Traveling isn’t easy. Contrary to what your Instagram feed says travel comes with a lot of ups and downs, but of course it’s easier for us to share all the good that travel brings. It connects us with people unlike ourselves, brings out our best qualities and opens our minds to cultures that were once unknown.
Being black while traveling and with a fro’ is a whole other ball game. As someone who has traveled to many countries (primarily European destinations), it wasn’t until I’d been around the block a few times, that I truly experienced the effects of traveling with my natural born hair.
So I kicked off the New Year in Dublin, Ireland. I was doe-eyed and ecstatic for my upcoming 3-week trip around Europe that would lead me to explore new territories. I’d explore Dublin once before and enjoyed it so much that my friend and I decided to spend our first NYE abroad in the Irish city. What started off as a normal walk through airport security, quickly took a turn which would act as a precursor for all the other strange happenings on this trip.
As I’m crossing the street to our bus terminal, a man who I don’t know reaches out to touch my Afro. Whoa. Talked about shocked. I mean I’ve been rocking my natural hair for a while now and would receive the occasional ‘ I love your hair’ as I passed by someone on the street. Never had someone actually dared to reach out and well, pet me.
For the first time ever, I was speechless. I saw his hand going towards my crown and so I did some crazy matrix backbend to stop him. My reflexes are better than I thought. Everything inside of me was itching with anger, but all I could do was remain calm. I know what you’re thinking, why didn’t I tell him that’s not cool? That he simply can’t go around touching black people’s hair like we’re zoo animals. Well, when traveling while black the mission is to always remain safe. I didn’t know him, what his intentions were or anything of the sort. So I decided to keep walking, but it was heavy on my mind long after.
When I finally reached my hostel in Temple Bar, I got dressed and headed out to pub hop the night away. Since this wasn’t my first time in Dublin, I was expecting the usual friendly Irish folks who welcome you into their shops and are always so warm. Instead, I was met with unusual stares and whispering amongst friends.
As my best friend and I sat in a restaurant waiting for our takeout, I watched a group of friends point, whisper and laugh while looking me straight in the eye. Later that night, another group of Europeans stared at me like they’ve never seen a brown skin before and like they’d definitely never seen a fro.
Was I some sort of spectacle? Yes. I realize that a lot of these people in Dublin weren’t Irish and were in town for the New Year celebrations just as I was. Many of them have never seen a black person in the flesh, let alone one with hair that grows towards the sun. I get it. I still think staring is rude, no matter the culture. I don’t mind having a conversation with someone who’s curious about my blackness, but I refuse to be the test subject of their ignorance and lack of empathy for others.
3 Ways you can deal with unwanted attention abroad:
My blackness is mine and my hair is a big part of who I am as a black woman. Travel can be draining and so can people’s perception of you, but what I realized is that I can’t change someone else’s perception or stereotype. So next time someone is staring at me in a daze, I’ll smile at them instead of getting angry. Or if they’re whispering with friends, I’ll wave. Perhaps I will start a conversation with them too and let them know how beautiful black is.
I’ve met myself many times over while exploring and realized that traveling is about connecting with other people and other cultures. I can’t blame someone else for their ignorance as it pertains to my skin or my hair, I can only educate them and keep on traveling the world.
Travel is supposed to make us better. Travel helps us grow and learn other cultures, but sometimes the roles will be reversed and we might have to teach other people about ours. I’m going to keep exploring the world with my favorite travel accessory, my fro.
Be sure to comment below with your experiences!