Perceptions that keep African-Americans from traveling overseas

By// Maureen Jenkins

Plenty of perceptions — many of them false — keep Black folks from traveling outside the States. While the actual reasons may vary as much as people themselves, you’ll often hear the following five when you ask African-Americans why they’re hesitant to vacation abroad.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • There aren’t any black people there. One reason many of us love the Caribbean is the fact that the islands are filled with dark-skinned folks — those who live there as well as tourists. That doesn’t mean you can’t have an incredible time in Italy, Australia — even Croatia. Besides, there are black folks EVERYWHERE. Even in Reykjavik, Iceland, where I saw a black woman dining inside a Pizza Hut (don’t even ask why I stopped here). Don’t let “there won’t be many of us there” keep you from a potentially great experience.
  • But I don’t speak the language! No one’s expecting you to be a Rosetta Stone clone, spouting fluent French or Arabic or Dutch upon arrival. But that doesn’t mean you can’t learn how to say “hello,” “thank you,” and “please” in those languages. When you travel abroad, the “small things” mean a lot — and they show you’re respectful of the culture you’re visiting.
  • I’m not flying over all that water. So here’s a paraphrased excuse my dad has used when we’ve tried to get him to join us on trips to Europe. Granted, once you leave North America, you’re probably going to cross SOME large body of water. Never mind that statistics prove you’re more likely to be in a car wreck than an airplane crash — you still can’t drag some folks onto an overseas flight. What they don’t realize is that when you’re flying at night, it’s ALWAYS dark outside the airplane window. Sip a glass or two of wine, drift off to sleep, and forget it.
  • I might run into racism. Unfortunately, that’s a fact of life anywhere — and certainly in the United States. Ironically, says author Elaine Lee, “When you get outside America, you realize being black is an asset, not a liability.” And because other countries often don’t have the poisonous legacy of slavery in their histories, their views of African-Americans can be more open-minded than you’ll find here in the States. Friendliness and warmth transcend languages and national borders, so go expecting good treatment and you’re likely to get it.
  • What am I going to do with my hair? For many sisters, this is no small thing. Those who wear straightened hair wonder if their curling and flat irons will work (Hint: take a dual-voltage appliance or those things will FRY when you use them in many overseas countries). What happens if they get caught in a downpour? Who’s going to hook up their ‘dos on the other side of the world if they left their olive oil spray at home? The reality is, there are people with hair like ours in many parts of the world. As I once advised my readers, in a pinch, find a city’s large train station (for example, in Rome, Florence and Nice, France). Africans and Arabs, often recent arrivals to some of these cities, live nearby and own salons that do hair textures like ours and sell products we use. To find out where, point to your locks, and ask for the nearest shop. //