Traveling While Black: Italy

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Ahh Italy, gelato, pizza, pasta, shopping, history. I was too excited to go. Of course my excitement didn’t stop a particular “friend” of European decent from telling me that Italians didn’t like Blacks so I should be prepared to face racism. Well, uh, who wants that? However, I refused to believe him. Sure I’d heard of some Italians who were racist but that wasn’t all Italians.
But thanks to that jerk I was on guard going to Rome, Florence, Venice, Verona and Pisa. Jersey Shore was filming in Florence at the time we went so I would not be deterred (not sure right now why I was so excited about that).
Anywho, I came, I saw, I shopped, I ate and ate. I mean the food was really good. What I didn’t experience was racism. But here’s what I did notice. Loads of black people. From Africa to be precise. There was even a mini African neighborhood (I couldn’t tell you what countries but there was a salon, heeyy).  It was funny because yet again I met an African cleaning woman who asked me where I was from because she could not imagine black people traveling for fun. At first she thought I was English then from Latin America.
So I can’t figure out why so many Africans came to Italy. I can only assume its the same story any immigrant community has. Someone came there, made a comfortable living and told others back at home and the word spread. However, there were Italians who didn’t appreciate it. I can’t say it was because they were racist but there was a different treatment towards them (hence, my Caucasian “friend” from home saying they were racist). However, Italians clearly knew the difference between my friends and I and the African immigrants. A lot of it felt the way some Americans feel about Latin American illegal immigrants and it was sad to see.
I think part of it came because there were many African immigrants peddling “doohickeys” (touristy stuff)  to make money. They were on the street everywhere, especially in Venice. Selling their goods. In fact it is a crime for tourists to buy from them. Yes, you read that right. A crime to buy a trinket from a vendor on the street. Not sure if it was a crime for them to sell though because they were obvious about it. Which leads to the international incident I mentioned in a former post.
As I said in a prior post, from some of us in the African diaspora there is an expectation that we will “hook” each other up. Many times we got from the peddlers on the street “sista this or sista that”. As fellow black people we were supposed to buy from them (and get locked up or fined for it, no thank you). It was boarding on harassing. So one of my trip mates finally got fed up and told a particularly aggressive African peddler to leave us alone. Well he was greatly offended that we black women were not buying his goods and telling him stop bothering us. So he responded by cursing my friend out to which she returned in kind. I tried to step in and move her from the scene. We do not need black on black crime in a European country (anywhere really).
So, the only inkling of racism I had was when we were searching for a particular club in Rome and we headed down an alley in search for it. Halfway in we came across some neo Nazi symbols spray painted on the wall. We looked at each other and jogged/walked in our heels the hell away from there. Never did find that club.
The only other note on race we experienced was in Venice when for some odd reason our group of six were a bit of celebrity to certain Asian tourists groups because they kept taking pictures of us. Almost like a very small paparazzi. Not sure if they thought we were a female singing group or maybe it was their first time seeing black people in “real life” or something but it was odd. At a certain point we just got in on it and started posing for their pictures.
And that my dears was my biggest memories regarding race in Italy. Outside of that, people were perfectly friendly and the men were flirtatious! I’d love to buy property in Florence so it’s a go for me!
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Traveling While Black: Jamaica and Bahamas

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So I know what you’re thinking, this mini posting series is all about race and international travel, what could I possibly have to say about my experiences with race when going to countries predominately populated by other black people? A couple things actually. I don’t know if other groups feel this connection when traveling but when I go to other black countries there is a pull that I get. At first I thought it was just the people being kind hosts and treating us the way they would anyone else. I suppose some of it is. But I’ve had a few experiences where I tend to believe my friends and I get a little special attention when we travel to brown/black countries because we look like them.

It’s the same joke about when you see another black person walking down the street or the hall you give them a nod or “hi” and if you didn’t, you were rude. I first encountered this logic in college where it was over 90% white so the few blacks there felt like we must have a special connection. If we walked across campus it was an unspoken custom that you say “hi” and if you didn’t, you were talked about and it was passed around that “that person wasn’t friendly to other black people”.  (see this scene from “blackish” displaying this sentiment )https://youtube.googleapis.com/v/k0Zn4NCsP9Q&source=uds

So I’d like to believe, I got the hook up from time to time. We made friends easily from the locals who then gave us the “inside” of what to do, where to go, what to watch out for. Now I’m not saying non black tourist didn’t get this same attention, some did but they got to that closer level by a different route…

On the flip side,  I think I was more generous that usual because of that racial connection. I bought crap I didn’t need and tipped high because I wanted to help a struggling people (yes these places are beautiful but not all of the people are living that life and are working hard).

