I’ll detail my personal experiences, traveling while black and as a solo female. With emphasis to Italy, The Ukraine, China (and Asia). Let’s begin, many Person of Color (POC) have experienced various forms of racial discrimination, micro-aggressions from strangers during the times that they are traveling or just living their lives.
Without going into the LONG history and the international legacies of savage european colonialism, the Arabic and theTrans Atlantic Enslave People Trade.
It’s a a fact that legacies of all of these oppressive systems still exists in every country to varying degrees.
That’s the first thing that should be acknowledged. For instance, some countries that had no direct involvement in those racially oppressive economic systems were either allies with said colonial governments and thereby indirectly benefited from said oppression of POC.
There are hundreds of thousands of books, documentaries, YouTube historians that can expand with colorful graphs and imagery if you want to learn more.
The main focus of this post is to detail some crucial moments I’ve experienced while abroad in relations to racism, misogyny, and sexism.
I’ll explore Italy, the Ukraine, and China (South Asia). Traveling while black and as a solo female.
My experiences have been mixed.
When I lived in Italy, I felt that most Italians liked me, they were hospitable people, they did not show outward fear of me.
They always told me I was beautiful, and I was getting hit on by Italian guys and immigrant males daily!
“Mama Africa!” Some would shout! lols, I was never blatantly disrespected or saw Italian woman holding their bags closer to their persons when I walked near them the way that many paranoid and/ fearful Chinese, european-american, and Hispanic/ Latino females do.
I never was followed around in a store while shopping ever, the Italian police were friendly and seemed preoccupied and content with their lives, they never bugged me.
None of my college professors ever called on me “too much” lol, this shit here, is annoying af!
But then again, I was much younger, my eyes were not fully developed in the sense of noticing micro-aggression’s, detecting other people’s fear, experiencing rude behaviors (i.e. overt contempt, blatant paranoia, hostility, dismissive) from europeans and non-europeans alike out of their own stupidity!
Lastly, I’ll say that I was perceived as a novelty in Italy because I was there prior to the mass emigration of Sub-Saharan and North Africans to europe years after.
So maybe God was looking out for me
because post those mass emigration to Italy, and several Italian presidential elections (and EU policy changes) later, I begin reading extreme cases of xenophobia, violence from Italians to non-Italians, cases of anti-black and anti-immigrant rhetoric, from Italians. Again which are all legacies of white-supremacy.
Another example, that makes responding to this question challenging is that when I traveled to the Ukraine in 2016. I CouchSurfed with a handsome Senegalese male host, he was a smart student at one of the well known Uni. in Kiev.
I was there mainly because I had two 15 or so hour layovers there.
The few days I was there, he introduced me to some of his friends, we visited some places and grabbed food. Throughout the entire time, regardless of where we were all of the locals stared and glared at us.
It obvi, made me feel uncomfortable, but he had been there for years and was used to it. I couldn’t make sense as to why they were staring so much ahah!
Again, I was still a tourist back then but I did do extensive research on their culture, read Ukraine statistics on racism, and I knew enough about their history prior to departing from the US. Click here to read the differences between tourist and a traveler.
These Ukrainians all seemed super tall, they had snow white skin and none of them smiled at us so I figured they wanted to harm us or maybe that was just their culture and their faces were always that way because of their circumstances lol! But anyways, the first night after he picked me from the airport, we headed to his campus and we played football with some of his friends.
His dorm’s receptionist was an older Ukrainian woman, she greeted him when he entered but I interpreted her face as a grimace by my western standards of recognizing facial expressions.
But anyway, we go upstairs to chat for a bit and to eat. He later went downstairs to obtain something and when he returned he told me that the receptionists told him that she thinks that I am “very beautiful”.
I was speechless lol!
We only really know what we know, which sometimes can be inaccurate or poorly accessed.
It again is another element I like about traveling because there is NO universal rule book on how to perceive someone, or their culture. No one culture/society/belief is superior to others.
