If you’re a white cis gender male this article isn’t for you.
“Your reward may not be the warm welcome and heartfelt thanks that you might have been hoping for, but a more just and equal world will have to suffice.”
It was March 16th. The train from Amsterdam to Berlin was about to take off and i’d been reading an article from one of my favorite authors Ijeoma Oluo. Her article on: Welcome To The Anti-Racism Movement — Here’s What You’ve Missed was giving my train ride some cognitive deep thought. She was making point after point on why fighting racism is one of the hardest things to do.
As I’m reading her article an older white gentleman drops his train pass and walks ahead of it not noticing. I see this mistake, grab the pass off of the ground and hurry over to the man to give it back to him. As I rush up to give it to him, his wife quickly grabs his arm and positions her husband in front of her as a form of security. I had startled both of them. I had forgotten that people still see me as a threat in some spaces, even when expressing kindness my haste was taken as aggressive. The man nodded to me and quickly took the pass from my outstretched hands. We never exchanged words, smiles or even a nod. It was an act that went unappreciated. Would he have returned my pass if I dropped it?
Traveling abroad alone as a black man has to be one of the dreams that Mahalia Jackson didn’t remind Martin to put into the speech.
All of these new sights and sounds create a complex and sometimes confusing set of events when hopping off the plane, train or boat in a different country. For me I simply didn’t know if the micro-aggressions that are part of everyday life in the United States would fit into my carry on while traveling overseas.
I’ll get to that later.
Shock value. This immediacy of something new causes self critical exactness in the forms of the simplest tasks. Ex. Not having wifi so tapping the ‘millennial improvisation’ button in your head and asking people on the street for directions. Approaching a person of color vs an older white woman based on the fear of a language barrier and you coming off as a direct threat. These were subconscious things that have been ingrained in my head throughout any of my time living in the United States. These were mandatory requirements to understand when maneuvering anywhere. Transitioning through a new country and not thinking I had to hold onto these bias safety mechanisms was — freeing.
This sense of freedom regardless of how short lived was still appreciated every time it happened. It was almost like I was fighting to keep my integrity as a human but also trying to enjoy certain parts of the trips. Ex. Walking into a restaurant in London (Prezzo) and having the entire restaurant stop eating and stare at me as I walk all the way to my seat. Going to Da Mimmo in Paris and having the waiter stare at me in disgust the entire time I was eating my Penne Carbonara. The ability to be in a new environment was a privilege. The reality of being in the environment and still being susceptible to forms of discrimination watered down the situation. So even though you could be in the middle of East Berlin that middle aged white guy who crosses the street when he sees you still stings a little bit.
But instead of using those minimal aggressions to demoralize myself or bring down my entire trip I used it as a leverage to change perception. A lot of these people have a deep curiosity and setting the new example of a black man that’s kind, considerate, empathetic and emotional will hopefully invite them to reassess some of their biases.
The world is a big place that’s full of people and places that come with their own intentions and isolations from the rest of the world. Holding these people directly accountable (specifically as a person of color) while keeping your integrity and not losing your patience every conversation is something that will test you in every place you travel too in the world. You will grow so much as a person but also learn that not protecting peoples fragility in specific moments forces them to grow out of their simplistic indoctrinated stereotypes.
Traveling to London, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin allowed me to question my questions in life. It allowed me to solidify my beliefs on the importance of intersectional feminism, empathy, kindness, self care and learning to grow out of things that are discomforting. It allowed me to meet new friends who spoke various languages with ease. It allowed my perception of the world to change and the perception the world has of me and people like me to hopefully get better.
Maybe it was the lawyer on the train in Berlin who wrote down the best coffee shops. Maybe it was Amy & Jodie, the badass couple from London knowing that beer & Micheal Jackson Thriller musicals go great together. Maybe it was the culture and diversity mixed with the style and charisma. Maybe it was the languages. Maybe it was the feeling of being lost in a new city and strangers helping with directions. Maybe it was friends back home telling me how excited they were for me. Maybe it was the Italian food in Paris that hit my soul. Maybe it was all the people back in the states that helped me plan this journey for months. Maybe it was the gelato in hidden stores. Maybe it was the canals in Amsterdam. Maybe it was the sun sets and sun rises that set the sky on fire. Maybe it was learning that love exists in every part of the world & that carrying a smile and an open mind with you to the ends of the earth will always pay off.
Cheers to traveling the world & knowing your happiness might be somewhere you haven’t visited yet.