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 enough but when you’re born a black woman, that’s Double Jeopardy, as Frances M. Beal coined it. Further, add that you’re an African and you’ve got yourself a triple jeopardy. The world sees you as a black, uncivilized, savage woman, the lowest in the totem pole. You’re maneuvering through a thick forest of racism and sexism and simultaneously, implicit bias that being an African brings.

I am from Kenya, born and raised, a country that’s predominantly black. Therefore, most of the issues that I have faced growing up are the typical issues that almost every woman and girl everywhere 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 the pleasant and the dreadful.

Travel has substantial benefits but like with anything, it comes with its fair share of challenges. For a black woman, it’s a whole lot more. It comes with particular challenges specific to their kind. For example, you may find yourself unwanted and unwelcome in some territories because your features aren’t quite right, or it’s more likely than not that you’ll be profiled or detained at immigration for no apparent reason.

Basically, the first impression people usually have of a traveling black woman is negative. Consequently, you’re either shunned and end up spending a lot of undesired time alone, or you’re treated like a prostitute.

We tend to be extremely sexualized by society. It doesn’t matter that you’re dressed modestly. 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, let alone a client?

Another example is an Italian friend of mine brazenly asking me if I was a prostitute when we initially met because, how could I afford to travel? His words, not mine. 

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.

It’s a galling, baseless presumption that, honestly, and for the love of God, needs to stop. 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.

These stereotypes go far beyond irritation. They can very easily turn to a safety concern. For example, I vividly recall a time in Dubai, U.A.E. I was asking for directions for 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. But, 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 translate to I do not deserve respect? It may or may not have been the case but then again, it’s not a stretch. After all, Dubai is one of the safest cities, so chances of being attacked a very low.

The ugly side of this is that these unfortunate displays of discrimination are not confined to when you travel outside of Africa. You would think that home is a safe, comfortable place for all. Sadly, that’s not the case.

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.

At the end of the night, 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. Needless to say, it was an exhausting night for all the wrong reasons.

But then again, it’s not a new or unique experience. It happens more often than not when in diverse groups or locations both at home and overseas.

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 a lot of black people. All you need to do is ask and people will have countless experiences.

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?

Last Words

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 these 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 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.

But dear, black, African woman, negative experiences are just a part of the experience. There’s so much beauty as well. Traveling affords you 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.

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


    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.


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