What do you think about when planning a trip?
Do the following questions cross your mind?
- Where should I go?
- When is the best time of the year to go?
- What should I pack?
What Black Women Who Travel Consider Before Hitting the Road
Well, I think about all those things as well, but I also think about one more thing: How will people see me?
Black Women’s Hair & Travel
Before my trip even begins, I think about how I will wear my hair. Should I wear it up or down? If I wear it down people walk up to me and touch my hair? I also get lots of questions. The questions I don’t mind, but please ask me before you reach out to touch my hair. It makes me uncomfortable, and in all honestly grosses me out. I do not know where your hands have been! Most importantly, my hair is a part of me!
Common questions I get asked about my hair are:
- Is it my hair?
- How long did it take to grow it?
- How often do I wash it?
I don’t think anyone else gets asked these questions, and I appreciate curiosity. But, at times someone’s tone can make all the difference. Are they actually curious or are they being demeaning?
If I wear my hair in a bun I run into TSA poking it or digging in it to see if I have hidden something. I understand it is for safety, but can you please change your gloves before you look through my hair you have touched hundreds of other people. When the song Don’t Touch My Hair by Solange came out in 2016 I immediately related and thought, “YES!” This song communicates how I have been feeling for so long.
Clothing Concerns as a Black Woman Who Travels
Next, I think about what to wear on the plane. I want to be comfortable but also making sure I look ok because I do not want to be seen as not belonging. I often think to myself, do other people think about this when they are about to travel?
My Experience as a Black Woman Traveling in Asia
Amazingly, as a black woman traveling throughout Asia, I haven’t had any problems. People “see me” and my color. I am often greeted with a smile, and sometimes the question, “Where are you from?” Followed by the question I get everywhere I go: “Tell me about your hair.”
Once people find out that I’m a teacher and I live in Beijing, they want to talk to me more about my choice to live abroad—and sometimes they give a, “thank you” to me for being an educator.
My Experience as a Black Woman Traveling in Cambodia
During a recent tuk-tuk ride through Cambodia, I was greeted with many smiles as I passed by other tuk-tuks, motorbikes, and walkers. Noone clutched their bag as I walked through the Night Market of Siem Reap. But, I did get a, “Hello how are you? You are beautiful.”
As I ate my lunch at a local ‘mom and pop’ restaurant, the wife sat with me and said, “Your smile is beautiful, and I see your heart. Thank you for coming to our restaurant every day. It brings me joy”. We talked about so many things, but I was glad to be seen for me, Nicole Anita, not another black woman traveling from the US along with all the negative stereotypes we are given.
When we sat down to get to know each other, we found that we have more in common than we thought. This husband and wife had the same goals for their daughter as I do, and they also want to live and enjoy life.
What Black Women Want You to Know About Traveling in the United States
Unfortunately, my experiences as a black woman traveling through the United States are different than those I’ve had in Asia and Cambodia. I have become accustomed to the strange looks that seem to say “What are you doing here?”
And the smiles, well they are far and few between. I don’t feel this way every place I go in the US, but more often than not I do.
I lived in Washington State for 21 years, and I still don’t feel welcome in some areas. In fact, there are parts of the state I chose not to go because of feeling, “I don’t belong”.
I have taken road trips from Seattle to New Mexico several times in the past four years. It’s such an amazing trip, and I get to experience it with one of my best friends. Each time, when we reach a small town in Idaho that is on the way, there is always some concern about how people will treat me.
I remember clearly, one year we had stopped for the night and I told my friend I was going for a walk to the Twin Falls overlook. If you could only have seen the look she gave me! She said, “No! You will not! If you need to walk, go walk on the treadmill!”
She also went on to say, “I will drive you in the morning to see it, but you will not walk there by yourself in this town…and not with the climate in our country.”
Mind you, this is coming from a white woman.
When we stop to get gas at various truck stops along the way, I notice the looks. The look that says, “You don’t belong here,” or “I’m just going to watch you a bit more closely.”
I also notice that when they see my (white) friend with me—the looks change. Then when they see her dogs, the looks transform to a smile. I can’t help but think, “They are thinking it is ok because I’m ‘ with her.’” It also seems to me that they are more comfortable with her dogs than with me. I don’t know, I’m just guessing.
This is a sign at one of the gas stations we stopped at.
My friend and I just stopped, looked, and took a deep breath. For me the police coming isn’t awkward, it’s dangerous. Most people might think this sign is funny, but it inspires fear in me.
Advice From a Black Woman Who Travels
I don’t know why traveling in Asia is easier for me as a black woman. Perhaps it is because people see my color, ask about it, and then continue to ask about me. Perhaps it is because the stereotypes associated with black women are not as ingrained in other cultures. Perhaps because they don’t think they need to be “colorblind.”
If I could share just one thing I’ve learned from my travels, this is what I would say: Get to know people for who they are—personality, color, religion, economic status and stop with all the stereotypes.
We all have something in common!
1. A smile goes a long way
2. Those who have less, give so much.
3. Be open to people, culture, and food.