Ready for Take­off: Map­ping the Black Travel Re­nais­sance Veron­ica Hil­bring

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - TRAVEL - Veron­ica Hil­bring is a Black fem­i­nist writer from Chicago. When she’s not writ­ing, she en­joys trav­el­ing, re­ally good tele­vi­sion, and mu­sic from the ’90s.

BLACK TRAVEL HAS EX­PLODED

So­cial me­dia is full of gor­geous pho­tos of Africa’s crys­tal-blue wa­ters, trav­el­ers pray­ing at In­dia’s lo­cal tem­ples, and melanin-rich groups of girl­friends cel­e­brat­ing wed­dings at Ja­maican re­sorts. These im­ages are em­blem­atic of the jour­neys Black mil­len­ni­als are tak­ing all over the world. Thanks to the power of so­cial me­dia and the resur­gence of the U.S. econ­omy fol­low­ing the 2008 re­ces­sion, Black travel groups from Tastemak­ers Africa and Travel Noire to the No­mad­ness Travel Tribe are also tak­ing flight.

A HIS­TORY OF BLACK TRAVEL

In 1936, postal worker Vic­tor H. Green filled a dire need for Black trav­el­ers with the Ne­gro Mo­torist Green Book, which pro­vided in­for­ma­tion about restau­rants, ho­tels, and gas sta­tions that would wel­come them. Green’s re­source guide helped Black trav­el­ers feel more in con­trol of their des­tinies. (Read more about The Ne­gro Mo­torist Green Book in our Dis­patch from Mis­souri, page 18.) “The Green Book to me was a love let­ter of sorts,” Calvin Ram­sey, cre­ator of the doc­u­men­tary The Green Book Chron­i­cles, told NBC News in July 2017. “There was a time when we loved each other so much that we would open our homes just to keep an­other Black per­son safe. You could be a su­per­star, a singer, an artist, and in those days still have no place to stay, eat, or bathe while on the road, so this book was about the love and abil­ity to pre­serve our dig­nity.” Now a new gen­er­a­tion of Black trav­el­ers has emerged that is stead­fast about ex­plor­ing the world out­side the United States. Ron­del Holder, the cre­ator of Soul So­ci­ety, a web­site and In­sta­gram page ded­i­cated to con­nect­ing Black trav­el­ers, found that his scari­est travel ex­pe­ri­ences hap­pened within the United States: He was fol­lowed to his car by an irate waiter at an At­lantaarea restau­rant af­ter re­ceiv­ing hor­ri­ble ser­vice; he was called the n-word at an es­tab­lish­ment in New Or­leans. “Any­time I travel to places in the South, I’m al­ways a lit­tle more con­cerned about my safety, es­pe­cially when I go out at night,” Holder says. “In­ter­na­tion­ally, it just de­pends. There are some coun­tries that are a lot more in­te­grated or have a big­ger pres­ence of Black peo­ple, so I know they’re a lit­tle more com­fort­able, like the United King­dom.” But Oneika Ray­mond, owner of the travel and life­style blog Oneika the Trav­eller, feels that trav­el­ing while Black is much eas­ier now than it was even five years ago. “[The] first time I went to Thai­land was in 2009, [and] I got so many stares and peo­ple call­ing out to me say­ing, ‘Michelle Obama,’” she says. “Now when I go to Thai­land, peo­ple don’t even bat an eye­lash be­cause there are so many more Black peo­ple trav­el­ing there.” The Black travel move­ment is re­shap­ing the nar­ra­tive of travel by al­low­ing Black mil­len­ni­als to ex­pe­ri­ence new cul­tures and cus­toms—and build their brands in the process.

THE MOVERS AND SHAK­ERS

Holder grew up watch­ing his Caribbean rel­a­tives travel, but when he started trav­el­ing do­mes­ti­cally for work, he found that he couldn’t con­nect and meet other Black peo­ple. So he cre­ated Soul So­ci­ety. “Once I re­al­ized that wasn’t out there and more peo­ple

were ask­ing me what to do when they go to these places, I started an In­sta­gram page to post about my dif­fer­ent trav­els and things I was get­ting into, with hon­est re­views about these places.” Holder isn’t alone: Many founders of Black travel groups have turned their pas­sion into profit through in­vestors, spon­sor­ships, and en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit. Holder is now able to cre­ate in­come through his Soul So­ci­ety trav­els with free­lance writ­ing and video/event-pro­duc­tion work: “I don’t know if I would’ve trav­eled to South Africa, Ja­pan, Thai­land, and Ice­land be­fore. I only found these places to be at­tain­able and achiev­able be­cause of Soul So­ci­ety.” Tastemak­ers Africa founder Cheraé Robin­son was in­tro­duced to travel through her grand­mother, a beau­ti­cian with a sixth-grade ed­u­ca­tion who loved to travel. “As a kid we would road-trip from New York to Florida,” she says. “My grand­mother would al­ways go on cruises. Even though she was un­e­d­u­cated, she had a re­ally in­ter­est­ing friend cir­cle of peo­ple from all over the world. It was the idea of be­ing cu­ri­ous that my grand­mother sparked in me, and fig­ur­ing out how to [travel] by any means was a big in­spi­ra­tion.” When Robin­son started trav­el­ing, she re­al­ized that the African coun­tries she was vis­it­ing weren’t be­ing shown to the world. So she cre­ated Tastemak­ers Africa to help trav­el­ers plan trips to Ghana, Morocco, Tan­za­nia, and other parts of Africa. “I would much rather help peo­ple un­der­stand how to nav­i­gate African ci­ties and share the sto­ries of all these amaz­ing peo­ple I’m in­ter­act­ing with [than] share the story of poverty,” she says. “I felt that dis­rupt­ing what the world thought about Africa, par­tic­u­larly for Black peo­ple, would help dis­rupt our own neg­a­tive no­tions about our­selves.” Robin­son took a cue from Uber and Airbnb and made Tastemak­ers Africa a peer-topeer mar­ket­place. Guests are also able to book ex­pe­ri­ences such as wine tast­ing, box­ing classes, and nightlife ac­tiv­i­ties while meet­ing fel­low trav­el­ers. “The Black travel move­ment is so clutch be­cause peo­ple can say, ‘Wait a minute, there’s peo­ple like me do­ing this?’” Robin­son ex­plains. “As mem­bers in this move­ment, we have to con­tinue push­ing back against the elit­ist vibe around travel. We have to con­tinue to make travel ac­ces­si­ble.”

