Travel Racism

A more random set of musings for today. Recently, I left a group on Facebook that was dedicated to women who love to travel. There were women from all over the world who shared pictures of their travel with one another, asked for travel advice and it was also a safe space to ask for help or advice – one girl’s story was that she had travelled far from home to see a guy that she had started seeing on a previous trip. Once she arrived, he was cold and distant and basically ditched her in a country where she didn’t speak the language and had nowhere to stay. Through the group, she met some other female travellers who took her in and gave her a shoulder to cry to get over the shock and from then on, she had a great trip.

So it couldn’t get better than a group that allows you to take a risk and share your passions in a non-judgemental way, right? Well that was my initial reaction.

In the last few weeks however, things took a turn for the nasty. It began with a self-proclaimed “Woman of Colour” (aka WOC)  posting a question about some prejudice that they had encountered on a recent trip and asking for advice and support. All fine. But then she post-fixed the comment saying that she didn’t want any responses from any non WOCs – i.e. white women. And understandably there was some backlash against this – at least, I found it understandable (and I fall into the WOC category.) If a Caucasian women had written about any prejudice, or how stares in certain countries made her uncomfortable (and I have seen this myself with blonde friends in the Middle East for example)  and said that WOC need not respond, everyone would have been up in arms.

All of a sudden, this group became a forum about whether it is OK to preclude one group of people (for any reason – hair colour, height etc) from answering a comment, if the poster of the question didn’t feel that they would have the relevant experience. From my point of view, it is never ok to categorically exclude someone. Even if their experience isn’t identical (and which two people’s are) it remains valuable. My mother taught me that if I don’t have anything nice or useful to say, then to shut up. So when someone asked where the best area to buy shampoo for afro hair in London was, despite being a through and through Londoner, I kept shtum. Likewise, when another girl asked about facing prejudice when travelling in certain countries, I responded that I didn’t feel that the prejudice was due to my being brown, but more just the view of women that was taken there – my brown male pals got things done easily without getting ripped off simply due to the luck that gave gave them a ‘y’ chromosome instead of a second ‘x’. This continues to be the case in certain aspects of my life in Korea. All I have to do is utter the magic words “I have to ask my husband” and anybody trying to sell me something backs deferentially away until the higher power in the house has spoken (little do they know that I have totally manipulated the stereotype to suit my needs and Raj would be perplexed if I started asking permission for, well, anything.. but that is a different story.)

It was a shame to leave the group but there was talk of a women of colour sub-group which I felt was even more divisive and against the spirit of the group as it was intended. Gone was the safe space, as well as the source of valuable travel information, but perhaps my newsfeed just needed a springtime de-clutter too…

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