Photo Credit: Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images
It's Time We Check Our American Tourist Privilege At The Airport
It’s time we talk about the assumed American tourist privilege. While this is something that has likely been around for decades, it became hyper-visible over the last year during the global pandemic.
Before we really get into this piece, we want to lead with the disclaimer that this is from the culmination of incidents from American travelers of all races and ethnicities. Also, we are not saying that ALL travelers behave this way. But, it is a large number.
The inspiration for this “deep dive” came from recent incidents happening in Puerto Rico over the spring break holiday. It was reported that the US territory would be imposing fines of $100 for those who failed to comply with mask mandates, and police presence would be increased after several American travelers became violent when told to wear masks properly.
When Travel Noire’s editor went onto Getty Images to find a cover photo for the write-up, she discovered several pages of photos under the search term, “tourists Puerto Rico,” showing mostly Black and brown travelers moving about the island sans-masks, and care-free.
Current mandates state that masks must be worn at all times, including outdoors and in public spaces. There are billboards and signage across tourist areas reiterating this as well. Visitors must also follow the midnight to 5am curfew.
While spring break, and vacation in general, are a time to kick back and enjoy yourself, we must still respect and adhere to any mandates, laws and guidelines that a country or territory impose.
The behavior led locals to form caravan-style protests to show concern for the visitor’s actions, and to vocalize their fear of an uptick in cases.
American woman breaks quarantine after 2-days
In late November, 18-year-old Skylar Mack traveled to the Cayman Islands with her boyfriend, Vanjae Ramgeet to support him in a jet ski competition. At the time, the islands had a strict 14-day quarantine rule for incoming US visitors.
After just 2-days in quarantine, Mack left her accommodation and removed her geo-fencing bracelet— which tracks a visitor’s location— to watch her boyfriend while interacting with the public without a mask.
Mack and Ramgeet were detained and placed in a 14-day government quarantine facility. They both plead guilty to charges and were later sentenced to 4-months in prison.
Other recent American tourist privilege incidents
In January, American digital nomad and influencer Kristen Gray sparked a viral debate, after making a series of controversial posts stating that Bali was LGBTQ friendly and even releasing an e-book showing other Americans how to move to the country, through loopholes she had found in the visa laws.
For anyone curious about the deleted/hidden Bali thread pic.twitter.com/FYA3mRcMNf— Salt chip (@gastricslut) January 17, 2021
Gray moved to the Asian destination sometime in 2020 with her girlfriend. The two did have proper visas at the time, but her comments on the area being “queer friendly” really drew attention.
Her posts went viral and soon caught the attention of Indonesian authorities. Gray was detained, and deported back to the United States. It appears that she has since found a new international home.
For weeks, social media debated whether Gray, and others, were abusing privilege.
Can i just drop in and say, you can criticize her for glamorizing the Bali life with a western lens and being irresponsible for encouraging travel to a developing country during a pandemic. You can do that without bringing up BLM and being anti-black in the comments and rts.— Salt chip (@gastricslut) January 17, 2021
I dunno why Indonesian gov put lgbtq as 1st reason to deport her but the very first reason why many Indonesian angry with Kristen Gray is bcs of tax evasion and saying other foreigners should come to Bali using her way, and her way’s is illegal. So pls don’t misunderstand. Thx 😊— Thankyou,next | 2021 Still Hoping (@Thankyo27858791) January 20, 2021
Some even labeled certain travelers colonizers, for the way they go into countries, set up shop without benefiting the local community, and encouraging others to follow suit.
Not only are these white hippies contributing to gentrification/displacement of indigenous ppl, but they’re even going as far as crowd-funding to “acquire more land around the (sacred) lake” & encouraging others to join them…The colonizer gene is really fucking strong https://t.co/j0iy56QbiA— jenny (@yennyyfer) March 21, 2021
Do Americans carry a certain privilege when abroad?
The answer is certainly subjective, but we say yes.
Most Black and marginalized travelers may disagree based on experienced racism and discrimination in certain places. However, based on the above-mentioned incidents— and plenty more that didn’t garner media attention— American travelers definitely carry an assumed privilege with them when traveling.
Whether it’s not following mask mandates because “I’m on vacation,” or expecting non-English speakers to communicate in English to accommodate you, we certainly possess a certain superiority complex. Never mind the fact that we are visitors to someone else’s home, some travelers truly feel that the little blue book that afforded them access, also means they can do and act as they please while there.
It’s time for some of us to really check our privilege at the door, or airport in this case. And if you aren’t the one abusing your privilege, start checking your friends and family that do. That’s the only way it will get better.