What being Black and Abroad means to me


What is the significance of being a black person who travels internationally?

I recently received a t-shirt from the travel collective Black & Abroad (more about who they are later on in this post), which is timely, because lately I’ve been thinking about what being a black person who journeys far from home (i.e. both “Black” and “Abroad”) means to me:

-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means being ‘othered’ while you travel.  It means fielding curious questions about your appearance, skin colour and hair texture, and constantly refuting conjectures or stereotypes (about things like your prowess on the dance floor or athletic ability) based solely on the skin you occupy. 


-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means being treated like a celebrity in places where black skin is a revered anomaly.  People have never seen (or have seen very few) beings who look like you in the flesh, so compare you to athletes like Lebron James (if you’re tall and male), or entertainers (like Beyonce and Rihanna) if you’re shapely and female. It means being asked to pose for pictures with strangers, hold babies, and shake hands with grandmas.

-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means being racially profiled, in airports, in shops, in government offices.  You will be stopped at immigration while travellers of a lighter hue walk on by.  You will be asked for your “papers” to prove you are “worthy” and “legal”.  Your passport and your dollar/peso/dirham notes will be turned over and over in discerning hands to ensure that they are not counterfeit.  Gazes will linger over your clothing and physical aspect, inspecting and extracting your financial status and danger quotient.


-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means going to places and doing “the nod” when you see another black person.  Because in some places there aren’t many of you.  You do that slight downward tilt of the head to acknowledge and recognize this phenomenon, sometimes to the surprise, glee, or discomfort of your non-black travel companions.  “Do you know that guy over there?” No, I don’t. But I *see* him.

-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means being a representative of the whole black race for those who are not of African descent. You become the de facto expert on the full range of black issues the diaspora over. You will be asked about Obama and Boko Haram, Mandela and Will Smith. Your individual actions will be superimposed on the whole black community so you try to act in ways that will only reflect positively on your people– you don’t want to sully the travel waters for your brother or sister. You will be told about a black friend, acquaintance, or stranger that you resemble, though the only thing you may share is a skin colour and a sex.


-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means being a role model to little black boys and black girls (and grown black men and black women) who don’t realize that international travel– for leisure and education and even just to “find ourselves”– is something we can do, too. Every trip, every ticket stub and passport stamp, and every social media post and picture will serve as a blueprint to these people; a reminder of the beauty of possibility and the simple audacity of just going.  For them, *you* have become the billboard or the endorsement of this kind of travel, because mainstream media doesn’t remember or care that we can also go places for reasons other than immigration or asylum.

-Being Black and Abroad means appreciating your privilege and living life to its fullest extent on the road. Remember that circumstances have allowed you to behold the world’s treasures, but that not every brother or sister will have the opportunity. It means being carefree but responsible, unshackled but humble. It means being cognizant of the barriers that prevent people who look like you from seeing the world, but willing to bring back and share the knowledge, power, and experience you have gleaned from it.

-Being Black and Abroad sometimes means learning about who you are, where you’re from, and connecting with your history.  When you travel to some countries you stare into the faces of distant cousins and walk in the footsteps of the ancestors who birthed you. You feel the full weight of your blackness and realize how a boat or a war or a pilgrimage boarded/engaged in/taken centuries ago has directly changed the course of your life’s story.


The Black Travel Movement

As a black woman who travels frequently and extensively, I am thrilled at the proliferation of travel groups and resources that cater to people who look like me.

I’ve written ad nauseum about how mainstream travel media is almost entirely devoid of black faces, voices, and perspectives— and how this, in turn, shapes and perpetuates the notion that black people don’t travel.


But I’ve also written many times about how,  in the face of this mainstream exclusion, groups that are FUBU– “for us, by us”– are providing black travellers with the inspiration and information they need to make the world their oyster.

Make no mistake, the mere existence of groups catering to our demographic is a victory.   The phenomenon known as the Black Travel Movement is the definition of being the change we want to see. I love it, am proud of it, and support it with my whole heart.

So a few months ago I wrote “5 Black Travel Groups You Should Know”, an article highlighting five of the hottest travel startups geared towards to melanin-blessed travellers. However, the fact that all five groups are headed by fearless, entrepreneurial sistas was not lost on some of you.  After I wrote that article, I saw the same question over and over in the comments, in my inbox, and on social media:  “This is great, but where are the black men in the Black Travel Movement?”


Enter Black & Abroad LLC

Well, you see, I wrote this piece before meeting Kent Johnson from Black & Abroad, the cultural collective that encourages brothas and sistas to explore, embrace adventure, and empower themselves through travel.  Headquartered in Atlanta and co-founded by Kent and his business partner Eric Martin, the collective is making itself seen and heard in a burgeoning niche industry seemingly dominated by women. Like the other startups, Black & Abroad offers travel resources to black voyageurs.  However, where the group stands out is in its extensive use of Snapchat takeovers to feature locales from around the planet, as well as merchandise emblazoned with the simple, yet striking company logo.


