To some people Mike Brown and Ferguson are old news, at least they are hoping that it becomes old news soon. But as I celebrate Labor Day among friends I find that the conversation circles back to Ferguson and people (not just African Americans) wonder how could this keep happening in 21st century America. The short answer is racism. I thankfully, don’t walk through my life seeing racism around every corner. The vast majority of my days are spent in the relative security that I don’t have a target on my back, but there are times when I have to wonder… Why did the car valet ask me to prepay, when I noticed everyone else just handed their keys and walked away? Why did I get the table at the restaurant by the bathroom when there are empty tables elsewhere? (This sadly happens a lot) Why did the man let the door slam in my face, though I was walking right behind him? Isn’t he supposed to let a lady go first? (Does he not see that I am a lady?) Why did the cop stop me? Why did he ask me when was the last time I was arrested? (Why did he assume that I have a record?) Why did the sales clerk follow me around the store ignoring the other shoppers, but never once asking if I need help? Why? Thankfully, these things don’t happen on a daily basis and admittedly are mild in comparison to what many other African Americans experience, but I feel that I shouldn’t even have to wonder… Most of my travel has been internationally and as I watch television in other countries I sometimes wonder what do the people there think when they see the news reporting over and over again about situtations like Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin. I am reminded of Ennis Cosby (son of Bill Cosby), who was killed during an attempted robbery. The man who killed him was Ukranian and I remember part of his defense was that Ennis was driving a Mercedes and he assumed he must be a drug dealer and had a lot of money on him. He ALMOST implied that he thought that he was performing a public service! He said that he got this impression from American media. I bring this up because I wonder what people are thinking when I walk down the streets of Rome/Athens/Barcelona/etc. Are they seeing a golddigging ho (as accused by rap music), an ignorant ghetto chick (as seen on news media soundbites), a bitch (as seen on sitcoms), or a sub-human that can be killed for no apparent reason and without repercussion…All of the impressions are bad, but it is the last that is scary. Most of the time people will ask if I am American when they realize I only speak English and hear my flat California accent. Only once have I ever been asked if I am specifically African American (in Australia) and the woman was so excited to be talking to a live black person she could have wet herself. I often catch people staring at me, but when I turn towards them they look away. I have no idea what they are thinking, though I suspect until I open my mouth they are wondering where I came from. Never have I felt unsafe. Never have I felt that my race was going to inform the experience that I would have, but now I wonder why is it in other countries that I am just American, but here in America I am something else… I have published this quote by Maya Angelou before, but I think it bears repeating:
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all people cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other we may even become friends”
Hopefully, I am in good company as these people are changing the world we live in. Check out Travel Noire on Instagram.