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What You Need To Know Before Traveling As a Black Body: Lessons Learned From My Exchange Program in Australia

By: Morgan B.

As the plane lifted up higher and higher into the air, I saw Sydney Harbour moving farther and farther away and once again reflected on my mixed feelings about Australia and my time there. Australia as a location is incredible! It is such a huge, vast country overflowing with wilderness and desert to get lost and have countless adventures in, so it was hard saying goodbye to it.

But it is also a country riddled with racism and backwards politics that I was ready to say goodbye to. I valued my time there because it taught me a lot. It taught me about what it is like to travel as a black body, and because I know many of my sisters also have the travel bug and want to see the world, I have comprised a list of six things you should know and prepare for while traveling as a black body.

1. Traveling privilege actually exists.

White people are loved everywhere. No matter what country they go to, they are usually welcomed much better than people of color. For example, during my first week in Australia, I instantly befriended these two amazing girls, one of which was white, the other black.

We tended to stick together but since it was our first week, we also strove to meet as many people as we could and see who else was up for a fun time in Australia. I quickly noticed how much more my white friend was approached by people at social events compared to myself and my black friend, despite the fact that we had been there just as long and were often together.

Additionally, in the weeks prior to the start of the semester, people would post on the group Facebook page asking if anyone wanted to get a house or apartment together instead of living in the incredibly expensive residence halls. I was actually surprised at how quickly people responded to and were eager to get a house with complete strangers. On the other hand, I also did notice that when a black girl posted on the page looking for roommates, suddenly people seemed uninterested and no one responded to her post.

It makes sense when reflecting on our long history of white supremacy that even today as black bodies, we will not be welcomed as warmly or accepted as easily by others as our white counterparts. So as a black student, do not be surprised if on your exchange you have a similar experience to mine.

2. Be prepared for the worst kind of f*ckboy, racist f*ckboys!

I cannot tell you the amount of “I’ve never been with a black girl” or “I bet you taste like chocolate,” type comments that I received as my first message from a Tinder match. If I had a dollar for every time I was referred to as some dark colored food, I would be rich! If you are going to predominantly white or European country or any country where black is a minority, Tinder will not be a pleasant experience. Tinder is already trash, but it was even worse in countries where the black population is particularly low.

3. Be prepared for a lack of other black travelers.

I went to Bali, Indonesia for a week and saw a total of zero other black people while I was there. Black people don’t travel as much as white people do. It’s just a fact. It’s not because we don’t want to, its because years of disenfranchisement have left most black people unable to afford school let alone travel for leisure and go on exchange.

So as a black traveler, you will be a minority. I remember arriving in Bali and blushing from the amount of compliments I was given by locals about my hair. At this time of my exchange I was sporting these fantastic teal boxbraids. But it didn’t take very long for these compliments to my hair to become annoying. Every Balinese person that saw me acted like they had never seen a black person with braids before.

“Nice hair!” “Rasta!” they would all say. The worst part about it was that it was common to see white people with braids in Bali because it was tradition to go there and get braids or dreads. Being the only black traveler was something I wish I had been prepared for.

4. Be prepared for microaggressions.

“You should sing Gangster’s Paradise because you’ve got the cornrows”
“And then next to that room was the black room and all they played was niggerbeats”
“Is this real hair? Because I touched it and it doesn’t feel like real hair”
“Who knows if rap music is actually music!”
“I was think about going on exchange to Africa but I figured that their universities wouldn’t be good”

These are just some of the actual quotes I heard from people I knew while on exchange. If you’re traveling anywhere where black is a minority, be prepared to hear things like this. Education on black culture and what is offensive or politically incorrect is not a priority in these countries. The only offense people in these countries would understand is their own offense that they take when you call them out on their ignorance, be prepared for white fragility.

5. Don’t feel obligated to educate ignorant people.

It’s not your responsibility to inform these people why touching your hair is offensive. It’s your responsibility to enjoy the incredibly rewarding experience of seeing the world! Trying to school every uncultured individual you encounter is exhausting and can take away from the enjoyment of your travels. Although you may be tempted to help these people understand why they shouldn’t say the n-word or command you to twerk, its not your job!

6. Live in the moment

There were many times where I found myself thinking “I cannot wait to leave Australia”. This was usually after someone said something ignorant like, “The vast majorities of ‘tragedy hipsters’ would not have known about the other tragedies had the one in Paris not happened”. I missed not being amongst such explicit white supremacy.

I missed not scoffing every five minutes when a white person with dreadlocks walked by. I missed not having people ask me how my hair works. But now that I have left, I’ve missed the radiant vistas of the Australian outback. I’ve missed the iridescent sunsets from the Western Australian coast. I’ve missed being able to go surfing at any time I liked because the beach and surfboard rental place was so close by. I miss seeing the entire galaxy at night, because there was zero light pollution in the outback to get in the way of seeing the universe.

The unfortunate reality is, that when traveling as a black body you may have a harder time, but that certainly does not mean that you cannot enjoy yourself! Despite all that I experienced and witnessed while on exchange, those five months were the best five months of my life. I met some incredible and inspiring people, went on unforgettable trips and made invaluable memories.

I do, however, think that I would have had an easier time if I were prepared for what it was like to travel as a black body. So here I am, having returned from the other side of the world to tell you: Travel, travel, travel if you can! The memories you make while traveling will last longer than your new Louis Vuitton shoes. But beware, because you are traveling in a black body, and anti-blackness is global.

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4 Comments on "What You Need To Know Before Traveling As a Black Body: Lessons Learned From My Exchange Program in Australia"

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Lucy-Destra
1 year 6 months ago

Wow! I don’t know if I want to go to Australia anymore – thanks for the tips though! xx

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Joel
1 year 6 months ago

Hello, my name is Joel and I live in Houston, Tx. I am also a person who loves to travel. If at all possible, I would lobe to talk with you more about your travels and get more advice from you

Guest
1 year 3 months ago

Your experience might differ from the courageous young ladies one. As a British born Black women. Australia can’t gain my hard earned money. Australia’s treatment of the indigenous Aborigines is deplorable to say the least. Australian’s dispicable oppression and insidious behaviour towards its fellow men , in the past present and future reflects the mother of English oppression all over the world. Travelling is knowledge

Guest
2 months 29 days ago

This really hurt to read because as I black woman living in America I believed America was the worst place for black people to be. I understand that anti-blackness is global but the realization of this means that we have really no where to go in peace. You can say it’s life and I understand that we should still enjoy life but why try to work hard and spend your coin going to a place you are not wanted? I would love to travel and I encourage other black people to travel and gain more knowledge about the world but… Read more »

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