Can I travel anywhere as a black woman?

When I traveled for the first time to South East Asia in November 2017. I prior to that asked on a travel group if it was safe as a black woman, to travel in Asia. Most of the answers were from white women, I’m not saying their opinion doesn’t matter, but in my case, their comments were just irrelevant to me. I don’t know why I was concerned and I just wanted to have feedback from other black women.

My first stop was in Kuala Lumpur. My plan was to go around Malaysia for a month before heading to Melbourne. I stayed in Kuala Lumpur for about 4 nights and from the beginning, I felt uncomfortable. Every time I would go somewhere and ask for advice or ask for help, people weren’t as friendly as said by other travelers on Facebook groups. In the beginning, I was like, ok maybe they’re having a bad day or something, it happens. 

But later on, I started noticing people staring at me and making fun of me. Like literally laughing at my face and point me out to their friends. Some people would take pictures of me without my consent and I ended up spending 4 awful days. 

When I reached out to a group of French-speaking female travelers, their response was quite insulting.  Some girls said that it was all in my head. That I was overreacting. That (white girls) had also people taking pictures of them in Asia and I should take it as a compliment. 

This kind of comment is the reason why a lot of black travelers don’t speak up about their experience because when they do, it’s “all in our heads” we’re being paranoid. This led to women creating a black travelers’ group where we can freely share our experiences and ask for advice without getting that kind of comment. 

I ended up traveling from Malaysia to Thailand, the rest of the trip was amazing. Would I recommend and travel to Malaysia again? Yes, especially Goerge Town and Langkawi. But I would avoid going back to Kula Lumpur.

Is Sri Lanka a racist country?

My second trip to Asia was in Sri Lanka, in August 2018 with two of my friends (white Caucasian). We had planned to travel around Sri Lanka for about three weeks and I was super excited. It was kind of a goodbye trip for us three after working and living together for about four months. We were all going separate ways after that trip.

The first few days were fine. We had an amazing experience visiting a Buddhist temple at our first stop in Anuradhapura. There, we got our blessings for our trip. It was a very spiritual and connecting moment.

A few days later, I started noticing people watching me. I always had that feeling like someone was looking at me constantly. I had purple braids for that trip so that didn’t help. But I am used to people looking at me because if my crazy hairstyle colors. Here it was different, I could just feel it. My first “incident” there was when I wanted to buy soap or a shower gel and we couldn’t find a supermarket.

So I entered a pharmacy and after looking around for about five or ten minutes, I asked an employee where can I find a shower gel. There were two employees, a man, and a woman, that had been looking at me the whole time. The woman takes me to the section where all bath products are, I’m having a look for the cheapest and she comes at me with a bottle. Yes, it was shower gel but with lightning products inside. I was shocked and really offended. I bought another product and left outrage.

Throughout the trip, the looks were getting more and more present and they got more and more aggressive.

I was asked “where are you from?” and a lot of times when I would say that I was from Belgium. That year the World Cup happened and our football team was absolutely amazing. Anyways people actually knew about Belgium, our football team has a few black and brown players. Yet, most reactions were; “but you’re black that’s impossible!” “no, you’re from Africa”. So yes, I was born in DRC but I moved to Belgium I was 3 years old, so I consider myself as Belgian. It hurts me every time I say I’m from Belgium and the person asking me says “yeah but your origins”. I find it rude and disrespectful.

So would I recommend Sri Lanka and will I travel there again? Yes, I would recommend Sri Lanka because it’s a beautiful country and despite these events. We also had a few amazing interactions and people sharing with us what they loved about their country. People that were proud and happy to have us with them. I would say though, that I think it could have been worst if I was by myself.

Would I go again though? No, I wouldn’t because it was a very stressful experience that drained me a lot. I work hard every day, save money to travel and this is the last thing I want to do, constantly justify my color.

How to help the black community?

First, please educate yourself and be mindful when asking questions related to race and culture. In a time where the information is one click away from you, it’s your duty to do so!

Second, when someone comes to you about an issue they’re facing or have been facing, not asking for validation or advice. LISTEN, just listen, and don’t try to minimize their feelings because it hurts. It hurts and it leads to internal frustration that one day might blow up out of nowhere. So now is time to listen, educate, and communicate.

If you want to help the black lives matter movement and you have no idea how or where to start. It will start from within. Ask yourself the right questions. Read books, make some researches, talk to people of color, watch movies, and documentaries that relate historical facts.

One last thing, DO NOT STAY SILENT. Black, white, yellow, grey it doesn’t matter everyone has a voice, a platform, a following. Your voice matters and it needs to be heard, once you truly understand what this movement is about.

I will post on my Instagram some books, movies, and account recommendations in the next few days.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. I would love you to share with me your story here or on Instagram!

Love, Grace.

9 thoughts on “Can I travel anywhere as a black woman?

  1. Samantha Karen

    Such an informative post. Thank you for opening my eyes to how it feels to travel as a black woman. The time for change is now and we are here to listen and LEARN.

  2. Cosette

    Thank you for sharing & educating me further on how it’s for black woman to travel. It’s strange that they question you from coming from Belgium, while they wouldn’t question me when I’m telling them I’m from The Netherlands. I’ve shared it on Twitter and Facebook.

  3. Shelley Marmor

    Thank you for this post. It is heartbreaking & difficult to read these types of stories, but thank you for you vulnerability. People (white people) really need to see this stuff. We must do better.

  4. Danni B

    I’ve always found this weird about the Middle East and Asia, often they want to know what your heritage is not just where you class as home. They can be quite intrusive with their questions which as Europeans we’re totally not used to! In Asia, the culture is much less individualistic than the west so being different is kind of bizarre to them, purple hair etc I had a pink streak and school children would ask to have a photo with me. Such a weird experience!

  5. Katherine

    Thank you for sharing your experiences. I’m sorry that these things happened to you anywhere, let alone in many countries that you were visiting. Travelling to new places always makes me feel like I’m out of my comfort zone, so I can’t even imagine how it must feel like for you when you’re being treated like this., and having your experienced minimised by others.

  6. Agnes

    That you for sharing this. There’s so much white travelers just don’t consider when they’re planning their vacations. We need to do better.

  7. Karen

    Thanks for sharing this personal story. I’m sorry that your travel experience is affected like this. If I don’t spend my white privilege to speak support strong and often then I am complicit. I continue to vow to do the hard work of anti racism in the travel and outdoors communities.

  8. Devon

    I never even considered what it would feel like to travel as a Black woman until I went to Winnipeg. I had people staring at me, someone went through my room after stealing my keys, people liked to point out that I was Black, it was such a big deal, and that was in CANADA, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for you. I am so sorry this was your experience, thank you for sharing it with us.

  9. Sarah

    Thanks for sharing your story. I can’t imagine what that must feel like and it makes me sick that people could be so cruel and hateful to a total stranger. I completely agree it’s about educating, listening, and having a voice. I truly hope this world evolves into a more loving one.

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