It’s 2022, but it can feel like 1844.
Racism has been more visible in America, and it’s definitely leaving a mark in travel. For the first time ever, NAACP issued a travel advisory to Missouri in 2017, international countries issued travel warnings to the United States in 2016 and black people definitely took Charlottesville off their bucket list. Also, if you’ve been hiding under a rock, you wouldn’t know the Black Lives Matter movement was heard around the world in 2021 (and Travelbinger helped spread the word in New York City).
It has been an insane year so far, where white supremacy is a developing voice in rural and often cosmopolitan cities — and the messaging has been rampant lately. In fact, I thought it was pretty frightening when, in 2016, this town in Arkansas put up billboards right after the November elections that used diversity as a code word for white genocide.
But racism in travel isn’t new in the United States; it’s just more visible. In 2015, Google put together a list of the most racist cities in America, using a methodology that measured racist attitudes in search terms. Are you surprised with what you see? Not much has changed.
I’ve been to racist cities. You can literally feel the racism even more if you’re ethnic. Even if it’s not directed at you, it’s heavy. I feel like there are degrees of racism, and being a predominantly white city doesn’t necessarily mean it’s racist (as some travelers may presume). I’ve been to mostly white places with small black populations that celebrate diversity (like Denver).
I’ve traveled to predominantly white places that celebrate diversity but in a weird WTF way (Portland, which has a “Chinatown” but no Chinese people living in it). And I’ve traveled to predominantly white places so white that ethnic people stand out (Hilton Head. I mean, did you see The Bachelorette that season? Did you notice in every scene, Rachel Lindsay and the black bachelors were literally the only ethnic people in every crowd scene?).
Does a totally white city mean it’s totally racist?
It depends on the attitude.
Some places have that “white power” attitude, which I think is pretty sad, especially when we’ve had so much progress in America, and I’ve learned you can’t change a person. They have to change themselves, and it helps when minorities remain visible. I’m not trying to send a black person to Charlottesville; I think it’s important diversity is celebrated and visible in our every day lives. This includes the government, major corporations, airlines, media, film and newspapers, places where it’s important all races have a voice, platforms that have impact and influence.
I can confidently say ethnic people notice when there’s a white-only cast on TV shows, but white people necessarily don’t. See how that works? We need to keep spreading the diversity love. If it’s spread thin, it’s easy to forget everyone exists. It’s why the Black Lives Matter movement is so important. I’ve had white friends explore their privilege and start seeing things ethnic people see.Black Lives Matter protest in NYC.
So back to racism in travel. Should you travel to a city you think is racist?
It depends. You know your comfort levels more than anyone else. Be smart about the destinations you choose. You should never hide who you are, wherever you go, so don’t go to places you think you need to hide. They may not be the right cities for you now but only time will tell if they progress back to 2017. The more we talk about this, the more we take action, the better off we are in the future.
If you plan on traveling soon, be sure to do your research, for you don’t want to go to one of the most racist cities in America, and you certainly don’t want to support a city that doesn’t support black lives.
(This story was originally published in September 2017).
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