The Truth About My Black American Passport
The irony of the little blue book that we as travelers treasure so dearly is that its value isn't the same for me as it is for white American travelers. An American passport means that a white person can travel most places in the world and have the ability to fall back on their American identity. As a black woman traveling with an American passport I have access to the one and only privilege America has ever given me, the freedom to travel with little to no restrictions. However, as a black women who travels, my American privilege ends there.
During my recent visit to Morocco, I met two 20-something Marrakech locals who have never seen life outside of their North African country. There I stood speechless, yet attempting to pump my veins full with empathy. Our travel woes are much different. As Americans we have the luxury of booking flights to many far flung destinations without having to think twice about visas or other travel restrictions. Meanwhile people from countries outside of the American and European continents, get denied year after year for a visa to visit this country.
So how can I blame the Moroccan merchant for calling me Serena Williams and Nina Simone while walking through the old medina. Although these are black women who I admire tremendously, we aren't all the same. I ride for all my people but we're diverse beings who come in every shape, size and color. We can't be defined by the stereotypes that white media continue to place upon us. America has been depicting black women as mammies and innately hypersexual, primicous beings since the dawn of time. Now that we're no longer in physical chains, we are choosing to travel the world defying and turning these stereotypes on their heads.
Today (originally written on October 12, 2017) from a hotel room in Virginia, I ran across the Ted Talk "Reclaming the Globe" given by Evita Robinson, founder of Nomadness Tribe. Nomadness is the first online black travel community and a catalyst for the entire black travel movement. Evita took the words right out of my mouth yet was able to explain things I felt, but couldn't express. She made me realize just how far we have come. Robinson told the story of Victor Hugh Green, a black mailman who was instrumental in making black travel possible. Green published a book titled 'The Negro Motorist Green Book' to help educate and curate safe spaces for black people traveling during the Jim Crow era. Middle class black families were beginning to travel after being able to purchase cars, so this travel guide was their saving grace for navigating racism in these streets. Literally.
It outlined places safe for black folks to make pit stops on road trips, restaurants and hotels that would serve them and sundown towns to avoid. Sundown towns were within cities in America where it was physically unsafe and potentially fatal for black people to be after sunset. The guidebook educated black travelers so they could have safe, enjoyable and comfortable trips for which are comparable to the digital safe spaces that travel communities like Nomadness Tribe and Travel Noire have created for us today. Quite frankly, we as black travelers owe a lot to Victor Hugh Green.
The Black Travel Movement is so much more than country counting, passport stamps and stunting on Instagram. We literally come from not being able to travel through sundown towns in our own country (yes, we built this country) to being able to travel internationally breaking the stereotypes that America has continued to push throughout world. Black people visit countries around the world and are met with discrimination and fetishism because America continuously perpetuates our culture in ways that aren't representative of who we really are. When people experience us for themselves their perceptions often change. Black travel allows us to be the authors of our own stories.
Just like Evita Robinson said, we went from being chained to flying. I will continue to travel because although I recognize the privilege of my American passport, my experience is still uniquely black no matter where I am in the world. I don't get to board a plane in a European country with curious stares from white passengers. We don't get to backpack through Asia without being asked for pictures. It is not in my American passport privilege that I get to visit anywhere without being asked can someone touch my hair or worse, someone just petting me without permission (which they wouldn't be given anyway). The black travel movement is going to keep growing and we are going to keep traveling because America doesn't get to write our stories- we do.
A few cardinal travel rules for your encounter with black people while traveling:
- Don't ask me if my friend is my sister. Yes we're both black & beautiful but we aren't all related. *That's still my sis though, so don't try it.
- Ask before you take a picture of someone.
- You still can't touch my hair, so don't ask.
We are the gatekeepers for our own shows, music, movies and media. Thank you black creators, travelers and black people.