What I've Learned as a Black Traveler

By Adeleke McMillan

The year I studied abroad was one of the best years of my life. I was fortunate to travel to several different countries while studying in France for the year. As a black girl, traveling taught me a number of invaluable lessons on race.

1. More diversity in a country does not indicate less racism.

It's easy to think that because the United States was founded on a nation of immigrants, Americans are much more tolerant than other countries. However, it’s important to remember that a country that isn’t very integrated is not necessarily more racist. Studying abroad in a small city in France that had a small number of black inhabitants, I found the area to be much less prejudiced than my diverse American hometown.

2. Beauty is relative.

As a Black girl living in a predominantly white country, it is easy to grow up thinking that I’m not as attractive as lighter, whiter girls. When I was younger, I was constantly bombarded with images of white women portraying love interests or models in mainstream media. Internalizing this way of thinking can easily result in thinking of one race as physically superior to others. However, traveling internationally has shown me that the idea that specific races are more attractive than others is so inconsistent from country to country, that it can’t be true. In some countries, I was considered more beautiful than in others. As a result, I learned to stop relying on outside sources to believe in my own beauty.

3. Be wary when talking to older relatives about traveling.

The world’s attitude towards blacks today is generally much more progressive than decades ago when our older relatives were traveling. Therefore, their view on travel is bound to be very different from the younger generation. Some of my relatives had problems with me staying with a white host family and visiting homogeneous towns when doing that 50 years ago could’ve resulted in violence. Their stories are important from a historical standpoint, but when you’re trying to plan a trip, you might want to consider talking to younger girls about their experiences.

4. Traveling is a priceless experience.

I know from personal experience that not everyone has the means or time to travel. However, if you are fortunate enough to able to choose between a $500 phone and a $500 plane ticket, I would strongly advise choosing the latter. Among all things, travel has taught me empathy, independence, and confidence. The fact of the matter is that black people just aren’t traveling. Yes, it is true that some of us can’t afford it, but for the rest of us, I want to encourage you all to get out there and explore the world. Not only will it change your perspective on humanity, it just might change your life as well.