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Racism as a Travelling Trinidadian.

Everyone is racist. Get over it and move on!

Now that I’ve said it, we can move on and talk about travelling as a “visible minority” or “person of colour” or racism as a travelling Trinidadian. My definition of racism is a bit fluid. People are naturally drawn to what they know and understand … which has led to many theories on the nature of prejudice. I view racism as an extreme bias. My favorite one would be “ingroup/outgroup bias”. Here’s an excerpt from a short post (you can find 1000’s of social psychology posts on the topic … or you can do a useless first degree in Psychology as I did ;) )

When most people think of racism and other forms of bias, they picture one group having negative feelings toward another group. Although this dynamic certainly takes place, research since the 1970s has found that many group biases are more a function of favoritism toward one’s own group than negative feelings toward other groups. As Marilyn Brewer (1999, p. 438) put it in her summary of the evidence, “Ultimately, many forms of discrimination and bias may develop not because outgroups are hated, but because positive emotions such as admiration, sympathy, and trust are reserved for the ingroup.” The tendency of people to favor their own group, known as “ingroup bias,” has been found in cultures around the world (Aberson, Healy, & Romero, 2000; Brewer, 1979, 1999).

One of the most startling aspects of ingroup bias is how easily it is triggered. This finding was documented in a series of experiments in Bristol, England, by Henri Tajfel (1970, 1981). Tajfel and his colleagues invented what is now known as the “minimal group procedure” — an experimental technique in which people who have never met before are divided into groups on the basis of minimal information (e.g., a preference for one type of painting versus another, or even just the toss of a coin). What Tajfel discovered is that groups formed on the basis of almost any distinction are prone to ingroup bias. Within minutes of being divided into groups, people tend to see their own group as superior to other groups, and they will frequently seek to maintain an advantage over other groups.

If you’re travelling around the world, you’re going to meet many people who don’t share or understand your viewpoints. I have friends who have completely different and contrary philosophical and political views to me. It doesn’t make me dislike them, I just accept that we can’t have the same view point. As you’re going to have different friends, you’re going to meet people with different educational backgrounds and world views. How many times have you heard a stereotype being referred to or someone stereotyping people based on one experience they’ve had or read about or heard 3rd hand about. Here’s some actual statements I’ve been privy to over the years … are they true or have elements of truth in them? Think about it!

  • Chinese people can’t drive, be careful crossing the road as they mightn’t see you
  • Germans are Nazis. Are you sure you’ll be safe during the World Cup?
  • Make sure and over tip in Italy. You don’t the Italians thinking you’re a typical cheap Indian.
  • Do you speak English? (This happened to me in the US once, as I was talking on the phone)
  • Are you sure you want to go to Guatemala? You’ll die over there.
  • Don’t walk in Detroit/St. Louis/Baltimore downtown at night. Black people will shoot you.

Bad things, happen everywhere. More bad things happen in some places more than others.

As a Trinidadian of Indian descent, I can definitively say that I’ve never had a racist experience while travelling across 90+ countries.

As a “brown” guy with super straight hair, slightly “Asian” eyes, “Hispanic” nose, West Indian volume and large arms, I’ve found that people don’t know how to treat me or how to deal with me. I’m also very forthright and opinionated, so maybe that also ensures that I don’t have racist experience lest there be a consequence. It does help that I look like I can find in everywhere except Scandinavia. The following picture will hopefully add to the point.

How do I look here?
How about here?
How about here?
Or finally here?

That being said, I have friends and fellow travel bloggers who have had racist experiences but it would be unfair and unwise to say that the all of <insert country> is racist based on my couple of days wandering through. As mentioned at the beginning of the post, I believe that we all have our biases and even if a whole country *were* racist, if the landscapes, architecture and scenery are worth it, then I would happily go back to explore further once my personal safety wasn’t in jeopardy.

Why should you let someone else’s bigotry, stupidity, immaturity or ignorance stop you from enjoying all the world has to offer?

