The global wave of Black Lives Matter uprisings in late May is a strong indication that racial justice issues are global.
The movement shows that issues of race exist everywhere in the world in myriad forms. Every country has some history of oppression connected to race. And that history is connected to current issues of race. Those include the power dynamics involved in the traveler-guest to community-host relationship. And we can’t ignore that so much of that power is linked to whiteness. We must understand and address this as travelers. Especially at Bébé Voyage where we seek to make genuine connections with the communities where we travel, we know we can’t ignore global racism and oppression.
In truth, we at Bébé Voyage have skirted the topic for a long time, as have so many white-led travel companies and communities. But part of doing the work is also acknowledging where we need to improve and part of that is to identify ways to bring anti-racism into our travels.
As we reflect on the current Black Lives Matter movement that has made waves globally, we realize even more so that we can’t escape travel without the history of colonialism and imperialism from white, European countries. And to be clear, the global majority of people are not white. But Europe’s brutal colonial history created a perceived racial hierarchy we still see today. We see it play out in oppression of minority groups within countries based on race, religion, and class. And we see it in the modern non-profit industrial complex which is largely led by higher-income countries from the “Global North“/”The West” that upholds the same paternalistic roles that white-dominant countries took during colonialism.
Part of our commitment to this work is to encourage our community of traveling families to think critically about our place in the world as we travel. We are also doing this to hold ourselves accountable as Bébé Voyage has fallen short of this. We are course-correcting to ensure the anti-racism lens is dominant in all that we do. We are learning about this as we go along and this is a place where we begin to dig into this commitment.
Before we get into some tips, here are some ways the experts have helped us reflect on anti-racist travel.
A Case for Anti-Racist Traveling
In a 2019 article in Yes! Magazine, Bani Amor challenges the famous Mark Twain quote “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” Amor wrote “It’s time to retire the narrow implications of the Twain quote and pivot from a politically neutral consideration of travel to a systemic understanding of tourism and travel culture through a lens of social justice.”
At the root of Amor’s challenge is to go beyond the more passive travel experiences that accept history as it’s told on the plaques or the quick, guided tours. It’s a more active and intentional type of travel. It’s a more radical form of travel.
While Bébé Voyage hasn’t previously advocated for such a practice explicitly, it’s becoming clear that we must be more direct in that approach. By confronting these issues of race head-on by bringing anti-racism into your travels, we believe you can have better and deeper experiences. And we should make a concentrated effort to decolonize travel by taking specific steps to do so on every trip by bringing a social justice and anti-racist lens with you.
These are recommendations I’ve gained from listening to others. I’m not an expert nor have I successfully practiced all of these on every trip. Part of writing this story is a practice for me to ensure that I do this moving forward and to hold myself accountable. I challenge all other traveling families, especially the white folks among us, to do the same whenever we’re all back traveling the world again. And we all must remember this is lifelong work that will also hopefully shape our children’s perspective of the world to be more nuanced, inclusive, and critical of the histories they’re told. The work we do can shape a generation of anti-racists.
Now, here are some ways we can all bring an anti-racist lens with us while planning a trip, during a trip, and when we return home.
Planning Your Trip with an Anti-Racist Lens
By integrating reflection and anti-racist themes into the planning process for your trip, you can lay the groundwork for an even more transformational experience. While logistics are essential to trip-planning, we also advocate for a reflective and pre-education process that leads to an intentional anti-racist-minded itinerary and a consciousness around the companies and organizations you support. Here are some ways to bring that lens to your planning.
Reflect on and Investigate Whiteness as a Traveler
Regardless of where white travelers go, they likely have some form of privilege. Because of this, white travelers should think about their race before and when they travel as much as travelers of color must do. Think about how your whiteness makes it easier to travel to some regions. Or how your skin color affords you privileges you wouldn’t otherwise have.
“Until you can recognize that you are living a racialized life and you’re having racialized experiences every moment of every day, you can’t actually engage people of other races around the idea of justice,” director and producer of The Whiteness Project is quoted as saying in this Teaching Tolerance article on talking about whiteness. And most white folks just don’t have the practice of thinking of their whiteness. It is this practice that will help you gain a better sense of social and racial justice issues locally and globally.
For white travelers, we can be aware of how our whiteness impacts the community we’re visiting and the privilege that often comes with that. The Teaching Tolerance article provides some guidance on how to investigate your own privilege, many of which are also touched upon in Part 1 of this series.
