Why Racism Is a Travel Issue

Mural of George Floyd painted by an unknown artist in my city, downtown Indianapolis.

A note that this post is written for White people who in particular who might need to hear this or want to learn more about this issue. I am attempting to explain why racism needs to be a part of the conversation in travel which BIPOC do not need my informational post, although I welcome all BIPOC readers who might also care to read, and encourage anyone with feedback to reach out at suitcasesix@gmail.com.

This spring, protests over the murder of George Floyd, and police brutality more widely, have been taking place throughout all 50 states in the USA and countries all over the world. The Black Lives Matter movement is being talked about everywhere and the travel sphere is no exclusion. I’ve seen more than a few people in facebook travel groups asking why racism is a travel issue though, why we can’t just stick to travel topics and leave the race discussions for another platform.

I feel like it’s important to address that question. Here is my official answer.

Racism is a travel issue – it’s always been a travel issue and it’s something all travelers should understand. If you feel like discussions about race have no place in travel it probably just means that race may not have had an impact on your travels in a way you’ve perceived.

If you’d rather watch than read, there’s a video version of this post!

Video: Why Racism is a Travel Issue (and What To Do About It)

Why am I personally talking about this issue?

I want to be very transparent that I support the Black Lives Matter movement. I do not want anyone who reads my blog and thinks otherwise to be confused about where I stand.

If you do not believe the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary or disagree that racism is a travel issue, I hope that you will stay and read this post, or reach out to start a (respectful) dialogue with me.

I think it also needs to be said because my platform is one that talks about sustainability and ethical engagement. There is an enormous amount of institutionalized racism in my country that is clearly neither sustainable, nor ethical. But it is happening in my own back yard, and these systems have been operating and evolving for centuries.

My mission with this blog is to be a resource for people who want to travel and live more sustainably. I want to inspire, educate, and help people to understand our impact on the world. That impact for travelers is one that spans globally – when we travel we impact the environment, ecosystems, economies, and communities wherever we go. I envision a world where we all work toward making that impact as positive as possible whenever we travel. Where tourism does not harm communities or ecosystems.

But our impact always starts at home. And right now, my home is hurting.

If I’m an expert on any place, it’s Indiana, the United States. I’ve lived here 26 years – my entire life. If I’m going to try and write about how to be an ethical traveller in places around the world, I think I should also do so with the place I know best. And I believe to write about visiting the United States ethically there has to be a dialogue about racism.

So anyway, on to the real question.

Why is Racism a Travel Issue?

Racism at travel issue quite simply because it affects all levels of the travel industry and experience. People experience racism while they are traveling, and locals experience racism from tourists. Racism impacts our environment and eco-systems, our cultures and traditions, our laws, and our systems – education, healthcare, public services. It permeates everything and if you visit a place that’s touched by racism, the damages it causes are relevant to you whether or not you see them.

And to be clear, most of the world is touched by racism.

Racism is often institutional or structural, and it’s very easy to not see it or realize you’re participating in these systems. We want to bring the racist structures down by supporting equality, but that requires understanding what’s going on.

Often, if your race affords you privilege in a country as my Whiteness often (usually?) does, we don’t notice it because we aren’t experiencing its negative affects.

Here are just a few examples of how racism or racial inequality manifests in the travel industry and recommended articles to read that explain them:

So yes. Part of being a responsible, ethical traveler means understanding that racism, or other inequalities, likely exist in the place you’re going and figuring out how you can fight those injustices. Good news – it’s not as difficult to be an ethical traveler as it might sound!

Some Housekeeping

What Does BIPOC Stand For? What the Phrase Means and Why It’s So Important

Recognizing Race in Language: Why We Capitalize “Black” and “White”

What are you supposed to do about it?

So you know racism is real and an issue in the travel industry. You’re ready to try and make sure your next trip doesn’t hurt marginalized communities where you’re going.

