How travel racism can affect you
IF DEALING WITH RACISTS on your home ground is tough, imagine having to deal with it in a country where your skin color makes you stick out in a crowd and they speak in a language that you can neither speak nor understand.
You could have done all the research and all the Googling you needed to about your destination and yet you are subjected to discrimination.
Because, yes, travel racism is very real.
Once upon a time, Italian global fashion brand Benetton Group rolled out their now iconic United Colors of Benetton campaign which explored the faces and racial mix of major cities around the world.
It featured happy groups of multi-racial people decked in United Colors of Benetton garbs, exuding a multi-cultural attitude.
The campaign was plastered across magazines, posters, and storefronts. It gained so many praises and was so memorable, it stuck for years.
Alas, it did not quite change reality.
“Racism is real. It is as real as the color of your passport, your skin, and your mother tongue, religion or race. And it is something every traveler has experienced,” travel blogger Anjaly Thomas wrote.
“If someone told me they have never been, in the course of their travels, type-casted or subjected to degradation, however slight, would be lying.”
In 2017, Thabo Mabogwane and Bongani Mohosana of the Black Motion duo complained that they were asked to downgrade “to make way for a white woman”.
They had bought ComAir business class tickets from Cape Town to Johannesburg but were asked to move down to economy class.
“We were embarrassed and removed from business class just because a white lady complained about a broken seat,” the duo wrote on their Instagram post.
After they objected to being moved, the captain ordered them to leave the airplane.
“We were told they can’t risk to fly us as they are avoiding 9/11. In their eyes, we are terrorists the captain said indirectly.”
They were allowed to travel on a later flight on the same airline.
But it’s not just Africans or African-Americans who are often subject to travel racism.
University of East Anglia’s Beverly Devakishen wrote in her university’s student paper, “My Chinese Singaporean friend and I recently traveled to the south of France, which is an absolutely stunning region. It’s sunny, peaceful and has lovely beaches and architecture.”
“The only thing that ruined it for us was the attitudes of the people around us towards our presence. Being Asian, we were subject to racism wherever we traveled,” the article, dated May 1, 2018 read.
“The rude stares, the unwarranted ‘Ni hao!’ from several random locals, the queue cutting (people knew how to queue until they realized they’d have to stand behind a foreign POC) – a local French person even sneered, ‘Are you from China?’ at us and then walked away.”
Devakishen said other non-white people were getting the similar treatment as well.
More often than not, travel racism is enough to fuel your irritation or anger, but it is hardly ever life-threatening.
If you are ever put in a situation where you feel uncomfortable, simply brush it off and go about your day (or night) and try not to let it ruin your holiday because it is not worth it.
There is also no need to aggravate a local who is coming across as ignorant and insensitive by responding to him or her.
Do not let them “win” by being able to provoke you and getting a reaction out of you because that is exactly their intention.
However, if the situation seems dangerous and if you feel victimized such as if you feel threatened or like a hate crime incident is brewing, contact the authorities for assistance right away.
Contact the tourism police or head to the nearest police station, or if need be, ring the embassy.
That having said, there are also some destinations where locals treat tourists with nothing but overwhelming kindness so not all hope is lost.
And it is likely that good experiences will come out of even the worst of situations, giving you the opportunity to learn from it and teach others in the future.