Be Wary of and Avoid Coded Language in Travel
Part of anti-racism work is becoming conscious of coded racist language in descriptions of places and people. The travel media landscape doesn’t help with this, as it is dominated by white people who are less likely to investigate their language and see it as coded racism.
“Words like ‘authentic,’ ‘exotic,’ ‘g*psy,’ ‘native’ and ‘tribal’ are used in ways that are either exoticizing local people or diminishing their culture,” says travel writer, India Harris, in this interview with Bani Amor. “These words are often misappropriated by leisure travelers as monikers or identities to take on which, because of their privilege, is seen as something positive, while nomadic peoples throughout the world face discrimination, systemic violence and have had their lands handed over to settlers. These writings look very similar to the journals/records kept by colonizers otherwise known as ‘explorers’ from the 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.”
What we can do is reflect on times we’ve used such language in the past and where it comes from. We can be conscious of when and how that language is used. When we hear it among friends or family, we can point it out and acknowledge it. We can be wary of tour companies that use that language. And finally, we can diversify our travel media sources to understand how local community members and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) travelers describe their experiences and pay attention to the language they use.
Understand Travel from the Perspective of Travelers of Color
This is an extension of investigating whiteness, but it’s important to point out that travelers of all races experience travel differently. Similar to everyday living, overlooking the travel experiences of people of color also helps uphold systemic racism. And it’s become abundantly clear that the industry, which includes travel companies and travel media, has a lot to learn about racial equity.
And to be honest with ourselves, Bébé Voyage also hasn’t centered BIPOC voices. That’s why we created a specific anti-racism statement and expect to hold ourselves—and ask others to hold us—accountable to that commitment of centering Black and POC experiences.
Hopefully, we’ll be hearing and reading a lot more BIPOC-centered travel experiences in mainstream media soon, but in the meantime, you can do the work to find those stories.
Here are some ways travelers can expand their view of travel beyond the white-dominant narratives we’re bombarded with.
- Seek out stories from BIPOC travelers that specifically address how their race impacts their travel experiences. Here are a couple stories to get you started:
- 10 Travelers on What it Really Means to Be a Traveler of Color by Alisha Prakash (Travel + Leisure)
- 2020 is the Summer of the Road Trip. Unless You’re Black. By Tariro Mzezewa (New York Times)
- My Very Personal Taste of Racism Abroad by Nicole Phillips (New York Times)
- What I’ve Learned as a Black Traveler by Heather Greenwood Davis (National Geographic)
- Understand that racism also exists in the outdoors and nature. Recent racist incidents in the outdoors have highlighted the dangers to Black and Brown people in nature. Ahmaud Arberry was killed while jogging and birdwatcher, Christian Cooper, was threatened by a white woman while doing what he loves most in the outdoors. And beyond these incidents, Black people in the U.S. have historically been shut out of outdoor spaces both overtly (e.g. segregated pools) and through economic barriers. But, as Latria Graham wrote in an Outside Magazine story, Black outdoor lovers are plentiful, they’re just not a part of so many prominent outdoor narratives. Outdoor enthusiasts need to reckon with both the racism in the outdoors and the lack of representation in branding and education in the outdoor industry. While you plan your trips to the amazing outdoor spaces in the world, do your research and find out how you can support ways to ensure more inclusivity in those spaces.
- Get your travel inspiration from diverse perspectives by following BIPOC travelers and outdoorspeople on social media. By diversifying your feed, you’re introducing yourself to a wider variety of perspectives and experiences. Here are some places to start (but also do your own research!):
- Follow these Black family travel bloggers curated by Karen of The Mom Trotter blog which you also should check out because she’s awesome.
- Check out these lists of Black outdoor Instagram accounts curated by outdoor blogger Outdoorsy Diva (and go ahead and follow Lauren of Outdoorsy Diva while you’re over there) and the Sophisticated Life blog.
- Support these organizations and these BIPOC outdoor collectives with a mission to make the outdoors more inclusive.
