The Weight of the Isms

Oh, how I hesitate to write something as weighty as this. Permit me to preface with, I am American. I was born and raised in North Jersey, a red state surrounded by some blue. To an interracial family that was never truly apparent to me until it was made so, when I hit middle school. My parents chose not to raise me as a proud person of color, but rather as a proud, independent & self-sufficient woman that has no barriers. If barriers arose, they would be such that my energy & effort could either surpass or hinder the situation. I would be remiss to say I was untouched by errant microaggressions & the myriad isms, but I never found myself placing blame to those particulars. Ignorance, socioeconomic levels, upbringing, culture, institutional isms, previous presidential mandates (IE. The War on Drugs, The Great Society, etc) were more my go-to for reasons that the world is the way it is.

I write this, sitting on my bed to the sound of yip-yap dogs and the swift revolutions of a necessary fan, while in Lisboa, Portugal. After a solid seven months of travel, my color and my nationality have been brought to my attention much more than I bargained for. As I deign to ever say someone is an expert in travel, because I believe it’s too mercurial & tumultuous to categorize, I think I’m far beyond an amateur and well below an expert. A previous post showcased a few things I’ve dealt with as a female, as a person of color, as a tall human, while traveling. Now, though, it’s different.

Often, I grapple with my POV on race relations in the States & the world. Rarely is it that my stance on societal systems (education, government, welfare, medical, pharma, etc) is judged accurately; typically people are way off. But I’ve noticed that people aren’t truly willing to have a conversation that has the potential to alter their cemented view. I grapple because it’s possible that I’m too empathetic and I try my damndest to place myself in another’s’ shoes, including the shoes that are so often seen as the aggressors or the terrorists or even simply, the enemies. I seek understanding and I am so utterly chagrined to say, I am too frequently crossing paths with those that are not also seekers. But instead, stagnant with their development. Or maybe, too comfortable in their singular perspective because it’s been proven right historically in their opinion and doesn’t have the possibility to change. With this, I struggle.

An example is this stunning country that is Portugal, which I think people sleep on in preference of Spain because it’s bigger and spoken about more. But Portugal is a gem (albeit an expensive one) and I’m deeply saddened by the thought that people’s entire experience in this country is based upon one tenet of it’s history & society. It’s difficult to categorize the racial experiences people will have in a country before they get there and even moreso, once there, to hear those warnings by anyone other than themselves. For instance, people far and wide are obsessed with Morocco and I will pretty much never return due to my own detrimental experience. My choice. No blame. Simply, me.

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EcoCamp outside Split, Croatia

We travel this planet and it is our prerogative to do that extra bit of research if there’s bone we want to pick in each place. For some it’s the foodie scene, others it’s the amount of environmental waste, and others it’s the racial atmosphere. No matter what, as my parents relayed, you are in charge of yourself. Shared a rental car to an Airbnb that turned out to be not as expected, so much so that you’d have a horrible time? Suck it up and get yourself back home, pay your share of the rental and find another way home. Sit down at a restaurant, starving & parched, only to realize you can’t eat anything on the menu, but feel bad because you’ve already sat and ordered a drink? Leave. Someone else will take your table. In your feelings because no one told you every single situation that might occur while in a new place if you’re: homosexual, of color, obese, old af, etc? You better start accumulating that background info though.

History is one of the best teachers we have. Use her! As such, it might be fruitful for people with worries on racial tensions in countries they’re heading to, to research a bit on colonization or ethnic genocide or recent wars, as opposed to TripAdvisor & FourSquare reviews. Which only perpetuate the ignorance on (primarily) any of the topics above. Of the countries I’ve recently been to, racism is a major factor. Let’s say it for what it is. BUT, there is always always further context & baggage held by the entire society as to why what’s happening is happening. I find it hard to believe that people like to be racist, they believe they’re acting in a sort of survival mode because (possibly) at some previous point, they were negatively affected.

A few notes —

Australia: Similar to the States, the Aboriginals were pushed away from the larger cities and into the outback where they wouldn’t be intrusive. Over time, the lack of employment forced them (like all peoples of the world) towards cities where they were/are inevitably shunned by society. They succumb to substances and stay on welfare long-term, possibly permanently as well as the fact that they’re institutionalized at much too high a rate considering how much of the population they actually make up.

Sicily, Italy: Arguably the first stop that many Africans make in their journey northward, to mainland Europe & the EU. However, they often stay stuck in Sicily as they await their papers for onward movement. Which can take anywhere from weeks to three years, where they also receive a government stipend (daily or weekly, I can’t recall) and a phone. Why leave if they can be complacent? As one Nigerian immigrant intoned to me on a long, roundabout walk discussing his trek. Sicilians feel overrun and the immigrants want to move on, but remain stuck. So who does one empathize with? Why not both?

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Southern Croatia: The experiences we attract each have a reason that is specific to us, it can’t possibly be generalized. With the Balkan Wars not that far removed as well as the ethnic genocide that was felt throughout the region more than once, it’s not hard to comprehend a little reluctance. A little caution and possibly some that push the boundaries further, IE. stopping & staring, saying nigger to the face of an American Black, grabbing a black womans’ arm & who knows what they were hoping. Countries all have a story, seek to understand and if it comes too unbearable for you, leave.

Budapest, Hungary: Nothing but love for me at least.

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Budapest, Hungary

Lisboa, Portugal: Dicey. People are very opinionated about this city and it’s understandable. It’s a melting pot of colors, creeds, and orientations with people mixing and melding everywhere. However, there’s much more than meets the eye. Again, it’s imperative to note that Portugal colonized five African countries and they only began the process of decolonization in the 1970s. In the scheme of progression, Portugal is lagging a bit in societal equality (as we all are, really). We can’t come over from our respective countries with the mindset that everywhere else is at the same place in their history as we are. As they say, meet people where they are, not where you want them to be. The same can be said for where we tread.

Maybe this was a rant. Maybe a journal entry. Maybe something else entirely, but if nothing else, I hope it spurred a thought that we might want to slow down to speed up.

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