Traveling While Black (Originally Published 7/10/12)

It's a curious thing I have noticed eer since I started embarking on various worldwide solo adventures: as a light-skinned black guy, people usually have no earthly clue where I am from until I open my mouth (but of course I open it pretty fast).

When I travel to countries where I don't speak the language and english (or french, or pidgin korean) isn't widely spoken, I have to be quiet for long periods, and people project various ethnicities and nationalities onto me.

Mostly this is hilarious, particularly in Korea, where they don't know what to do with brown skin.

Occasionally it's annoying, as I was specifically pulled out of the security line both entering and leaving Ecuador since they calculated I had a pretty good chance of stashing some drugs somewheres.

Sometimes, it's quite beneficial, since the mistaken assumption that I am not American leads many to figure I am not holding enough cash to be worth robbing (indeed the only time I have ever been mugged was in Brooklyn Heights of all places).

I can't write this without acknowledging privilege: I am obviously not targeted for sexual assault, and speaking this language opens up doors in most places. And then there's the fact that, even though I can't take several months off to travel like a lot of folks I have met on my trips, I still can manage to scrounge up the cash to add a new country to my list most years (and at least one new country every year since 2006; obviously a lot more while living in Asia).

I have no grand point here. I think my goal in sharing this is to say we should always remember our good fortune, and take note of the fact that race, gender, sexuality etc does have an impact on our daily lives, even if we are just taking a short vacation.

Fact is, traveling while black (and american, and young, and not poor, and straight, etc) is a different experience from traveling while being a member of various other groups.

Certainly not always bad though. You'd laugh too if naked Korean men in the sauna shouted 'bangladeshee ' and 'bettenam' at you.

Peace and love,
Justin PBG


Justin Gerald

Age: 28 Hometown: NYC Location: NYC Career: Education Undergrad: Princeton Grad: New School Likes: Cooking, Baseball, Socializing, Parks, Pop Culture, Feminism Loves: Traveling, Running, Lifting, Trivia, Teaching, Equality