Being born and raised in a culturally diverse city like Toronto, I’ve always been used to seeing and personally knowing people from all around the world.
I have friends from every continent and when I’m hanging out with my best friends it looks like a U.N meeting. My closest friends are from St.Lucia, Poland, Pakistan, Guyana, and Trinidad. And these are just my closest friends but I know people from all over the world.
I never really appreciated how amazing and unique growing up in a multicultural place like Toronto effects the way you interact with people and it is such a blessing.
So for me, seeing someone of a different race doesn’t effect me at all – unless they’re really hot, and you would react too 😛
That being said, traveling while black or brown is a different experience because people don’t always react to you in a positive way all the time.
Let’s face it, racism is still here and when you’re traveling to certain places you won’t always be treated the same.
My husband and I had a really bad experience in Malaysia which sparked this discussion that I felt I had to share other people’s stories about traveling while black but not to scare you from traveling – but to empower you to do it anyway. You’ll see how we can overcome racism, stay positive and keep on traveling.
It’s so important to be represented as people of color traveling the world because we can, and DO travel too!
While there are bad apples anywhere you go, never stop traveling and never let it keep you down.
Mea from Itz a Family Thing has shared her story with me about her first time traveling in China.
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Traveling while black Interview: china
Our first international trip with our 4-month-old son was full of, excitement, fear, sadness, worry, joy, and relief. My wife told me she found an amazing deal to Beijing and we will be leaving in April.
I was more excited than a kid going to Disney. We love to travel to learn about different cultures, eat different food, and “attempt” to learn different languages.
For a few moments, I had to stop and think to myself, “Will we be safe in Beijing”? This may seem like an overreaction but as a 2 mom family and being 2 women of color, it is definitely a thought.
We have to protect not only ourselves but our son too. To make things even more interesting my son and I are bi-racial (Korean and African American) and this is pertinent to our experience.
Upon our arrival, everything was going smoothly for the most part. There were a few instances that made us take a step back and wonder if were we being treated differently because of the color of our skin or because we are Americans.
Honestly, it would have made me feel relieved if it was due to being American because a lot of people in other countries think we’re assholes – and I don’t blame them.
While exploring near our hotel with our son in a carrier, we decided to get something to eat. We were eager to eat authentic Chinese food for the first time.
We walked into a crowded restaurant assuming the food must be good, only to be greeted by an older Chinese woman yelling “NO!” at us.
We were confused as to what we did to receive such a scolding. We looked at each other and assumed they did not have English menus and figured we would be able to point at the items we wanted to order.
We were so wrong.
It was only when we tried to sit down that we realized they were not going to serve us. The older woman took the menus from our hand and pointed towards the door.
We looked at each other in disbelief and sadness then left the restaurant. Even though we did not speak about the experience, it was obvious we were both hurt.
Trying not to let that ruin our vacation, we resumed our search for lunch. We walked 10 steps before we were gestured by another restaurant owner waving menus to come inside.
He couldn’t have known it but that was the exact pick-me-up that we needed.
I wish I could say that was my worst experience but I would soon find out it was not.
The next day my wife and I decided to split up for the day because she wanted to attend a tour.
With the smog index and weather, we did not think it would be a good idea for our baby boy to outside all day. I figured we would spend the day at the museum.
I am a bit of a nerd so anything that allows me to learn, I’m all in. I was a little nervous because it was my first time exploring Beijing with our son alone.
I tried to put all of my anxiety behind me and we headed off to the museum. I was relieved when we arrived at the museum and I made my way inside.
Then it started.
While walking through the museum there were stares, pointing, and even a few laughs. I started to feel a little uncomfortable but I understood that China is a very homogenous place and seeing an African American woman with what looks like an Asian baby understandably sparks interest and curiosity.
However, after a few minutes of this I start to get concerned because the staring didn’t stop and they actually started pulling me for pictures.
My nerves got the best of me and I tried to walk away only to be followed by a group of men.
One man yells “you black, big, so big. Another man says, “I want to have sex with her”. While thrusting his body in my direction.
With tears in my eyes, I finally reach a door leading to another part of the museum.
While trying to enjoy the beautiful artwork and artifacts we are being bombarded by people trying to take pictures, even going so far as to try to remove our son from the stroller.
I politely ask for space but I continue to hear words such as, “adoption, black lady, not her baby and buy baby” throughout my visit. I continued to push through determined to enjoy my time and see everything that the museum had to offer.
As closing time approached, I headed to the exit to ask how I can get a taxi back to the hotel. We were given a card with the hotel address in Mandarin so we can make it back to our room.
I was told all I have to do it out my hand out and a taxi will stop. I stood outside and waved my hand for 20 minutes and no one stopped.
I went back into the museum to get help and was told the same information. So I went back to the street to try again.
I asked a few locals for help and four taxis stopped for them but when I tried to hand them the card with the hotel address they said “no, you black”, and drove off.
I was finally able to speak with someone at our hotel to get a taxi. I stood outside for almost 2 hours with our baby just trying to just get a ride back to our hotel.
I was in disbelief that I would be left on the side of the street like I was nothing just because I was black.
When we arrived at the hotel I laid our sleeping son on the bed and let the tears flow from my eyes.
There were so many questions in my head,
“How can people be so hurtful and mean? What did I do to deserve this? How can I protect our son?”
But babies have a way of making you smile and forgetting about all the negativity in the world. The smile on our son’s face when he looks at us sent that negative experience to the back of my mind.
The moment changed our perspective and put our vacation back on track was an interaction he had with an elderly Chinese woman.
He was sitting in his stroller while we were packing our bags into a car to change hotels. The woman was playing, smiling, and talking to him and he was having fun with her laughing and talking in return “baby talk”.
The woman was with her husband and he was trying to drag her away but she wouldn’t budge. She continued playing and talking to him until we got into the car.
As we drove off and she started to walk away, all I could think about was our son and how all he sees is the good in everyone.
He’s not tainted by the bad; he is full of purity and innocence. And not all people in China are bad, though there are a few bad apples.
After that, the rest of our trip was filled with a lot of fun. We were able to visit the Great Wall of China together and it was incredible!
We unknowingly booked an amazing hotel attached to a mall that doubled as an art museum. We explored and discovered the “Park of Freedom” with the Tomb of Ma Juan.
The best part of the trip was being able to spend time together as a family and learn about another culture.
We didn’t let that negative experience impact the rest of our vacation. Since then we have been to Mexico, Oahu, and Portland.
We will never let anyone take away our love of travel, and the amazing memories we create together as a family.
I did not let this experience change me. I will continue to travel and show our son how beautiful the world is and how kind people can be. I will not let the darkness in others overshadow my light.
After reading about her story, I just had to share. It’s not fair to be treated this way, but it’s important to be aware that traveling as a person of color, things can happen and we have to move on and deal with them.
This is not to discourage you from traveling and exploring China, you may never experience something like this.
As people of color, it’s important that we show the world that we travel too! We’re just normal people like them and interacting with people around the world will help them see people of color differently and also help them understand us better.
I’m so glad that Mea hasn’t stopped traveling and didn’t let that horrible experience ruin her trip!
Has anything like this happened to you while traveling? What did you do?
Mea from Itz a Family Thing is dedicated to inspiring families to travel with their children. This family has been on the move with their son, receiving his passport by 2 months and in Beijing by 4 months. Their first international adventure started in Bangkok where they fell in love with travel. They are on the move as they prepare to travel the world full time with their baby and share tips with other families on how they can do the same on their family travel blog Its a Family Thing.
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