In travelling to Uzbekistan, the border control guys weren’t the most friendly to start with. However, I had to ask myself … “How many Trinidadians, has an Uzbek border guard ever met before?” Chances are that I was the first Trinidadian that they had ever met, so this was an opportunity to educate these guys.  They questioned my intentions and how I was to get around. I pointed to my Russian comrade and he indicated that I was a wealthy traveller and I hired him to be my guide . They were understandably impressed and provided ZERO resistance from that point in time. In fact, I had an easier time in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan because I was a “visible” minority … actually I had an AMAZING time there. This in a country that people thought I might be killed in. BTW… here is my step by step process to getting in as a Trini.

I firmly believe that if you go looking for something, you will find it. If you expect racism, you will experience it. Just like if you go looking for a fight, you almost end up finding one. For instance, this article “8 of the worst countries for black people to travel” … this is an awful post, since it paints a horrible picture of everyone one of these countries and I’ve been to every country mentioned in that horrible post.

Also, you’ll find many of the “racism while travelling” post written by Black American Women travelling. As a result of the history of the United States, people of color and whites alike have been rendered into sensitivity machines, often analyzing things at a level of sociological sophistication that may not be of issue in some other countries. Also, bear in mind that every nation has its own respective history and deals with race and ethnicity accordingly. Don’t attempt to color their history with your own. Think of these things before you jump the gun.

Here’s a checklist to help with an assessment and worth considering the following (I’ve lifted the previous paragraphy and next list directly from Racialicious – you should check out that site!)

  1. Most travel guides will likely leave out information about the reception, or lack thereof, you may experience as a person of color.
  2. Expect the unexpected, and don’t go into the situation assuming your experience will match those of your white peers and/or friends and family of color. Your command of the native language, body language, familiarity with the culture, style of dress, etc can alter how you are perceived and treated.
  3. Don’t always assume racism is at play.
  4. Find out what you can do if you ARE a victim of racism. There are several anti-racist groups that hold workshops and do outreach based on race-related issues. Sites like this may be worth checking out prior to taking a trip.
  5. Reconcile your prior experiences with those of the present. The United States and/or your home country more likely than not has witnessed acts of racism, many of which continue. Don’t assume that it’s only the country you are visiting that has problems. If we think of the Amadou Diallo case or the Jena 6 or Vincent Chin, the U.S. is a scary and ugly place for POC too. It doesn’t make racism here or elsewhere any better, but it definitely makes you realize that every country has its problems, so you can’t let a few instances of racism frighten you away.
  6. If traveling by yourself and feel threatened as a result of your race/ethnicity, try to remove yourself from the situation, if possible and find a place where you feel more welcome. You may even want to try to get to know other people like yourself in that country, depending on the duration of your stay, to get tips on places to avoid, how to behave in the case of a threat, etc.
  7. Do your homework. Before traveling anywhere, ask around and look up information detailing the experiences of people like yourself. As I mentioned before, their experience may not entirely mirror the one in which you are about to partake, but it may offer some helpful advice.
  8. Have a good time, despite any adversity you may encounter. If you have spent the money to go somewhere else, you might as well try to get as much out of it as you can!

While it hasn’t been an issue for me, has your race ever been an issue when it came to your travels? Have you ever been reluctant to travel to a place because of your racial background? Drop a line in the comments section below … but before you do, here’s how not to talk about race or think that you’re the victim of a racist experience – someone throw this child a book.

About Rishiray

Rishi Sankar is a Cloud HRMS Project Manager/ Solution Architect. Over the past 15+ years, he has managed to combine his overwhelming wanderlust with a desire to stay employed, resulting in continuing stints with 3 major consulting firms (IBM, Deloitte, Accenture). He documents his adventures around the world on "Ah Trini Travelogue" with pictures and stories from the road/tuk-tuk/camel/rickshaw. You can follow him on Twitter at @rishiray and on Facebook at "Ah Trini Travelogue . He doesn't like Chicken Curry but loves Curry Chicken and is always trying to find the perfect Trinidadian roti on the road. He also doesn't like cheese and kittens ... and definitely not together. E-mail from his blog is appreciated like a 35 yr old Balvenie at [email protected]m

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