NPR logo Ohayo Gozaimasu! Traveling While Black to Tokyo and Beyond

From Farai

Ohayo Gozaimasu! Traveling While Black to Tokyo and Beyond

Yesterday on News & Notes, economist Julianne Malveaux talked about strength or weakness of the U.S. dollar abroad, and the number of trips African-Americans make for personal vacations or family business. The TOTAL number of trips is 75 million (obviously many people take several), most of them in the U.S.

Bahia fsaid, Flickr.com hide caption

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fsaid, Flickr.com

But there is a hearty band of us fortunate African-American travelers who get a chance or find a way to go overseas. I know a lot of friends who have saved and saved so they can visit Bahia, the Afro-Brazilian cultural hub; or Ghana; or South Africa; or Europe. Everyone I know who's traveled abroad has been enlightened, empowered...and embarrassed.

I'm not talking mega-embarrassed, although sometimes you get that too. But every time you go overseas, you have a new chance to show you have no idea what you are doing.

I have been called out or gently instructed in customs and manners by:
—an Afro-French train conductor
—Tokyo restaurateurs (oh, the humiliation of trying to wear shoes onto a tatami mat!)
—a Rwandan in South Africa
—Austrian guys in Amsterdam

Let's see... you know about the tatami mat.... no shoes.

The train conductor got on me and my pal (rightfully so) for spreading out across seats on a popular route. Of course, we had been up for practically two days straight, so we were pretty unthinking. (This was more than a decade ago, when I COULD stay up for days straight.)

The Rwandan cautioned me about making assumptions about similarities between Bantu peoples... and for messin' up his name.

The Austrians rightfully pointed out that I had no real idea what happened during World War II (again, I plead the ignorance of the young...er)

But ya know what? A little embarrassment, even some mild humiliation, is a small price to pay for seeing the beauty of the world. And in my experience, if you can survive racial issues here in the U.S., you can deal with them abroad too. It isn't as if they don't exist, but I don't know anywhere there aren't issues.

So... I leave you with some lovely pix of my trip to Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima in 2002. I was on a fellowship studying manga, or graphic novels and comics. It was amazing, top to bottom. The museum documenting the bombing and aftermath of Hiroshima is humbling... similar in tone and feeling to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa.

So... here are my questions to you:
Where have you been?
Why did you love it or hate it?
Were you embarrassed at any point? (Fess up.)
And will you travel abroad again?

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