It can be a hassle at certain times because then there is an expectation from some that because we are black we should help them (see a future post on Italy on a certain international incident about this topic). As soon as you helped one person out, you’d walk down and see another person you’d want to purchase from and then feel a little guilty (well I did) because you couldn’t. I end up spending much more money than I plan to when I go to brown/black countries because I want to do as much as I can to give to the locals.  These people aren’t beggars, they are hard working and full of spirit and kindness (to all groups) and it’s a connection I love to receive when I visit.

Traveling While Black: Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Brazil

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So in the fourth installment of this race and travel mini series I discuss my experiences in warm Spanish (and Portuguese) speaking cities. I lump them together because my experiences were very similar.
Let’s begin with San Juan and Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. I’ve actually been here twice. Great food (and drink), nice weather, definitely a fun destination. But this is about race so I will narrow down my recap to my experiences there as a brown girl. Now Puerto Rican’s come in all shades so as a brown girl I didn’t stick out. However, like any countries that host the African diaspora, there are issues with color discrimination. My first time going there was during law school for a conference. I was feeling myself so I rented a car to get around. When I drove back to my hotel resort from the car rental place I asked the lady at the gate to direct me where to park. She pointed me to where the employees park. I had to explain to her that I was actually a guest and she looked at me with disbelief. Now again, I won’t say that she made an assumption based on my skin tone (and hair, it was in my natural curl) but it was off putting. San Juan area does not host a lot of brown people (most of what I saw were fair skinned like JLO). But that was the only “off” experience I had there. I mean, I went back a few years later. I can’t throw any shade on PR, it’s a good and welcoming place.
Then I went to Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Now this is a multi-racial town. Brown of all shades. Mixes of everything (black, white, indian). The people are beautiful. Before I went, I made sure I was in shape. Visions of a bunch of Gisele Bundchens stepping over me like Heidi did Carrie in Sex and the City entered my head.

But when I got there I blended right in. Color wise and body type. In fact I saw few Giseles! Perhaps they don’t reside in Rio! I was stopped several times by people with questions because they thought I was a local. At one point while a friend and I were playing in the water some tourist from Columbia asked to take pictures with us because they thought we were locals. (Okay we were in our twenties so that was flattering). And when some guys from the States met us they were disappointed when they heard us talk and found out we were not locals. Oh, and I found many black hair salons so again, you know that’s a mark of acceptance to me!

We came for carnival and I just loved seeing people who looked like me, curls and all in another setting. And the people LOVE them some carnival. The only negative race/color wise was that there was prostitution and a lot of those prostitutes looked like me (brown girls). So there were a few times when I had to signal to the male tourist (usually older white males) that I was not a prostitute (didn’t help that my friend and I booked a hotel in the “red light” type district. It was affordable and on Copacabana, what’d we know?) Based on my understanding of the culture, if anything there is more of a history of color discrimination and class issues (the middle class is hard to find).

Finally, a few years ago I went to the Dominican Republic. I once had some friends who are originally from DR mention that when they went back and stayed at a resort chilling by the pool they were treated/spoken to as if they were really the maids and weren’t suppose to be there. They are darker toned ladies. I can’t recall what part of DR they were in. I went to Cabarete (known for kite surfing) and had no negative experiences with race or color. Many of the people are mid to dark brown and in fact the men often told my friend who is of a light complexion that she needed some sun. I got many declarations of affection while there.  So my description of this town is brief with respect to race. It was just like visiting a Caribbean town.  I felt comfortable. If anything some of the men were too “fresh”, to use my old lady term, so I’d say watch out for that and don’t wander around alone. But this was my first time that not only my race was of interest in a positive way but my color. Check mark for this place.

Quick P.S.A. to Men on Online Dating

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I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve tried the online dating thing…a few times. I’ve visited many a site and talked to many a friend and after a spirited discussion with some gal pals recently I thought I’d do a post (which I’m sure will have some follow ups) on things I wish men wouldn’t do in the realm of online dating.

For this post I will focus on my top three. Some are, admittedly, superficial and I will own up to it.