- Diversify your travel media consumption. Seek out publications that center Black and POC voices and travel stories that go beyond the white-person-abroad tropes. While you’re at it, look into media that addresses race, power, privilege, and the problematic romanticization of colonialist history head on. And then after that, advocate for greater representation in mainstream travel media by supporting campaigns such as the Black Travel Alliance’s #PullUpForTravel campaign and making your voice heard at your favorite media outlets. Here are some places to start:
- Magazines/Publications to read:
- Podcasts to listen to:
- Shows to watch:
- Big City, Little Budget (Travel Channel television series) — Hosted by travel journalist Oneika Raymond, this series highlights under-the-radar, quirky spots in cities around the world. Raymond’s social media presence, blog, Oneika the Traveller, and other projects are worth checking out, because her personal mission is to highlight Black stories in travel.
- No Passport Required (PBS/Eater television series) — Renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson travels around the U.S. exploring how immigrant communities have made a culinary impact around the country.
- Parts Unknown with Anthony Bourdain (CNN Television Series, available for purchase on Amazon Prime) — As one of the most well-known TV travel hosts, Bourdain also had a knack for digging deeper into the lesser-known stories within the communities he visited.
- Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi (Hulu) — Acclaimed cookbook author and television host and producer, Padma Lakshmi, explores the diverse immigrant food cultures around the United States.
- United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell (CNN Television Series, available for purchase on Amazon Prime) — This Emmy award-winning show follows socio political comedian W. Kamau Bell around the U.S. to explore communities and issues of social and racial justice.
Bringing an Anti-Racism Lens on Your Trip
Now that you’ve done the planning part of your trip, it’s time to carry that anti-racism theme with you to the trip itself. A lot of these suggestions are rooted in humility and listening and reflecting along the way.
In my work running social justice-minded service-learning trips for college students, daily group reflections were a required part of the trip. This practice encourages thoughtful investigation of your place as a traveler and visitor, the social issues you’re encountering, and a commitment to action. While this will look different on a vacation with your kids, there are ways you can intentionally integrate that practice as you’re visiting sites.
And, we know you’re often going on vacation and want time to relax. Of course, you should definitely do that! But we also want to encourage mindful participation as a visitor wherever you go and whatever type of vacation it is.
Check Your Privilege
As an extension of knowing your whiteness, white travelers should notice how they take up space, how they interact with people, and the privileges they’re afforded because of their whiteness. Travel in general is a privilege, so this isn’t just something white travelers alone can practice. Here are some ways we can be more mindful of our privilege and how we take up space where we’re going:
- Learn about the country/community’s culture and cultural practices. By understanding nuances of local customs, you can adjust the way you interact with folks to convey respect for them.
- Learning about the country’s history. To understand a culture today is also to know the history of a place (and not just the whitewashed version of it). We’ve included a few more tips along these lines throughout this post.
- Learn the language. You don’t necessarily have to become fluent, but knowing basic words and phrases also shows respect and creates connections.
- Be respectful when bargaining. While bargaining is common and expected in many countries around the world, travelers can often become disrespectful in the exchanges. If you feel you might’ve spent more than locals, that’s okay, know that the money you spent went to someone who’s earning an honest living.
- Be mindful of the risk your presence is posing to a place. This is especially relevant during the age of coronavirus. Lower-income countries have less of a medical infrastructure to manage the disease that even higher-income countries are having trouble managing. This is a topic of discussion that comes up in post-disaster situations when volunteer groups are eager to help out when they may actually be a greater burden on the community (e.g., the 2010 Haiti earthquake). As responsible travelers, we must think about the people in the places we’re visiting above ourselves.
To dig further into this, here are a few helpful articles and resources that illustrate both the pitfalls of a traveler’s privilege and the process of checking your privilege:
- 7 Ways to Check Your Privilege While Traveling by Gowri Chandra (Fodor’s)
- Traveling as a White Person is a Privilege Most People Don’t Have by Katie Simon (Buzzfeed)
- Responsible Tourism: Let’s Talk Privilege by Pina Travels (blog)
- What Does White Privilege in Travel Look Like by Shelby from Live Well Travel Far blog (Instagram post)
- What Traveling with Nine People of Color Taught Me About White Travel Privilege by Megan Arz (Traverse)
Acknowledge Indigenous Lands
So much of the world is organized as it is because of colonialism, which is to say, the violent subjugation of indigenous peoples by those (white people) with power. As mindful and conscious travelers, this can be a first step to understanding whose land we are occupying and visiting. And one way to do that is through land acknowledgment.
