The Plight Of Traveling As A Black African Woman: My Personal Experiences

I consider myself sensitive, particularly sensitive to the energies around me and sensitive to how people treat me. I can read subtle cues from people’s behaviors towards me and to others. Actually, one of my professional strong suits is data analysis and interpretation. My last boss loved me for that. Couple that with great instincts, if you’re trying to indirectly convey something, I’ll likely get it. With that said, I am very conscious and fully aware that I am a black African woman when traveling and what comes with that biologically bestowed title.

Being born a woman is already challenging in itself but when you’re born a black woman, that’s Double Jeopardy, as Frances M. Beal coined it. Add that you’re an African and you’ve got yourself a triple jeopardy. You’re a black uncivilized savage woman, the lowest in the totem pole. You’re maneuvering through the thick forest of racism and sexism while trying to simultaneously balance a basket of implicit bias that being an African brings.

I was born and raised in Kenya, where’s it’s predominantly black. Therefore, most of the issues that I have faced are the typical issues almost every woman and girl faces in the course of their life. From dealing with boys to heart breaks to self-esteem and hormonal problems. The usual. I never had any major issues, if at all, directly related to the color of my skin. It’s not until I stepped out of my comfort zone that I began to experience more, both pleasant and dreadful.

Travel has tons of benefits but for a black woman, it comes with challenges specific to my kind. You may find yourself unwanted and unwelcome in some territories because your features aren’t quite standard, or you’ll likely be profiled and detained at immigration for no apparent reason. Basically, the first impression people usually have is negative. Consequently, you’re either shunned and end up spending a lot of undesired time alone, or you’re treated like a prostitute. It doesn’t matter that you’re dressed modestly or not.

We tend to be extremely sexualized by society. Yes, we may dance gyrating our hips and derriere suggestively in discotheques and music videos, but that’s just a culture thing. It is not an invitation for sex.

I have had taxi drivers in foreign countries shamelessly think that it’s entirely appropriate to ask me about our “legendary” sexual prowess, which I find incredibly insulting. How is someone comfortable asking that to anyone?

I have also had an Italian friend of mine ask me if I was a prostitute when we initially met because, how could I afford to travel? 

Unfortunately, this isn’t new. It is something that people do think and the brave, like my friend, comfortably voice out. To them, the only way black African women can afford things is by getting down on their knees.

I remember a time in Dubai when I was asking for directions to get a cab from an Asian security guard who went ahead to gesture me to some dark alley instead and almost forcing his hideous body on me. Luckily, I was able to escape thanks to a kind stranger. It did make me wonder whether my skin color came into play when he was making the conscious decision to, almost, assault me. Did my skin color mean I did not deserve respect? It may or may not have been the case but again, it’s not a stretch.

You get subliminal cues when dealing with people from a different race whether you’re traveling within or outside your country. Tough luck trying to have a conversation with a man of a different race without them thinking you want them sexually or that you have an ulterior motive.

I remember having a conversation with one of my girlfriends about this exact issue. We had just come from what we thought would be a fantastic night out because one of our favorite artists was performing, but it didn’t pan out to what we expected. The majority of the attendants at the party were non-black, and overall, the party was very racially segregated. The few blacks there sat with other blacks. And the non-blacks sat with their non-black counterparts with a few rebels from either side. And most of these rebels are extremists, that is, the kind of non-black who never associates with other non-black people or the black person who never hangouts with other black people.

Anyway, my girlfriends and I were discussing how painfully awkward it was to, for example, accidentally lock eyes with some of the non-black people on the dance floor. It was like you had committed a cardinal sin based on the hostile reaction on their entitled faces. And you’re just there confounded, like, what?! Calm your tits. I didn’t mean to. It was accidental, sir. It’s that I have eyeballs and they move when I’m dancing, and unfortunately, they landed on you this time. Needless to say, it was an exhausting night. But again, it’s not a new or unique experience. It happens more often than not when in diverse groups or locations.

I date men, that is to say, I’m all about equal opportunity in the love game. I’m with Chingy on ” I like them black, white, Puerto Rican, or Haitian. Like, Japanese, Chinese, or even Asian.” So I do date outside my race. I feel like people limit themselves when they exclusively date only one race. But that kind of openness to dating can be hard and almost impossible. It’s not just hard because of the usual “Dating is hard” chronicles but because as a black woman, if you’re not being ostracised, you’re being fetishized. You then become self-conscious about everything. It’s an endless ping-pong of calculations of each other’s motives outside of the normal worries. From, are they with me because they like me or because I’m black, thus, a fetish? Do they think I want something other than romance out of them? A visa or money, perhaps?

Even getting around transportation wise can be a hurdle. Have you tried to hail, like, 10 different empty cabs and none of them stopped for you? No? You must not be black. This is something that has happened to me and to prove that I was definitely the “problem,” I had a kind white guy stop one for me, and the first one that showed up stopped for him almost instantly. And, of course, the cab guy wasn’t particularly pleased that I was the one using it. There is usually an energy shift when it’s just you. And it’s evident when you’re in a diverse group with non-black people. You’re respected a little bit more. As in, indifferent, but not as cynical.

But by far the worst kind of discrimination and attitude comes from the very black African men who are meant to be our protectors, our comrades. In Kenya, for instance, I’ve experienced that in the service industry when dealing with a black woman versus the opposite, black men will give preferential treatment to the others. Unless they know you personally, of course. I vividly remember staying at a place that’s very cosmopolitan where I was treated poorly and it was evident that my race and gender came into play. The other people seemed to be handled professionally, with respect and care. While on the other hand, I was treated like a lesser person and often, blatantly sexualized.

Sometimes I figure that I may be too sensitive and thus brush most stuff off, that is until another fellow black African woman mentions experiencing similar ordeals, vindicating me and my feelings.

Most of the problems emanate from that single story narrative that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie referred to. There is only one point of view of the black African woman that has been pushed out there that people are inclined to believe and internalize it. I’ve had a German friend who spent some time with me and some friends, tell us that he was pleasantly surprised that we could hold a conversation. 

I do, slightly, understand that there are stereotypes that genuinely stem from statistics and some black African women do perpetuate that narrative but, shouldn’t you give someone the benefit of the doubt? Every human is unique and should be treated as such. Black African women are not one type of way. Some are just trying to live their best life and sometimes, socialize. And you know what? You could learn a thing or two from each other. I tend to believe that’s one of the points of life.

Negative experiences are just a part of the experience. There’s so much beauty as well. You get the chance to change the perceptions and make your beautiful melanated face more common. So continue exploring the world. It’s your oyster, too. Keep on going, keep on traveling, and keep on breaking those negative stereotypes.

Are you a black African woman and have faced similar issues? Feel free to share. It’s not until we are comfortable being uncomfortable discussing these truths affecting us that we can break barriers and make strides. I’d love to hear back from you either via email or the comment section. 

Thank you for reading.

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2 thoughts on “The Plight Of Traveling As A Black African Woman: My Personal Experiences

  1. nice piece having studied in india this cases are just too common. got to a point where travelling or living alone as an african woman wasnt safe.. and the men werent safe either

    Like

    1. Thank you, Jesse. I’ve read and heard quite a bit on India. It’s quite a sad reality that skin color and ethnicity dictates how you move into the world as an African woman. It’s even worse when it threatens your safety. Thank you so much for sharing.

      Like

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