1) Wearing hats in all your pictures. A couple pics here and there are fine but if all your pics are with hats on (especially baseball caps) then I don’t know what I’m getting into.  I once went out with a guy who always wore a baseball cap. He even wore it when we went out to dinner. This was getting ridiculous. Well eventually, I asked him in my Brad Pitt from Seven “What’s in the box?” voice.

I just had to know. So he took off the hat…and he looked like George Jefferson. Sigh, it’s unfortunate that he had premature balding and I sympathize with that. But holding on to that rim of hair did nothing for him. He wasn’t even thirty. Why look like you were ready to move to that “deluxe apartment in the sky?”. Just “let it goooo, let it gooo” and sport the bald head. Needless to say, after that,  I always wonder when I see a guy with only pics of him in a hat. (same goes to pics of a guy only wearing sunglasses, no shade to cock eyes, but…well, I don’t like surprises)

2) Going ghost. Online dating has made us the laziest people in the world. I just finished reading Pride and Prejudice (and Zombies, I have to take some gore with my silly romance) and it reminded me all the more how we just don’t try anymore. Always looking for that “bigger better deal” and not caring how we come across. But one thing I really hate is when you go on a date or two with a guy, chemistry is full on, sweet words/flirts are shared and then…you don’t hear from them again. My friend theorized that they must all go to an island. We wonder if it’s fun there.

But look-a-here (yeah you know I’m about to make a point when I get southern), don’t come back like nothing happened. If you got side tracked because you were dating a bunch of women like you were on The Bachelor and then had to make a decision to narrow it down, I can dig it. On the flip side, we women get our Bachelorette moments. But once you made the decision stick to it. And if you realize that you made the wrong decision and months later want to come back, do it with a little humility. When I get a text or email from a guy I haven’t seen or heard from in five months, he gets the side eye. Assuming I even remember the dude (hint, add your name in the text because, crazy thing, I probably haven’t waiting by the cell phone for you to call all this time) at least apologize for the disappearance act and come hard with the “courting”. A girl likes to feel special!

3)Stalkers.  If you wink or like or favorite me but don’t ever write to or respond to my email then I gets uncomfortable. A friend noticed a guy viewing her page almost daily but he never wrote to her. Naturally that creeped her out. I can’t tell you how many guys have liked my photo or favorite me but never write. Why? No, honestly, I need to know because in my mind, and many women’s minds, you are just viewing our photos over and over again and well…the thought ain’t pretty. So if it’s really that you are just shy, get pass it, you never know if the woman will like you if you don’t bother to write. If you are married and just staring, stop it. And if you are too cheap to purchase a subscription, save up! Morale of the story: Stop creeping us out!

Because the more you know….

Traveling while black: Germany and France

So in part three of my travel and race series I combine Germany and France. I visited these countries during my study abroad in England in the early 2000s. One thing I have noted in my travels is that  some people in other countries are surprised that you, as a person of color, can vacation internationally. This sentiment is changing, however, during that time in Europe I encountered many a person  who could not fathom that I was American.

Now this was after 9/11 and there was a lot of anti-Bush sentiment from all groups so I didn’t go shouting it from the roof tops that I was a US citizen. But I swear, people would guess that I was everything but. I got that I was first English, then from a country in Africa (forgot which one), Canadian, Jamaican.

This view is changing slowly but surely now (check out instagram travelnoire for proof) as more and more black people in this country are traveling overseas far and wide. But apparently in the early 2000s this wasn’t so? I once again blame the media as I suppose a lot of our television exports of black people were not just Girlfriends and Oprah (I’m looking at you The Wire) so perhaps others simply thought we were too poor to travel? I’d even hear from other black travelers that they’d get mistaken for famous because apparently this is the only way we’d be on travel?

Let me not get onto my soapbox about the importance of experiencing different cultures if you are lucky enough to be in a position to do this. But, just travel, it’ll change your life. Okay so a quick take on Germany and France from the eyes of a person of color.

First Paris, France. I was only here for about 4 days. I did not feel uncomfortable here at all. It’s diverse (it attracts a lot of french speaking African people and, therefore, there were places catering to black hair and beauty which is something I’m always kinda sorta checking for when I travel).  This is not surprising as the history of France, although rooted in slavery as well, became more open decades before the U.S. did (it’s why Josephine Baker move there, I think, but there were many more black artist who became expats because of the tolerance of the French).  If anything, the main thing I noticed about the French was that they just wanted you to respect their culture and language. They had no problem ignoring you if you asked for directions in English but if you asked for help in some butchered French they were very accommodating and would speak English back to help. I guess it was the effort that counts and we didn’t want to be seen as “the ugly American” anyway. Especially not at that time when Americans were such targets. Paris, in the end, is a lovely place and I’d recommend it.