Native Land Digital describes territory acknowledgment as “a way that people insert an awareness of Indigenous presence and land rights in everyday life. This is often done at the beginning of ceremonies, lectures, or any public event. It can be a subtle way to recognize the history of colonialism and a need for change in settler colonial societies.” For you as a traveler, this can be done by seeking out the information on whose land you’re traveling to and having conversations with your children about it.
To start, find out at the Native Land Digital map whose land you live on or are traveling to. Then learn about these tribes and communities. Find the museums and local resources and sites you can visit while traveling there to acknowledge the people who have rightful ownership of the land.
Dive Deeper into Untold History of a Place
Exploring the history of a place is a huge part of travel. But rarely do we look beyond the sanitized version presented by a plaque or visiting a site without a deeper context. We should push ourselves beyond the pamphlets or generic guided tours. We can research the untold history of a place or find the companies that provide a deeper look into those stories.
To do this, we can involve our kids in the process and reflect with them on the history they might have known already and what we learned at the site that contradicts that.
Here are some examples of histories to explore in prominent places:
- On a trip to Central Park in New York City, learn about the thriving African-American community called Seneca Village that was essentially destroyed to build the park.
- When visiting historical sites in the southern United States, particularly plantations, learn about the histories of enslaved people and their contributions to U.S. culture. (This Guardian story highlights some historic plantations that are actively telling enslaved peoples’ stories).
- Research and understand the colonialist history of the African Safari before you book and understand how current conservation policy can also be a modern-day manifestation of these racist and colonialist practices and tactics. Use this lens to choose companies that are making differences in the community and for conservation,
Support Companies that are Making a Difference
Tourism is a huge economic driver for local communities globally, but often the largest beneficiaries of tourism are large travel companies (e.g., hotels, airlines, large travel agencies). We should strive to ensure that our money isn’t just going solely to large corporations or foreign-owned and operated companies. Bringing an anti-racism lens to your trips requires using your money thoughtfully and consciously.
You want to ensure that people in the community are benefiting financially and culturally from the experiences. And you want to dive deeper into the marketing buzzwords like “experiential travel” and “sustainable travel” to ensure that the experiences aren’t voyeuristic or surface-level greenwashing.
We’ll go into this topic much more deeply in our upcoming Conscious Travel series. But here are some areas to start focusing on:
- Lodging: Where we stay has a huge impact on both the environment and the community. Companies like Wayaj—an amazing travel app designed to help travelers book environmentally and socially responsible vacations—are providing easier ways for travelers to make better accommodation choices. Founder Nelly Gedeon told Bébé Voyage a few months ago, that green certifications don’t really tell travelers much. Wayaj’s sustainability rating system is easy-to-understand and looks comprehensively (and scientifically) at both the environmental and community impact of a hotel or lodge. Environmental assessments look at water resources, air quality, and energy sources. And the community assessments look at management (and whether they focus on hiring locally), hiring policies (including how employees are compensated and treated), and community engagement (overall benefits to the community). If you’re looking at a place to stay that isn’t in the Wayaj network, their sustainability ratings help provide guidance on what to look for and what questions to ask.
- Tour companies: Look for tour companies that not only employ locals, but that go beyond a white-washed, surface-level engagement with local culture. Small, local food tours are an exceptional way to start. If you’re like me and binged-watched Hulu’s Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi or you’re an Anthony Bourdain devotee, you understand how food is a window into a place’s history and how it manifests in modern-day culture. And there are an infinite amount of food and culture tours around the world that help you delve into a deeper, locally-told, understanding of a community.
- Leisure activities: Similar to tours, your leisure activities—boating excursions, outdoor adventures, etc.—play a huge part in supporting folks locally. Find the companies that are owned and operated by locals.
This is but a snapshot of ways you can be more conscious about how you spend your money. We intend to dive into this topic more deeply into this in future posts, so stay tuned.
Bring the Anti-Racist Traveler Perspective Home
Bringing what you learn home is as important as your anti-racism approach on your trip. Find ways to bring the anti-racist travel perspective home and weave it through your daily life.
Here are some ideas on how to do that.
Know your own community’s history around race and racism.
Learn about the racist history of your own community. Research how government structures created and upheld integration and how gentrification continues that work. If you’re in the U.S., learn about redlining and other racist policies that created the systems and structures in place today.
