I was born with a few strikes against me; I’m a woman, and black one at that. Racial tensions are such a huge deal in everyday life, especially in America. Being black or any minority in America is like the equivalent of wearing a scarlet letter on your chest. It’s something you’re reminded of time and time every single day. As a mixed race person, you have it even worse. It’s almost like you have to choose which race you will identify with because you can’t choose both. Then add to the mix that the group you think you identify with most doesn’t want to accept you or makes you feel like you’re not enough. This is something I’ve struggled with throughout my life. I attended private schools and then went to the most non-diverse high school in my county because it was the best high school to attend and then later attended a predominantly white institution for college. Being in all advanced classes throughout elementary, middle and high school, often times I was the only black person in all of my classes. The same goes for college, I was almost always the only black person in my classes. This is something that after a while you just grow accustomed to and it doesn’t even phase you because you know that this is just the way it is.
As cliche and corny as it may sound, I don’t see color when it comes to people. I can genuinely say that I treat and see everyone the same no matter sexual orientation, race or religion. The fact that these minor things cause people to hate someone, discriminate against people and treat them badly is beyond me. Navigating all of this at a young age is hard. I always felt like I wasn’t “black enough” for the black people and “too black” for the white people so I often struggled with identifying with a group of friends. I was often told that I thought I was better than people because of how I looked and because I was fortunate and blessed to travel every summer with my family. I was told countless times that I think I’m white, want to be white and speak like a white girl. All of these things were repeatedly told to throughout high school and continued while I was in college. It was hurtful because I was never being anything other than myself. I couldn’t grasp why anybody thought that in my mind I was above everyone and that I was trying to be white. I was never trying to be anyone other than myself and was never “accepted”. Thankfully, I’m not the type of person that needs acceptance from people because I am extremely confident and comfortable in my skin. I know who I am and that’s most important. The hurtful part was that it was almost as if I always had to prove my blackness to the black people and then my white counterparts basically discredited me because I was black.
In these situations you here countless micro-aggressions and offensive comments:
- “You’re pretty for a black girl”
- “You’re not really black”
- “You don’t count, you’re not like other black people”
- “You’re smart for a black person”
- You’re good at sports because you’re black. You guys have an extra bone in your foot that makes you faster”
- “You only got accepted into those college because of affirmative action and you’re black and the college needed to meet a quota or else they would lose funding”
- “You just have to accept the fact that people will make racist comments to you” — This is probably my favorite for the mere fact that faculty at my dearest Deep Run High School told me while looking me in the eyes
This is just the tip of the iceberg. People don’t realize how hurtful their comments can be. The sad part is, these were all actually said to me at some point or another in my life. These were said to me from my white counterparts. My black counterparts always told me that I thought I was pretty because of my skin tone and because of my hair. I took everything with a grain of salt because I’ve never been one to let other people get to me or even show them that I was being affected. To me, if someone knows that they were able to make me upset, they have power over me and will use that sense of power to repeatedly get me upset. I refuse to let anyone other than myself have power of me.
Alas, I decided to move to Europe; more specifically to Spain. I was told that I was making a big mistake and that the racism in Europe was much worse than in America. I didn’t let this deter me or stop me from moving and traveling throughout Europe. I figured if I could overcome being followed in stores because I’m black and obviously since I’m black it means I can only afford to shoplift, being told I’m not intelligent because I’m black and being made to feel as if I wasn’t pretty because of my black skin, then I could certainly overcome whatever racists I may encounter while in Europe. I didn’t leave with the mindset that I was going to encounter a bunch of racists and that I was going to be treated horribly. Instead, I left with the mentality that this was going to be one of the best experiences of my life and things may get hard but I’m tough girl, I’m a survivor and I would be alright when it’s all said and done.
I’ve been asked countless times if Europeans are racists and if I get discriminated against. I’m also always asked what it’s like traveling in Europe as a black person, specifically as a woman and if it’s safe. Anytime I’m asked any of these questions, I always begin with a laugh because the treatment I’ve received since arriving in Europe has been nothing but love! I’d say if anything I’m given special treatment. But this could also be attributed to the fact that I have a way of connecting with people and speaking to basically everyone I encounter.
I’ve never felt more beautiful and more sure of myself. People love my natural curls and the times I straighten my hair, I’m told that they prefer my hair curly. I can honestly say there’s not a day that goes by that at least one person stops me to tell me I’m beautiful or that they love my skin tone. These are all compliments that aren’t needed but obviously appreciated. I don’t get told that I’m not black enough or that I’m not really black, or that I’m smart for a black person. I’m simply just me. I don’t get followed around in stores, I don’t get asked to open my bag because the workers think I’m shoplifting.
As far as safety, I don’t ever feel like I’m in danger or that Europe is dangerous. I think the main thing is to just be vigilant and aware of your surroundings. When you’re traveling alone being smart is key. Don’t walk around sketchy areas alone or broadcast that you’re alone.
I can’t speak for everyone’s experience, I can only speak of my experiences. I think that people tend to project their fears on people and that in turn makes other people fearful. Really the only way to know if racism is as bad as you’ve been told, is to go and see and experience it for yourself. Also, just because someone had a bad experience doesn’t mean that you will have a similar experience. Everyone’s experience will be different but the important thing is to go and find out for yourself.
Being a black woman and traveling alone is a very liberating experience. You’ll learn so many things about yourself and evolve immensely. Your perspectives and attitudes will change. How you view the world and your place in it will change and ultimately when you return from traveling you’ll be a different person. It may seem intimidating to travel as a black woman in foreign places but in reality it isn’t. As long as you are prepared for your trip and don’t have any expectations, you’ll have the time of your life! Don’t let fear stop you from traveling or doing anything in life. You weren’t meticulously and wonderfully created to live a life limited by fears. You are a beautiful masterpiece and should live life to the fullest. Live a life full of adventure and discovering yourself so you can know self-love, and live your happiest and best life!