Traveling While Black: On the Pervasive Nature of Colorism in the Diaspora

by Jaimee A. Swift

WARNING: For the Black person who travels or is interested in traveling — whether for business or pleasure — note that the longitude and latitude of racism is endless and has no bounds.

As an African-American who travels and is interested in enlightening myself to other cultures and peoples of the world, identifying with and recognizing the harsh realities of racism while abroad can be a blow to the psyche. The experience can become even more disconcerting when you are amidst a transaction of colorism in countries where the people — by historical contextual analyses, your standards, and even the standards of others — would be considered Black. 

Although Black people are, of course, multifarious and diverse by nature, what unites us in the struggle and fight against racism is the very notion of our Blackness — irrespective of ethnicity, space, time or origin. However, due to the formidable insertion of white supremacy, racial measures such as colorism have created a divisive paradigm not only domestically but also in the African Diaspora. While interracial colorism and intraracial colorism are historically and contemporarily pervasive in the African-American community, colorism extends itself beyond the domesticated confines of the United States and permeates itself in a globalized world order of racial hierarchies and pigment-oriented, societal norms.

Unfortunately, for those traveling while Black, the manifestations of colorism may present itself subtlety or profoundly based on the societal strength of the country’s color caste system. More importantly, when traveling while Black, being cognizant and understanding of who considers themselves Black and who does not (even if they are) is quite important. 

Kat Harrison, 21, experienced first-hand the harsh nuances of colorism while traveling to Bangalore, India. “My issues in India were really interesting (at least to me) because, although most South Indians were as dark if not darker than myself, because I looked African, I experienced a lot of hostility,” she said. 

After being shoved in the street, ignored by shopkeepers and sales associates, and overlooked by auto rickshaw drivers when attempting to solicit a ride, Harrison noted that the hostility towards her ceased by the locals upon the realization that she was American and not African.
“Suddenly, I went from someone who should be shunned and poorly treated to almost — a myth if you will. I was an object of curiosity and amusement when it was discovered that I was American,” Harrison said.

Although she was able to quell the cruel conduct of colorism in India by her American citizenship and accent, Harrison says that the experience left her rather unsettled. 

“While I was a little comforted by the fact that I could escape that hostility simply by speaking, I was also hurt that my brothers and sisters from Africa weren’t afforded the same luxury,” she added.
Despite being immersed in Latino culture via friends and family who hail from a mélange of Latin countries, Gabrielle Clark, 24, was shocked when surrounded by Black Latinos while on vacation in Guerrero, Mexico. 

“Watching Telemundo and other media networks gave me the impression that black Latinos were a minority, rare. On every network, white Latinos were prominently featured — so you could imagine my surprise when I came face to face with a sea of indigenous brown and black faces staring back at me in Guerrero State,” she said.

Noticing the blatant dynamics of intraracial colorism in Mexico, Clark’s introspection of Mexican culture concluded that while Black Latinos were on the lower realms of the socio-economic and political totem pole, white Latinos were obviously positioned in the upper echelons of society.
“I began paying more attention to how darker skinned, indigenous and black Mexicans seemed to constitute the struggling masses, while the face of politics and wealth were white. I thought to myself, no matter where you go it seems like it's the same old order,” she said. 

While Maryline Dossou, 24, knew of the intense color complexities that are ingrained within the Dominican Republic, she had no idea that the government would announce the deportment of Haitian immigrants and Dominicans born to Haitians weeks before her trip. 

Nor did Dossou expect that her light-skinned Black friend would be treated better than she was while traveling. 

Although her initial thought was that she would be mistaken and harassed for being Haitian —not only because she is Black but because of her French last name – Dossou realized that the favoritism extended by Dominicans to her light-skinned friend stemmed from a deeply rooted self-hatred.
“Some men made no qualms that they particularly admired the color of her skin, while casually shrugging me off. These are people so influenced by global White supremacy that they seek to deny everything in them that is Black,” she said. 

Dossou’s last statement not only speaks to the race issues in the Dominican Republic but it serves to be a reverberating implication to the global rhetoric of colorism and the pervasive effects of its schismatic vices; where the societal status quo dictates the conformity to the ideals of white aestheticism and the ultimate rejection of Blackness. 

And this international state of color affairs is certainly inescapable when traveling while Black. 

Photo: Shutterstock

Jaimee Swift is a graduate of Howard University and Temple University, with a Master of Arts in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications, respectively. A writer and truth-seeker at heart, Swift is currently the Communications and Youth Advocacy Officer for Together for Girls, which is a Clinton Global Initiative to end sexual violence against women and girls. You can follow her on Instagram @jaimeeswift.

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