When it comes to travel to Africa, does black America talk a better game than it plays? In some quarters, especially on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, it may well look that way. FIRST OF TWO PARTS
“Why don’t more black Americans travel to Africa?”
Kwerekwere, one of IBIT’s more prolific commenters (and an even more prolific traveler fluent in multiple languages), put that question to me recently — not long after an African put it to him.
It’s a valid question to ask, and there are a lot of people asking it:
*Airlines that see a potential market which so far has largely not materialized.
*Tour operators and tourism ministers in African countries who’ve long heard the political rhetoric of African/African-American solidarity from this side of the Atlantic, but see it being translated into action by too few black American travelers.
*Black American travel agents who find Africa to be a tough sell to many of their potential black American clients.
Finding an honest politician is probably easier than finding comprehensive, up-to-date statistics on Black American travel, but there are two things we generally know:
- The black American travel market is worth at least about $40 billion a year.
- Most, if not all of the 54 nations currently found on the Mother Continent would dearly love to break off a bigger chunk of that market than they’re currently getting.
At any given moment, you can find brothers and sisters almost anywhere on the globe, on every continent and in almost every country. And yes, we do visit Africa.
Just not nearly as many of us, nor as often, as one might expect. Which brings us back to the original question:
The answers, I think, are financial, practical, cultural, educational. In short, a lot of black Americans view Africa not as a destination, but as a mystery, a puzzle, a challenge.
Short form: A lot of black Americans, even those who pointedly think of themselves as African-Americans, find Africa downright intimidating.
Let’s be real here: As a travel destination, Africa is not easy for Americans, even black Americans who feel an emotional bond to the Mother Continent. It’s not close, it’s not cheap to get there, the infrastructure in much of the continent leaves a lot to be desired.
Then there’s the knowledge gap. Americans, including black Americans, know a lot more about Europe, Latin America and even Asia than we do about Africa.
If you don’t think so, I invite you to check out a series of YouTube videos entitled “Whad’ya Know About Africa?” A young interviewer buttonholes black folks at random and asks questions testing their basic knowledge of the Mother Continent.
The degree of ignorance exposed by the answers ranges from disconcerting to downright embarrassing.
Who is to blame for this? You have your pick of the usual suspects — the schools, the media, “the man,” ad nauseum.
You can also add history to this list. Our blood ties back to the Mother Continent, created by the trans-Atlantic slave trade may be six centuries old, but culturally, Africa largely falls off the radar of most Americans, regardless of their race.
Never having had African colonies as European nations did, and never having fought any major wars in sub-Saharan Africa, we lack the easy familiarity with Africa that is common to a lot of Europeans today. Even our World War 2 battles against the Germans in North Africa didn’t lead to any deep or lasting cultural ties there.
What little a lot of us know about Africa, we learn from the evening news — which means that we know precious little about the Mother Continent, and much of what we do know is distorted, outdated or just plain wrong.
As a result, we think Africa is farther away than it really is, more alien than it really is, more dangerous than it really is. That leaves a lot of black Americans feeling culturally estranged from the land that gave birth to our ancestors.
But there is so much there that makes it worth all the hassles. The history, the heritage, the food, the music, the culture, the wildlife, the environment. It’s a place where you can find sights and sounds found nowhere else, and where you can find parts of yourself you never knew existed.
So you’ve made the decision: You’re going. Now what?
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