When I tell people about my blog expertise the reaction is mixed between surprise and curiosity. Most people don’t realize the trials and tribulations minorities face in travel. From inadvertent offense to sexual assault. Minorities face a gauntlet of travel complications that traditionally white looking travelers don’t. I’ll point out a few of these complications and situations minorities may face but this will be far from a comprehensive list. Much of what I’m about to cover are common even at home. The problem however, is magnified abroad when you add language barriers, social differences, and oppressive laws into the equation.
No COUNTRY is racist. People are racist. I’m often asked what country shouldn’t minorities travel to. Although I’ve had my issues with Russia and Argentina, I wouldn’t say not to travel there because everyone is racist. I experienced subtle racism in Russia (with one many flat out saying he’s surprised I’m there because blacks aren’t welcome) and overt racism in Argentina. Do I feel either country is racist? No I do not. Discriminatory? Yes. But that’s another post.
No nationality is racist. In the U.S. many southern whites are thought to be racist. That’s bullshit. I live in the south. I have for almost half my life. There are pockets of racist. Not representative of the whole. Same in other countries. For example, I find some areas of Buenos Aires VERY racist but more areas that aren’t. Argentinians are not racist. RICH Argentinians……………lol.
Things to look out for:
- At times you may have a bit more of an issue at passport control. I find that some countries give extra scrutiny depending on the prevalence of a minority community in said country. I have to say, England is the only country I’ve had an issue with. Ridiculous questions about my family history and education. I know not to stand behind anyone Muslim coming into the U.S. at passport control because the U.S. is ridiculous. I remember flying into Atlanta recently from Japan. Was behind two Muslim women with another brother behind me. I KNEW what was about to happen. We waited an extra 30 minutes as they were bombarded with ridiculous questions. Me and the guy behind me both said we saw this coming. It’s the sad truth. The U.S. passport control has it in for Muslims traveling into the states. I’m not here to debate the “validity” of the added scrutiny. Just pointing out the facts.
- Violence against certain racial groups has spiked around the world. The ridiculous treatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic comes to mind. The Dominican Republic is a prime example of overt racism against dark skin minorities. In Europe, Racial violence is the fastest growing form of crime. Neo-Nazi groups are prevalent in Ireland, England, and France. Top destinations of U.S. travelers. And don’t get me started on the racist atmosphere surrounding professional football (soccer).
- Lastly, stereotypes. Not entirely negative but you will be identified by the stereotypes of your skin color. I can’t tell you how many times people asked me if I can play basketball or other “crass” questions. The fact is, international views of American minorities are shaped by our media system. Now I won’t lie, these stereotypes have worked in my favor. From women to shopping. But some have prevented me from interacting as fully with some cultures because of the fear that some stereotypes breed.
How to react:
- STAY CALM. I can’t stress this enough. One thing the military left me with was and anger management issue. After years of soul searching and help I’ve tamed the beast sort to speak. You have to do the same. Anger is a pointless emotion that will only escalate any racially charged situation because the problem is born of ignorance and anger. Someone yells a racist remark at you. STAY CALM. Someone doesn’t want to serve you, STAY CALM. Someone, ignores you, STAY CALM. I have seen people thrown in jail and hit with huge fines because they couldn’t say calm when “disrespected”. I’m not saying allow yourself to be victimized. Quite the contrary. You must keep your mind clear and focus because as a guest in any foreign country you are already at a disadvantage.
- Know the racial situation in the countries you plan to visit. For example, I know that certain parts of Russia and Ireland aren’t very friendly to blacks. I’m not saying don’t visit these places with sketchy racial histories. JUST BE AWARE. Being aware of the possibility is more important than the reaction. I would suggest staying clear of places with reported violence against minorities.
- EDUCATE others. When someone presents you with their stereotypical view of you and your people, correct them. On the spot. Respectfully of course. You may be the first representative many meet from your culture. Take is as an honor an opportunity to show your people in a positive light. It breaks my heart when I see American’s abroad acting ignorant and rude. This reflects poorly on us as a nation. How do you think it looks when the smaller minority group is doing it? The damage is magnified.
I have no hard data to prove this but I feel female solo travelers are becoming the majority. Ever since EAT,PRAY,LOVE was released I’ve seen droves of solo women traveling. And good for them. My only issue is that many of the young women I’ve come across are totally oblivious to the dangers that surround them. Some of these dangers are prevalent in the U.S. but not entirely known.
Things to look out for:
- Sex discrimination
You will be characterized by the outlook on women in whatever country or culture you are in. For example, in Thailand women can’t speak with monks without a male present and you can’t touch them at all. Other cultures women must be covered at all times. It all depends on where you are. Unofficially, social norms come into play as well. While in South America I was always approached by restaurant touts or with the meal check instead of my female companions. Gender stereotypes play a large role in the world today.
