If you ever wondered what the phrase “traveling while black” was all about, a friend of mine has spelled it out for you.
Mark Twain once famously said that “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.” It’s a favorite quote of travel writers and travel bloggers the world over, to the point of becoming a travel writing cliché — even if it’s an endearing, hopeful one.
But that’s only part of what Twain said. A lot of folks need to hear the whole thing:
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
Both halves of Twain’s statement are true, but there’s a flip-side to that statement that old Mark didn’t address, namely that there’s a fair amount of “prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness” out there in the world, aimed straight at “us.”
That’s okay, though, because very recently, a friend of mine and fellow travel blogger did address it. Head-on. In the doing, he also partly answered the question of why some of “us” are reluctant to travel outside the United States.
The young man’s name is Ernest White II, and he goes by the nom de blog of Fly Brother.
He had an article published today by the Matador Network that should be required reading for a lot of folks I know. His piece is entitled 8 things white people will never know about travel.”
It’s a short, pointed reminder that racism is more than a theory, not just a “card” and hardly exclusive to the United States.
I can personally vouch for the accuracy and reality of Ernest’s list, having experienced seven of his eight points myself. Whether you’re from Africa or from the African Diaspora, if you’re a black traveler, it’s not all sweetness and light out there.
As a former Mexican pen-pal of mine once said (before I got tired of him sending me Mexican stamps with disparaging caricatures of black folks with ink-black skin and bubble lips), “mas claro, agua.” The only thing more clear than that is water.
There are black folks who will tell you, “Why should I spend my hard-earned money to be subjected to that? I can get racism right here at home — and without the jet lag!”
But the last point Ernest makes in his piece is, to me, by far the most important:
“All that being said, I’ll never stop traveling.”
We owe it to ourselves to see the world, to know the world in all its realities, both beautiful and ugly. There’s too much out there that’s wonderful, glorious and uplifting to let someone else’s “prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness” deprive us of it.
If we do that, we hand victory to the racists of the world. And that just can’t happen.
The world, in turn, needs to get an honest picture of us. Where are they going to get that? MTV? BET? The latest video from L’il Wayne?
Travel is indeed fatal to those evils of which Mark Twain spoke. Ernest White’s list is a reminder that their death is neither automatic nor instantaneous, and that we all need to take a hand in knocking them off.
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