The first time this topic entered my head I was aged 14/15. I was going on a language exchange program to Germany and I would be staying with a family out there and my mum asked ‘have you told them you’re black?’
I remember looking at her quizzically like ‘no, why?’ She then proceeded to insist that in order for her to let me go I needed to write to my German penpal that I was black and send a picture.
Fast forward well over a decade and a half later and I was asking myself the very same question that I had not before thought of since my German exchange. Why? I wanted to book a solo ‘dine with a local’ experience in Budapest; this sadly did not materialise in the end as a lot could not accommodate for just one person for it to be financially viable – one of the downsides of solo travel.
So why the question when young? My mum was overprotective but rightly so to be honest. She basically did not want me to encounter any prejudices whilst away and with no option to remove myself from an ‘uncomfortable’ racist situation and return home promptly. She wouldn’t be there to protect me. If this family were prejudiced or racist against black people then it could make my stay horrible, awkward and even unsafe for me as a young girl. So I complied, cos I really wanted to go on the trip and I wrote to my penpal the words, ‘Ich bin schwarz.’ and included a picture (Note: I have no idea if then or even now that this was phrased correctly in German – feel free to let me know).
Luckily, my German family were lovely and embracing and were Turkish immigrants and had no issue with my melanin. They had actually thought I was Japanese from my name (I get this ALOT!), so my name is not always a giveaway of my African ethnicity.
So why the question now? Imagine an awkward date that you want to escape from. Well magnify this image entering into someone’s house solo who is cooking for you (that’s the concept of ‘Dine with a Local’) and they are racist; is that a safe, sensible scenario to enter into? So to avoid it, I just thought let me tell them upfront that way if they have an issue (issue is an understatement I know), I don’t have to sit in a hostile environment because I blindsided them. Now I can hear people saying the world isn’t like that and you shouldn’t think like that and actually I genuinely rarely think like this. BUT I’m not naive and you shouldn’t be too – there are people who dislike black people or are just uncomfortable in their presence (lest I attack them or something *eye roll*) and that is a fact. I’m sure this is not even a question that even enters the psyche of white people because the world’s norm seems to be white – but I could be wrong (please share your stories if you have). I have to protect myself on my travels and if that means stating my race to avoid prejudiced racist behaviour then so be it. Much like a lone female traveller, one is sensible and is vigilant regarding their safety.
I discussed this post at length with one of my friends (even about posting it as its sat in my drafts for two years) and I concluded I don’t want this burden of ‘announcing’ your race for protection to be one, my child has to deal with as its quite burdensome at a young age – but am I being fair if I act like it won’t happen to them? I’ve concluded that should they experience it we will discuss it but I won’t bring it up.
In the words of my friend, Assumpta, blogger at Me Today, You Tomorrow, who stated this two years ago before the BLM movement really took hold:
‘The way the world is moving, they may not have the experience in quite the same way we did’
I hope I don’t ask myself this question again but I can’t be sure.
Would love to hear your thoughts, feelings and opinions on this – comment below
Forever black and proud,
The 5 to 9 Traveller