How Black Expats Navigate Through White Travel Privilege

PUBLISHED: Aug 4, 2020 9:41 AM

During a trip to the Caribbean, Jodi Covington was stunned by the “royal treatment” white travelers had received.

In an interview with Travel Noire discussing changes in the travel industry she hopes to see, Covington detailed her experience.

“I was visiting an island for the first time and the line was long at a local bar. The owner said to the white tourist behind me to come to the front since it was their first time on the island. I was like, well damn, it’s my first time to the island as well.”

Covington, who is the co-founder of Destination Glamping, said at that moment, she didn’t know how to feel.

“I was initially okay just because I was thinking, ‘maybe she thought I was local,’ but that swiftly went away as I thought about the fact that I wanted the same first time to the island treatment that the white visitors received.”

Covington’s experience abroad is not an isolated incident.

When you hear the term “expat,” it is often synonymous with white people from certain countries who choose to live and work abroad.

Back in 2015, Mawuna Koutonin asked, “Why are white people considered expats when the rest of us are immigrants?” in a viral blog post reprinted by The Guardian. The blog post details the privilege that white travels are often afforded – which allows them to be referred to as expats instead of immigrants like many travelers of color. Or in Covington’s case, white travelers are rewarded with preferential treatment because the travel industry has not caught up with the fact that Black travelers spend billions of dollars on travel each year despite little-to-no representation.

Here’s How Black Expats Navigate Through White Travel Privilege Abroad

“I’ve been living abroad off and on for the last 25 years and I made the decision shortly after my daughter was born that it was time to leave the US again because I did not want to subject my daughter to America’s ‘special’ and ‘deadly’ brand of racism and more importantly I wanted to raise a multilingual global citizen,” said Jackie Omotalade, travel influencer and founder of The Jackie O Life.

“Ask any well-traveled Black American and they will be able to tell you a racially charged travel story […] I lived in throughout Europe for close to three years – living in Germany, France, and Spain. I’ve been called the N-word multiple times in Germany.”

“I lived in Asia for over 2 years and I’ve had crowds swarm around me to take photos as people shout ‘Beyonce!’ or ‘Serena!’ while traveling throughout Asia.

“But I also can’t ignore that in many spaces, my US passport and the prestige associated with being American negates some of the harsher realities of anti-Blackness.  However, I’m also a woman with an African name and proudly Yoruba features, so I am intimately aware of the differences in traveling while Black American vs traveling while Black African.”

“I’ve been mistaken for a prostitute multiple times in France and Spain and had the men who have attempted to solicit me almost pass out from shock when they hear my American accident.   These incidents have forced me to speak out against the trafficking of African women that happens throughout the European continent.”

“I’ve had a money exchanger in Kenya say to me, ‘I wasn’t going to accept your dollars because of your Nigerian name, but you have an American passport, so I’ll do it.’  Her assumption was that all Nigerians are scammers but because I’m Nigerian with an American passport I couldn’t possibly be a scammer.”

“I’ve had to bring all of my own skincare products from the US when living in Asia out of fear that skin bleaching ingredients will be in the store-bought products.  Many people around the world, simply don’t want to be dark.”

“There is no country where I have lived or visited where a white American tourist hasn’t asked me “how I afford to travel?” seemingly implying that my black body doesn’t belong in the travel space.  My response is always, ‘the same way you do,” followed by a stare until they look away with shame. Why is my wealth questioned? Why am I questioned? It should not, and I will not allow it to be.”

“Now, all these things (with the exception of being mistaken for the Queen B or the Queen of tennis) have happened to me in the US as well.  I divide my experiences into two types: racist and curious.”

“And these racist experiences are just that, experiences.  They have never been daily occurrences for me as a Black American when I’m abroad.  I’ve never been subjected to daily microaggressions and toxicity the way I am in the US. And for that, I thank my blue passport, because I know my experiences are unique to having an American passport.  I’m viewed differently.  But I also have an enormous responsibility to not adopt colonizer like attitudes when traveling the world. “

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