Congratulations, black traveler. You have made it. You make enough money to pay your bills and travel the world. You’re living good and finally manifesting the dream of freedom that our ancestors had laid out for us. Our taste of freedom has arrived so we’re gonna show out. The black travel industry in America is huge with an estimated $63 billion spent on tourism in 2018 (1).
We deserve it. We’ve been raised in societies that shackled us (physically and financially) in systems that benefited from our peoples’ forced labor. Seeds of doubt were planted by our fathers, mothers and their fathers and mothers that traveling beyond the western world was dangerous, ill-advised and perhaps impossible. But we are in a different era. We have the money, freedom, and education to go abroad and see what it’s like outside of the European and American confines that we were born in.
I get it, let’s floss. However, we’re making a fool of ourselves and acting just as oppressive as our home nations when we are abroad. Have you heard the word Neocolonialism? If you haven’t, here’s what it means: “the practice of using capitalism, globalization and cultural imperialism to influence a developing country instead of the previous colonial methods of direct military control or indirect political control” (2).
Neocolonialism is demanding that there be a Starbucks in a third world country airport. Neocolonialism is asking for the woman at the supermarket to speak English to you so you can check out. Neocolonialism is only spending your money at western and trendy food spaces because they make you feel “more comfortable”. Neocolonialism is searching for luxury accommodations in places that typically cannot provide the same standard of living to their locals. Neocolonialism is getting served American portions at a restaurant that wouldn’t serve their own people that quantity. Do you catch my drift? Neocolonialism is asking for your western amenities, changing whole cities and economies to ensure your comfort level is reached while abroad.
There’s nothing wrong with asking for comfortable accommodations. You deserve a cabana without mosquitoes. But do you? How many times have you asked for accommodations, food and amenities that are beyond the norm in a particular location? How many times have you paid for a dinner that’s comparable in price to your western home country, then complained about it? These are all acts of neocolonialism that are unnecessary and harmful to small communities in the third world countries you are visiting.
I am not asking for you to throw away your comforts or to dismiss your needs. However, I am asking you to be mindful of how flossing in third world countries makes you an a**hole. There’s nothing more beautiful than arriving in a country and becoming one with the locals. Eat local food, buy local goods, stay in locally-owned and operated places. Visit local towns that are not tourist traps. Befriend local people. Learn and speak the local language. Pay a local guide to give you a tour of local attractions.
I know you understand this, black traveler, because we preach the same thing in our own communities. You’ve heard the term “buy black”. This term is popular in American black communities because we understand that by stimulating local places, we empower local people. We want our communities to grow and thrive so we encourage each other to buy local goods and services from each other. So, apply this same concept to a third world country. We want to empower people and places; not to showcase our favorite swimsuit on Instagram. Otherwise, we are acting in the same manner as the oppressive nations we come from.
One good example is language colonialism. We all know that when black folks were taken from Africa and spread all over the planet, one of the ways they colonized us was by forcing us to drop our native language and learn theirs. Now, most black travelers with generations of family born and raised in foreign countries, have lost their original and native language from their tribal homes in Africa.
Compare this to a third world country of choice. Why should the Cambodian woman at the restaurant have to speak English so you can feel comfortable? Why does the Tanzanian tour guide have to speak English so you don’t fall off Kilimanjaro? Why should the Nicaraguan small hotel owner have to speak English so you can pay them for their service?
Dear black traveler, come correct. Approach the countries you visit with an understanding that you are walking into someone else’s home and they don’t need to adapt to make you feel comfortable.
We can also apply this same problem with taking photos with the locals only to be used as your next #livingmybestlife post. Remember when white folks would go to Africa and take photos of poor black children and post them on your their Facebook pages? Remember how enraged this made our western communities because we saw them as capitalizing off of poor black and brown bodies?
Compare this to our recent trip to Colombia. We ask the Palenqueras with the tropical fruit on their heads in Cartagena to take pictures with us. Why? What are we hoping to gain? A neocolonial experience where Colombian bodies are props for our social media image. We pay for locals to be in our photos to validate that we’re “down” with the locals when in reality, we use our money to use them as props. How is that different than the poverty tourism that white folks in the western world do in Africa? There is no difference.
We as black travelers are living the high life. We’ve got money, a nice job, a family, we pay the bills and now we deserve a trip to the Bahamas. Okay, that’s fine. But come correct.
Black travelers, please stop flossing on Instagram with local peoples. If you want to be down, support local. Learn and speak the local language. Show respect for the land and the people. Don’t show up to “live cheap” and expect whole societies to adjust their centuries old cultures to bend over backwards for you. It’s colonial, it’s disrespectful and you wouldn’t want that to happen to your people.
Sincerely, your fellow black traveler,