What is an “ally”? And, how is it relevant to travel? Being an ally of a person of color is all about proactively learning in order to counter your privilege, standing in solidarity with people of color, and speaking up when racism presents itself. What we do when we travel can have a significant impact on how we serve as allies.
Here are a few ways that you can be an ally with people of color when you travel:
Stay at Hotels Owned by People of Color
The National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators, and Developers (NABHOOD) has a listing of Black-owned hotels across the United States, as well as internationally. I’ve stayed at the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia, several times. It’s owned by Shelia Johnson, the co-founder of BET, and is a top-notch five-star resort. Ms. Johnson owns several other luxury properties, including the Hotel Bennett in Charleston, South Carolina (named one of the best new hotels in the world by Condé Nast Traveler), and Half Moon in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Eat at Restaurants Owned by People of Color
You’re going to have to eat while at your destination, so why not do it at a restaurant owned by a person of color? If you like global cuisine, then it’s likely you do not have to do much research to figure out whether a local restaurant is owned by a person of color (Indian, Thai, or Mexican food, anyone?). For some restaurants, though, it may not be so obvious. Here are some listings of Black-owned restaurants for Washington, D.C., New York, and Los Angeles, but, of course, try to do your own research ahead of time.
Research the History of Your Destination
First things first, don’t assume that the the way your own country addresses race is the only way. Research, read books, and ask questions! Ask locals about their heritage and history to learn more about how their culture has shaped their own identity. Connecting at an individual level can be very rewarding, and locals are very appreciative when tourists do more than just sightseeing and swimming at their hotel pool. Be curious – maybe you’ll even make a new friend!
Acknowledge Your Privilege (If You’re White), and Use it to Speak Up
What is White privilege? Wikipedia defines it as “societal privilege that benefits [W]hite people over non-[W]hite people.” It’s evolved through the centuries with roots in European colonialism and the Atlantic slave trade. No matter how liberal and progressive you may think you are, you have White privilege. Most Western societies are set up in such a way that Whites have an inherent advantage over people of color.
So, if you are White, what do you do? First, learn more about your privilege and how it benefits you. Then, recognize how your privilege impacts you when you travel. As a White person, do you ever have to worry about being harassed while you travel because of your race? Probably not.
Flip the tables and imagine yourself as a Black person flying first class with your significant other to a luxurious, gated resort for a vacation. Is there a possibility that you will get raised eyebrows when you hang out in the exclusive airport lounge? Is there a possibility that you will get weird looks from folks seated across from you on the plane? Is there a possibility that you will be questioned by security guards before entering the resort? Is there a possibility that you will be the only people with dark skin at the resort’s pool area? I think you see where I am going here. These types of worries are likely on a person of color’s mind when they travel.
So, what should you do about it? Feel guilty and apologetic? Maybe. At a minimum, you should be empathetic (imagine yourself in another person’s shoes). Try to be conscious of how you perceive people of color when you travel. If you see someone being harassed, speak up! The biggest thing you can do to be an ally is to start with yourself: examine your own (un)intentional biases and counter them by becoming more self-aware and taking action. Commit to being a welcoming and curious traveler who treats all people with kindness, dignity, and respect.
Be an open-minded human being and recognize that you may make mistakes along the way. As long as you are gracious and admit to your mistakes (and commit to learning more), you will make great progress in your journey to be an ally with people of color.