Here I was assuming that because they were staring and not smiling at us it had to be because they did not like us. I’m not saying that this could not also be true for some of them lol, do you like everyone you see during the course of a day?
No. lol, but my point here is the Ukraine for me was okay for those 2 and a half short days that I was there. It’s easy for our monkey brains to rapidly categorize certain facial expressions as this or that, but it is nuanced and those behaviors have different meanings in every society/culture.
Nothing is universally believed. I am different from you and vice versa despite you sharing my religion, or gender.
As for China and some other Asian countries. -___-
Being a person of African ancestry in these countries can be very challenging if you don’t know their violent history of european domination (i.e. Hong Kong, India, Vietnam); their countries being closed off to foreigners for hundreds of years (i.e. Japan, China) and each of their cultural beliefs regarding “pale skin” (lacking of melanin) as being a standard of wealth, prosperity, and beauty.
Many South Asian and South East Asian countries have their own DEEP issues about the way they look, many of their beauty standards are white washed, some have unrealistic standards of beauty for females & males, and there is also the color-ism problem.
As I use the term Asian, I am referring to (i.e. South Koreans, Indonesians, Chinese-Americans, Singaporeans, Japanese, Indians, Chinese, etc.)
I am not of Asian ancestry so I cannot and will not speak on their behalf or on the behalf of dozens of different Asian cultures. But I WILL only express what I’ve seen, and recall stories expressed to me by actual Asians.
I don’t want to devote much time to this, you can ask your Asian friend or read some of these cultures histories with skin bleaching products, plastic surgery, etc. I also don’t want to indirectly offend any of my Asian pals so I’ll stop here.
I’ve been living in China for over 3 years and have also traveled to neighboring major cities.
I’ve seen a lot of variations of Chinese people but just like any other group of people, you can encounter some of them who are intelligent, and respectful but on the opposite end of the coin you can also come across some of them who are insecure, racist, sexist, and deplorable.
lol! That’s part of humanity!
You can only control yourself, you know?
Here’s a bonus short story, several years ago I was CouchSurfing with a South Korean (SK) female host, she was energetic, open minded, and honest.
I asked her a question about how life is in SK, she expressed her worries and concerns about sexism, misogyny, their societal pressure “to look the same.”
She then went on and told me this heart crushing story about how her grandfather hated her because she was born a female. She went on to say, I remember once when I was a little girl I tried to give my grandfather a hug and he put his arm out like this *a stiff arm* his face was disgusted and he walked away from me.
I felt so hurt, my mom was near me and saw what happened she immediately came over to hug me. I will never forget that memory.
Having detailed all of this, I would not want to change my gender (female) or my ethnicity (Afro-Haitian) or in the US I would be considered a (Black-American or a Non-American Black (NAB)).
The more I travel and the more stories people share with me has allowed me to constantly think of solutions to these legacies of patriarchy, colonialism, and just straight up ignorance!
Life is what you make with what was given to you. The choices you make are yours, own them, and proceed forward!
Be a positive source to humanity because to be a negative source is easy, which is why so many mean people exists everywhere.
Lastly, throughout the years of living in the US and traveling all over the country and abroad.
There seems to be certain attributes and characteristic I would see from individual(s) who are sexist, misogynistic and or racist they are: the person is frail/scrawny looking or they’re fat, they’re ugly, they don’t take care of themselves (which also often is linked to past trauma or abuse), they are ignorant; they are poorly educated/ uneducated, they’re broken/ they’re damaged, they’re a pathetic human who might even be soul-less, they’re the living dead.
They are the ones with the issues, not you or me.
The key here is to remember that. It’s so easy for us to overlook this obvious fact. They don’t like you because they hate themselves.
Like the saying goes “haters are gonna hate” … on people they perceive are more attractive/ smarter/ wealthier/ happier than them- period!
Did you notice how I didn’t state any ethnicity or gender? Right, these are all qualities many humans regardless of ethnicity, class, and gender possess.
Life is what you make with what was given to you.
What are your thoughts?
Please share and comment.