I had the opportunity to meet Kent for dinner when he was passing through Hong Kong last month, and in short order convinced him to send me one of Black & Abroad’s signature t-shirts, which I proudly sported around town yesterday. As I made my way around the city, taking pictures, I was once again reminded what being both black and abroad means to me, which I shared above.

A conversation starter

I love how much of a conversation starter this shirt is: I felt the stares from passerby. I was even approached by a couple of people who were curious about its meaning. I was more than happy to explain as this dialogue is not only insightful, but necessary. So for those of you who identify as black, I pose the question the shirt implies: what does being Black and Abroad mean to you?


Love the shirt and want to cop it? Check out Black & Abroad’s online shop here.


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  • Being black and abroad means owning a new ‘celebrity status’ instead of squirming under the weight of stares, when in South East Asia.

    Being black and abroad means being followed around in stores by hawk-eyed folks who view you as a potential shop-lifter.

    Being black and abroad means being fetishized in many parts of Europe; that guys will actually grop me and grasp body parts “accidentally”, that there will be alot of innappropriate flirting. It means that people will stop their cars at sidewalks to hoot at you, make lewd comments and gestures as you pass by, that drunken men in intercity trains may invent new names for you like ‘sweet chocolate’ ; that these men may grab your hand and plant slobbery kisses the length of it as you frantically look for an escape route.

    Being black and abroad means freebies; free wine, free dinners, free meals by folks who adore any shade of melanin.

    Being black and abroad means being stopped and interrogated at borders, in a fashion that implies you are trespassing.

    Being black and abroad means answering the dumbest of questions that imply you are feral…”So you from Africa..” like Africa is a country. That some people will be absolutely befuddled by what means you used to arrive at their continent as if planes cannot possibly land or take off from your country. They will innocently ask what animals you live with..and where is it you live anyway…”Is it on the trees with monkeys and chimpanzees?” or “Do you run on the streets with lions, giraffes and zebras?” Surely, you should be able then to understand, ‘animal-speak?’

    Le sigh.

  • Great article, great photos, great legs!! I certainly have felt everything you listed here. The one thing I love most about the shirt is that it’s a conversation starter for those no lacks who are courageous enough to ask me about it. I eagerly talk about being black, knowledge leads to understanding which is the killer of prejudice and bias. Thanks for sharing!

  • Another great article. This is why I read you, Oneika….to get the travel perspective from someone different from me (and because you’re so damn well-traveled!), although I can always relate to the “being female” articles.

  • Great article, Oneika! You’re one of the few travel bloggers that inspired me to think about the perceptions about minority travelers (in my case, a Southeast Asian) making their way to other regions like Europe, the Americas & Africa.

  • Black and Proud! I loved reading this. I’ve shaken the hands of quite a few grandmas myself, particularly in Asia. I agree that when we travel, we end up representing our entire race. So keep that chin up and keep traveling!

  • Love this article !

    Being Black and Abroad means paving the way for acceptance by others and acknowledgement that we are black and here too!

    Being Black and Abroad means doing something different.

    Being Black and Abroad means having conversations with people that makes them feel uncomfortable.

    Being Black and Abroad means barriers are breaking !

    Being Black and Abroad means I am living life and loving my skin 🙂

    Again, love this post and the shirt!

  • Love this article !

    Being Black and Abroad means paving the way for acceptance by others and acknowledgement that we are black and here too!

    Being Black and Abroad means doing something different.

    Being Black and Abroad means having conversations with people that makes them feel uncomfortable.

    Being Black and Abroad means barriers are breaking !

    Being Black and Abroad means I am living life and loving my skin ?

    Again, love this post and the shirt!

  • Nice article,

    Last summer, I went 8 weeks backpacking to Peru anD Bolivia with my 12 years old daughter and it was great. This summer we spent (still have 5 days left to go) 6 weeks in Mexico and we lover it too.

    To me first and foremost being black and abroad means experiencing for myself. Too often we rely on secondhand experiences and a lot of assumptions when thinking about going to foreign countries. Being black and abroad also means to me the importance of showing to other black folks in my entourage ( Montreal, Canada ) that it is indeed possible to go to “these places”. It’s okay to go explore the world and not always think about encountering discrimination. Being prejudged is something that most of us have to deal with everyday. It brings me alot of joy to know that I was able to bring to others a real frame of reference and experience with a black person that is different than what learned through the media.

    As for when abroad, travelling as a black woman often include answering hair related question. This summer I shaved my hair but my daughter has dreadlocs and everywhere we go, people are in awe about our hair but mainly hers.

    One thing that I found interesting is that backpacking while black allowed me to meet other backpackers who were genuinely surprised to meet a black woman doing the same thing as them and on top of that with a kid. To most, I am the coolest mother ever.

    Sorry for any mistakes, I caught Zika on my last week and my joints are killing me. So it was kinda hard to type all this on my phone.

  • Being black and abroad hasn’t always been a positive experience for me.
    it means being stopped and double checked by airport officials.
    but it also means having an open mind and seeing the world differently.
    its also good to see travel bloggers like you doing positive things and encouraging the rest of us.


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