We’ve all heard the horror stories of white people traveling and acting a fool, but have you heard the stories of the black people who do it too?
As a Black American there are few times in my life, and few places in the world, where I can exert any type of privilege. In Thailand, I’m black, but I’m a Black American. Being American comes with a lot of privileges and perceptions that people don’t realize, so it’s easy to get swept up in the glamour of being in a place where a blue passport speaks volumes for who you are and what you can do.
Too many times I’ve seen Black travelers get swept up in having western currencies (dollars, euros, pounds, AUD, CAD, etc.) and being from the first world. You would think that people who have been marginalized since the beginning of time would be a bit more understanding when it comes to being an “expat” in another country, but you would be wrong. Sometimes I see people being rude to the locals if they can’t speak “good enough” English at restaurants and stores. I’ve seen travelers blatantly disregard the fact that this is a Thai country, and if you really want someone to understand you the first time around you could go back to your English speaking country. I’ve also seen Black travelers cling to Black comforts instead of branching out and befriending the locals and experiencing the culture sans safety net. That’s not to say I don’t love my Black travel groups, but it doesn’t hurt to go and experience a place on your own.
Now, this isn’t me bashing Black folks who travel and minimally immerse themselves in the culture and country because white people do it all the time unchecked. I just find it odd that some can’t recognize how crazy it is to be in a country that has a low season and a high season, meaning a season that’s great for business and a season where businesses are literally shut down because there’s not enough tourism to sustain them. I find it crazy that some people can’t empathize with the fact that some people live in countries where their economy is directly connected to how much foot traffic it gets. I mean, it should mean something to you that some Thai people are forced to use their non-native tongue to make a living in their own country. Just imagine if so many Vietnamese tourists were coming to your city that you had to learn Vietnamese.
I understand how easy it is to get drunk off the power and privilege. It’s a tale as old as time, re: Bill Cosby, colonization and Harvey Weinstein, but it’s important that Black travelers remember the times when that power and privilege was used against them.
So here’s my advice to current and aspiring Black travelers: don’t forget to check your privilege because it’s easy to get caught up and end up looking like an asshole!
If not for the basic reason that it’s common courtesy, but for the fact that a negative image of you can stick with someone forever and become a stereotype for those who look like you and follow in your footsteps.