On to Germany. I was here for almost a week in Heidelberg and Frankfurt. I must admit, I was nervous to come here. I mean, with a history of the Holocaust and Neo-Nazis I didn’t think a brown girl with the last name Solomon was going to be welcomed. In the airport military/police walked around with rifles which was a first for me so I was even more unnerved. Of course I got “randomly” questioned along with my friend but I wasn’t surprised. But, as with many things, time changes attitudes. Of course I’ve heard current stories of black people facing racism and even assult in Germany. However, for the 4 or 5 days I was there, I felt no racism. I felt stares, lots of them. There are some people of color in Germany but its not a melting pot, at least it wasn’t 10 or so years ago. So when a brown girl shows up with natural hair, well I get a couple of looks. But they were looks of interest not distain. I didn’t mind the stares since I understood where it was coming from and at least no one asked to touch my hair (this happened to a friend when we were in Spain, however, it was a child so she let her play with her braids).

The music didn’t stop when I entered a room. In fact when my friend went to a beauty salon to see if she could get her hair done, although they were not equipped to do “black” hair, they were friendly about trying. My friend opted not to get it done though. When I think of Germany, I think of history, friendly people of today, food, clothes that actually fit me (because they are a curvy people) and a city (Frankfurt) so clean you can eat food off the ground (don’t worry, I didn’t). Frankfurt of today is not a frightful city to me so it got my stamp of approval.

Traveling While Black: London

In my second post on international travel while being a brown gal we go to England. London to be exact. I studied there for a summer in law school. While there I traveled to other parts of England and also to Germany and France (to be discussed in another post).

I have a strong nostalgia for my time in London but the start was a little shaky. I flew there with many of my class mates and we all were wearing our dorky summer law school program shirts. We got off the plane together. Went through security. Yet I was the one who was randomly stopped and questioned about why I was in the country. Sure I was the only black girl in the group, but I had the same shirt. I stood, embarrassed, as I answered their questions as my class mates stared, walking by me. They asked me several questions. Why was I there? Where was I staying? How long would I be there? What did I do for a living etc.  Was this random? I try not to be super sensitive about this stuff but of course you can’t help but have a little voice inside you ask, why, out of all the students was I, the sole black person, picked out and questioned so vigorously? Prior to 9/11 black women were the top group racially profiled on planes (we are drug mules for our drug dealing boyfriends of course). Therefore, the thought did cross my 22 year old mind that perhaps I was being profiled.

I was beginning to wonder if this whole study abroad thing was a good idea.

But I made it to my dorm and hoped for the best since I was going to be there a while and, well, it got better. To be honest, I ended up finding the people of England to be very delightful. They were very friendly to me. It felt like New York (where I stayed in London) but with some southern hospitality. One day I literally stood at a corner with a map opened,  confused about where to go when a nice older white lady asked me if I needed help and then proceeded to give me good directions to my destination.
I mean, people here will help if you ask but they just don’t stop and offer, at least not in my experience. And especially not in a big city. That moment always stuck out to me.
I also visited the English country side and beach and Cambridge. All pleasant, racially uneventful experiences.

For a time, and maybe still, I was especially hoping to get back to London.  I enjoyed the diversity and trendiness of the city. It took a while, but I even learned about Brixton, which is an area of London where many black people lived and they even had their own history of racism similar to the L.A. riots. I found a black beauty supply store there so, needless to say, I felt I had it all!


One other thing I enjoy about the British culture is in its media. They aren’t as concerned about fulfilling a certain type for their lead roles. I saw way more inter racial couples on TV then (this was early 2000s) than in the US and not all the actresses were thin blondes. Yet the “plain jane” or the brown person was as popular as ever. Before we had a black person leading a mostly a main stream  (Scandal) they had Luther
(Idris and all his accent glory). Only now is US getting in on the game.

Of course I know the history of slavery with this country so I am not saying that racism does not exist here. But for a summer, I was fortunate enough to not experience it and that gets my thumbs up for a city that is safe and comfortable to travel to while black.