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.