We didn’t begin traveling to escape anything; racism included. Honestly, I had no expectations for our journey around the world, only desire. It was the only thing I was passionate about, and throughout every phase of my life the desire never faded, instead it continuously intensified.
The longer we traveled, the more comfortable foreign countries became. I could actually see and feel myself changing, as “home” began to feel further and further away. With so much rapid and constant change, I began to think I was exempt from the exhaustion of being black in America.
It was like looking into my old life, from the outside, and the view was much different. I watched Ferguson stand up against police brutality after Mike Brown’s murder from London, waiting to board a flight to Spain in Stansted Airport. There was so much going on around me, and so much being captured on the television, but what really stood out to me was the news headline: “Police Officer Kills Young, Unarmed Man”.
Where was the race? Why didn’t they highlight the fact that Mike Brown was black, and the police officer was white? Surely racism exists around the globe, but police officers murdering the citizens they’re entrusted to protect? Now that was alarming. This wasn’t the first time I’d watched a black man be marginalized into a hashtag from abroad, but it was the first time I could see it from a new, human, perspective. I felt removed, yet deeply affected, all at the same time.
We were traveling in the south of France when police officers in New York murdered Eric Garner. Living in a picturesque bed & breakfast, I was afraid to watch the video. Once I did, I couldn’t speak on it for two days. Every time Jarrell and I tried to broach the topic, I felt overwhelmed with emotion and frustration. It felt like a blow to the chest, which of course would later be followed up by the gut-wrenching disbelief that no charges would be filed.
While living in Morocco for three months, Freddie Gray was murdered by police officers in Baltimore, and I began an email correspondence with my best friend, explaining how I felt that travel had exposed me to a new level of privilege I did not know I possessed. In a way, I felt removed from the heartache, and I thought maybe I was exempt. She wasn’t having it. In her mind, there wasn’t anywhere you could run or hide, the exhaustion was inescapable. Being a black American was exhausting from any country in the world.
She was right.
And that exhaustion has left me feeling sluggish since seeing the murder of Alton Sterling, and speechless since watching Philando Castile die on social media, and re-emerge as a hashtag.
Being in Vietnam didn’t eliminate that feeling. While the distance does award me the privilege of distance, that distance also makes me feel, distant. Yet the trauma is just as real. The rage is just as present. And that is why I can remember exactly where I was when black American men were reduced to hashtags over the past three years, regardless of where I was in the world.
Traveling while black does not lift any burden, or disconnect you from the social structure your family and friends deal with daily. It is not an escape route or exemption.
But I will say, last year Jarrell and I lived in Istanbul for three months, as the country grew into a volatile state. There were terrorist attacks, daily protests, governmental corruption, and so on. Jarrell was very adamant about us leaving the region, and although Egypt was the next country on our itinerary, he decided that it too was experiencing too much turmoil for us to visit.
Now, we watch America from our new perspective and question if it is a safe place for us to live. If it were any other country, I think my mother would worry about us traveling there. I can hear her now, “The police shoot black men there!”
So why would we ever return? Why would we want to raise brown children there? Traveling while black is seeing your home country from a new perspective, and questioning if it is the best home for you.
My main goal in life is to be courageous enough to do what is best for myself, and my family, especially when it is uncomfortable. And traveling while black has seriously made us question if returning to the United States is best for us. That’s the uncomfortable truth about traveling while black.