THE PRICE OF CUL­TURE

Poverty and fi­nan­cial in­se­cu­rity have al­ways im­pacted Black peo­ple’s abil­ity to travel. Even now, Black peo­ple are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as white peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter. As re­cently as 2013, white house­holds held a me­dian net worth of $144,200, 13 times higher than Black house­holds at $11,200. Black travel groups are mak­ing travel more ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able. These trips can cost up­ward of $1,500, but in­stall­ment plans help off­set the costs. Mod­ern tech­nol­ogy has also brought the pos­si­bil­ity of travel straight to our phones, par­tic­u­larly through er­ror fares and deals. Black Girls Travel Too founder Danny Rivers-mitchell is in­cor­po­rat­ing vol­un­tourism to make travel even more ac­ces­si­ble. This year, 10 Black women will travel to Bar­ba­dos to par­tic­i­pate in com­mu­nity cleanup, paint­ing, and a ca­reer fair at a lo­cal school. Travel has also opened the door to op­por­tu­ni­ties for Black peo­ple in the very white travel-writ­ing in­dus­try. Jour­nal­ists and blog­gers are cre­at­ing their own chan­nels, so­cial-me­dia pages, blogs, and web­sites. Ray­mond bet on her­self, and it paid off: Last year she be­gan work­ing for the Travel Chan­nel as a dig­i­tal host. “We show ex­am­ples ev­ery sin­gle day of what is pos­si­ble,” says Rivers-mitchell. “We get to be­come the nar­ra­tors of our own sto­ries. The travel space is a white man’s world. But when you come in droves, you can­not be de­nied.” As Ty Alexan­der found on her #Gone2ghana2018 trip, trav­el­ing across the world with peo­ple you don’t know can teach valu­able lessons. “We hiked through the rain­for­est to­gether, crossed eight death-trap bridges to­gether, and watched the sun­set on the Gold Coast while snap­ping pics for the ’gram,” she says. “Then we cried at the slave cas­tle as we re­flected on the door of no re­turn. Some­where in be­tween, we ar­gued about who was go­ing to sit where on the bus and bonded over our ha­tred of early-morn­ing de­par­tures. This trip not only opened my eyes to an­other cul­ture but also made me a part of an open­ing act in one of the best sto­ries of our lives—sis­ter­hood!”

THE FU­TURE

While Black travel groups and travel jour­nal­ists have proven that Black peo­ple are in­ter­ested, will­ing, and able to travel, gate­keep­ers are still a hur­dle. “Work­ing with air­lines and tourism boards is a chal­lenge be­cause most of them don’t see the value,” Holder says. “They won’t say, ‘Sorry, we’re not in­ter­ested in a Black trav­eler right now.’ But you’ll get the sense that is the rea­son they’re not work­ing with you. How do we bridge the gap be­tween our fol­low­ers and travel com­pa­nies, air­lines, and ho­tels?” Sim­i­larly, Robin­son wants Black travel groups to be taken more se­ri­ously. “The Black travel con­ver­sa­tion hasn’t been par­tic­u­larly nu­anced. We’ve got a tech­nol­ogy plat­form and an in­fra­struc­ture all across Africa, but peo­ple will equate us with a Face­book group. No, we have in­vestors,” she says. “It’s a beau­ti­ful thing that peo­ple are rec­og­niz­ing the Black travel space, but I want us to get the same nu­anced at­ten­tion that the larger travel space gets.” Ul­ti­mately, the gift of travel teaches a num­ber of im­por­tant traits: pa­tience, com­pas­sion, em­pa­thy, self-love, and un­der­stand­ing. Crys­tal Dyer has run Gone Again Travel, the only Black-owned travel agency on the west side of Chicago, since 1999. She’s found that young peo­ple have a sense of fear­less­ness that is en­cour­ag­ing them to travel more. “Travel has a well­ness com­po­nent,” she says. “We work hard, spend our money on non­sense some­times, and that peace of mind from travel is price­less.” As a mar­ried mother of two, Rivers-mitchell be­lieves that travel fu­els her, and she en­cour­ages women, par­tic­u­larly mar­ried women and moth­ers, to make time to travel. “You have to ful­fill your dreams—and not later, now. You have to cre­ate and live your best life now be­cause it’s not guar­an­teed to you. Travel saved me. Travel showed me what was pos­si­ble. It changed my life for the bet­ter.”

“As mem­bers in this move­ment, we have to con­tinue push­ing back against the elit­ist vibe around travel. We have to con­tinue to make travel ac­ces­si­ble.”

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