For example, I moved to Portland, Oregon in 2016 with excitement about the great food and coffee scene and the closeness to nature. Then shortly after the move, an article entitled The Racist History of Portland, The Whitest City in America in The Atlantic was published giving me a whole different perspective of my new city. Although I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, not only was the overt racist history never taught to me, I began to see how the white, liberalness of the region became an excuse for white folks here to not investigate systemic racism further. This also made it clear that I lived in a completely different world than BIPOC residents in the community where the racist past is still very evident in current structures and mentality in the city.
We all live with this kind of dichotomy of gentrified culture and systemic racism, but white folks need to work harder to see that. We can find ways to love the things that bring travelers to your city or community, but we also must confront historic racism and do work to ensure your community is actually safe and welcoming and open to everyone in the community.
Integrate Deeper Exploration of History and Culture into Your Kids Reading
Choose global education resources for your kids that help fuel discussions that challenge the white-dominant/euro-centric travel narrative. This could be resources that provide insight into people and communities that are often overlooked in history books.
Here are some great books and resources to get you started:
- Atlas Book Club: This monthly subscription box of culturally diverse books and activities offers content for kids ages 0-14. Not only is this a great way to travel from home (especially during a pandemic!), it is thoughtfully designed to foster empathy, counter discriminatory stereotypes, increase global historical knowledge, and expose your kids to cultures around the world.
- Barefoot Books: Barefoot Books is a venerable publisher that was created to spark curiosity and diversity through story-telling. Their global books offer a wealth of global stories to your kids.
- Finding OM: An Indian-African girl explores the concept of meditation with her Indian grandfather.
- Hello Atlas by Kenard Pak, Ben Handicott, and Wade Davis: This book celebrates indigenous languages that can provide a starting point for conversations about colonialism.
- Ishi: Simple Tips from a Solid Friend: This book explores themes of mindfulness, kindness, and acceptance.
- Wheels on the Tuk Tuk: This take on “Wheels on the Bus” encourages conversations about how the rest of the world gets around. BBV assistant editor, Brinda Shah, says she’s had some interesting conversations with her daughter about how kids in North America go to school on a bus, but kids around the world sometimes take a rickshaw or have to walk miles and miles.
- Worldwide Buddies: This company offers books, toys, and materials to help your children build an understanding of diversity around the world. You can preorder their comprehensive, Kickstarter backed,Book of Cultures, now as well.
Advocate for Change in the Travel Industry
As we’ve discussed throughout this post, a big part of the problem is the industry in general. It’s travel companies, the hospitality industry aligned with travel, and travel media that fuels a white-dominant narrative. We at Bébé Voyage are as guilty of this as any of these companies. We recognize we have a long way to go which is why we created these commitments to hold ourselves accountable.
You can be a part of holding travel company’s (including us!) accountable by being an advocate.
Travel writer, Alex Temblador, recently wrote a Travel Pulse story about how the industry can help fight racism, and provides some important insight for those of us consumers within the travel industry. This is a great guide for what to look for. Also, listen to what Black and POC-led organizations are asking for and help amplify what they’re already doing.
One place to start is helping to support the recently-launched Black Travel Alliance and their #PullUpForTravel campaign to hold the travel industry accountable. Become acquainted with their demands and what they’re doing and stand with them to make change.
Integrate Anti-Racism Travel Practices into Everyday Life
It’s important to note that this is a learning process. We are on a lifelong journey and we’re coming from all different places and experiences. But that’s also the exciting part. While it might seem overwhelming as it does require a lot of mental work, integrating anti-racism into travel is a great way to practice bringing that lens to everyday life.
A trip or a vacation is time-bound, which makes it reasonably manageable. You can make a commitment to plan your next trip through this lens. While you plan that trip, you’re going to learn things along the way that will help you integrate the practice into everyday life.
As all travelers know, learning about the world is a lifelong process. We’re never going to know everything. But we can have control over how we learn about the world and that’s an exciting way to approach this challenge.
Both Brinda Shah and Ratha Kelly were instrumental in helping to develop this resource list. They brought insight, wisdom, and many resources.
You can find Part 1 of our anti-racism series “You and Anti-Racism” here and Part 2 “Your Kids and Anti-Racism” here. These posts will continue to be updated as we find more resources and dive even deeper into the topic.
Stay Tuned for our Conscious Travel Series which will delve into all of the topics above with more details and specifics. We are excited to create content that is mindfully anti-racist and we look forward to seeing you all practice this as well.