Here are some travel specific things you can do:

  • Follow and support BIPOC content creators and travel journalists – subscribe to their newsletters, seek them out when you’re going to a new destination, follow them on Instagram or Facebook, share their work – all free! Here’s a directory from Travel Eat Slay of 200 Black travel content creators!!!
  • Do your research – learn as much as you can about the social justice issues in the places you’re visiting and whether there are ethical considerations regarding your planned itinerary.
  • Ask tour companies how they support local communities, especially if you’re visiting local communities as part of your tour itinerary.
  • Seek out brands and businesses owned by BIPOC .
  • Respect cultural customs and differences, and carefully consider what and how you share about things you find unique to your new location
  • Ask questions of your travel providers like why there are no BIPOC in their corporate offices, how companies support the locals in which they run tours, or what policies operators have in place to protect their BIPOC clients
  • Read the book “Learning Service: The Essential Guide to Volunteering Abroad” if you have plans to volunteer abroad.
  • Don’t take photos with children you don’t know, and don’t post any photos that you don’t have explicit permission to share; great article by Oneika the Traveler on how kids from the Global South aren’t photo props.
  • If you’re a travel provider, read this post on Travel Pulse: How the Travel Industry Can Do Its Part in the Fight Against Racism.
  • Join your local activist groups or chapters on social media to get involved in your own back yard (in my area two big groups are BLM Indy 10 and Indy SURJ).
  • Seek out events in cities you’re traveling put on by organizations you support – but be conscious of social norms and legal ramifications in the country you’re visiting; you are not immune to the laws by being a tourist and participating in protests or speaking out against the military can very severe consequences so be aware.
  • Read books by locals about their country instead of books by expats or tourists, or seek out bookstores owned by BIPOC like this one.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it’s a place to start.

What I’m doing about it

Unlearning racism and figuring out how to actively be anti-racist is hard work. It takes a lot of time and research and reflection, and can be emotional. But it must be done, though I will not share all of that here. I will share what I’m doing with Suitcase Six, specifically, as a starting point.

  1. Writing more about my home town and how to support BIPOC owned and sustainable travel in Indiana and the greater USA.
  2. Ensuring my Woman of the Week interview series features a diverse set of voices and perspectives.
  3. Adding more roundups and reviews of travel related brands, businesses, and content creators who are owned/led by BIPOC or which support sustainability and social justice.
  4. Listening, listening, listening. Specifically to the BIPOC travel content creators, travelers, historians, activists, and organizers to see what I need to learn and what I can do to support the work they’ve been doing all this time.

Basically, you should expect more focus on sustainable and ethical travel and living, more Indiana content, and more diverse perspectives being shared!

I’m sharing a lot on my Facebook page and Instagram stories, but want to share a few people I’m listening to, and resources that I’ve found helpful in understanding the criminal justice system and history of police in America that’s led us to where we are now.

Resources for learning about racism in travel and how to be anti-racist

People:

The four women below have platforms which I’ve learned immeasurable amounts from in the time I’ve followed them. You should be following them on their blogs and Instagrams and wherever else they make content – you will be better for it!

Oneika the Traveler

Gloria Atanmo

Hey Ashley Renee

How Not To Travel Like a Basic Bitch

Resource Roundups:

List of Anti-Racism resources (with ones not listed here)

75 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

Books:

*Recommendation: buy these books from the black owned book shop mentioned above.*

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness 
by Michelle Alexander

Black Stats: African Americans by the Numbers in the 21st Century – Monique W Morris

Push Out – The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools – Monique W Morris

On the Run – Fugitive Life in an American City – Alice Hoffman

Americanah – Chimamande Negozi Adichie

Forging Freedom: Black Women and the Pursuit of Liberty in Antebellum Charleston – Dr. Amrita Myers

Stamped from the Beginning – The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America – book by Ibram X Kendi

The Color of Law – Richard Rothstein

An African American & Latinx History of the United States – Paul Oritz

Podcasts:

episode: American Police (NPR Throughwalk)

Movies/Documentary/Series:

13th (Ava Duvernay) – Netflix

Kids for Cash – Netflix

Girls Incarcerated – Netflix

And of course, the directory I shared about with 200 black travel content creators.

I love you all! Take care of yourselves and keep learning. Please reach out if you’d like to talk more about what I’ve shared, even if just to vent about the past few weeks.

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Why Racism Is a Travel Issue

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