- Sexual Harassment
Ladies, get ready for this. It’s VERY VERY real. I’ve learned the definition of sexual harassment depends on who you ask. Some women believe “cat calls” and whistling are sexual harassment. Some don’t. Some believe only touching is harassment. Others don’t. The fact is your experience as a woman will be far more sexualized than your male counterparts. For example, South America, particularly Chile, Argentina, and Colombia, are largely machismo cultures. Male dominated and controlled. Men say anything they want to women with little to no repercussion. Regardless if you’re with a male. The stares are going to happen. Especially if you dress “provocatively” as they say. What you can deal with is on you. Just be aware. It will happen if you travel long enough.
- Sexual Assault/Rape
Sexual Assault and Rape are more rare (despite what western media would have you believe) but they do happen. Primarily, in the backpacker party culture. Let me be clear here. I’m not saying you’re going to be raped or sexually assaulted if you party with people you just met at a hostel. I’m saying be SMART. I’ve seen the aftermath of rape/sexual assault/misrepresentation, or whatever you want to call it. It’s not pretty. This is the most common problem I’ve seen. The gang rape stories in India and Brazil are few and far between but clearly they do happen. Often the most unsafe place for solo female travelers are the places they feel the safest.
How to react:
- Educate yourself on the gender social structure and norms of a place you’re visiting. Especially in non western countries. This allows you to better prepare yourself to blend in rather than stand out. Of course a white woman in India will always stand out but you can make the effort to respect local customs which will prevent some sticky situations.
- Realize the world isn’t perfect. Women should be able to go anywhere, wear anything, and act how they choose without fear. That’s not the real world. Sorry but that’s just the way it is and I assure you, the likelihood of you changing the culture in your one week vacation is remote. Be cautious and use common sense. I know common sense isn’t so common around the world so check out the blogs below.
- DON’T GET TRASHED DRUNK. I’m sure I’ll get flack for this but I’ve seen this happen too many times. Women (and men) get plastered in Thailand and can’t remember what happened the night before. When you have alcohol, drugs, and scantily clad 20 something’s partying things are bound to happen. Not all wanted and not all pleasant. The best defense against criminals is to not be in a situation to be made a victim. Alcohol and drugs make you a target. Period. How much do you really trust the “friends” you made two days ago? NEVER EVER leave your drink/food unattended. Guys are dicks. Just saying.
- Clearly I’m a man. I have a very protective view of women. So I decided to point you to some women travelers with outstanding tips on staying safe abroad. I highly recommend you read their blogs and tips on stay safe.
http://travel.gc.ca/travelling/publications/her-own-way (Government but good tips)
Gay travel is frustrating to write about because it’s possibly the most complicated of these three groups. You can’t hide the fact that you’re black or a woman. But you can hide that you’re gay. This had led to gay issues being pushed behind the others because they aren’t as “out” as racism or sexism. An archaic marginalization of homosexuals still exist in the world. In 83 countries, including political entities, it’s illegal to be gay (rather engage in homosexual conduct). Seven carry the death penalty.
Things to look for:
- Anti Gay Laws
As mentioned above, 83 countries, including political entities, it’s illegal to be gay (rather engage in homosexual conduct). Seven carry the death penalty. Certain cities and regions have laws governing homosexual activity as well. These places are largely in the Middle East and Africa in countries without democratically elected governments (or extremely corrupt ones).
- Gay Violence
Violence against gays is very real. Male and female. Regardless if the country legally outlaws homosexuality, groups of anti-gay radicals exist in most countries around the world. Gay Violence has increased in Russia recently as well as Jamaica which has been notorious for gay violence and intolerance. The Caribbean is not as gay friendly as some may believe. Barbados and St.Martin come to mind with recent violent attacks on suspected homosexual Americans.
How to react:
- Of all the minority groups gays MUST do the most research. READ READ READ. You need to know not only the national laws but local laws and community. Aside from these laws you must learn the local views on homosexuality. Use some of these website to get a feel for the laws as well as the local attitude.
- Dress and appearance is critical. Although not universal, some gays tend to be a bit more “flamboyant” than others. You have to be mindful of the message you’re sending. If your clothing screams “I’m gay and proud” (or actually says that) don’t wear it. If you’re a male it might not be a good idea to wear a crop top in Russia (plus it’s cold as hell). If you’re a female it might not be smart to wear baggy pants and a Boston Celtics jersey with cap. Stick to gender specific clothing.
- STAY IN THE CLOSET. At least while visiting countries with questionable track records in regards to LGBT treatment. This is the hardest piece of advice I’ve had to write. I fully understand the difficulties surrounding coming out and gay identity. My primary concern is your safety. YOU ARE NOT SAFE IN 82 COUNTRIES around the world because of your sexual orientation. This is the truth of the world we live in. Your imprisonment or death isn’t going to change anything in most of these countries. Please, keep your sexuality hidden if you choose to visit these places. Here are a few useful sites: