintain a level of privacy and I also want to be a bit forgettable because I feel like it helps keep me safe.
When I travel to other countries, I may dress less modestly and stand out more because I know that I will only be in a place for a few days so I can still maintain a good level of safety.
My Hairstyles Draw Attention
As a back woman, I switch up my hair very often. Part of the reason is that I like versatility and I am capable of doing just about any style myself. The other reason is due to maintenance and professionalism.
I need to make sure that my hair is nice and neat for the workplace (in whatever style that is). However, I still get stares by people who may have never seen a hairstyle like mine before.
I do not take stares and curiosity personal. I actually welcome questions when the time is appropriate and will tell people what they want to know. Just don’t touch my hair without my permission!
Stares Can Be Endless
When I visited Madrid, I was so over the amount of staring that I received. I really tried to overlook the lengthy glances by strangers. I even tried to be friendly and either say “hello” or smile back.
My parents and I were in a Five Guys Burgers and Fries restaurant in downtown Madrid. While we were eating, some young men were sitting in a corner recording us. I knew they were recording my family because they kept looking at us from behind their phone screen; pointing and laughing.
After a day of feeling targeted by store employees, rude strangers, and those guys in the restaurant, I could not take it. I definitely let their actions put a damper on my day which should not have happened!
Staring is common. Don’t let it get to you. Remember why you are traveling and that will help you ignore the actions of others.
People Stereotype Hard
When stereotypes are directed towards me, I am usually said to be some “black actress”. It is funny because it sometimes seems like other races and groups think that all black people look the same. One time, my husband and I were leaving a Starbucks. As we approached our car, the parking attendant got really excited and looked at my husband. He yelled: “Hey, 50 Cent!”
We looked around and 50 cent was no were to e found. Once we realized the man was talking to Gozie, we gave this guy a slight grin and entered the car. You would think that was the end of this man’s charade. He then he began to rub his nipples and say things through our window.
I feel like that case may be a little intense, but that’s life as a black traveler. You never know what stereotypes you will hear, you just hope you can get away from conversations unscathed and whole. Stereotyping while traveling does not offend me much anymore. It is the intention behind the language that says it all.
I Am Thankful For The Good and the Bad Experiences
Despite the things I mentioned, I am so thankful for the experiences I have had so far. These encounters have definitely shaped who I am as a person while traveling and interacting with others.
Getting to travel the world is a privilege a lot of people, let alone black women, do not readily have. I am thankful to be a positive representation of what a black female traveler could be for the world.
I cannot wait to go to more places and experience more as I travel in my skin.