Encountering Racism Abroad

In Ethiopia the most dominant skin colour is black. Therefore, when I traveled there, naturally my white skin stuck out and I was an easy target for a variety of things.

1. Everyone stared at me
-No matter where I was going or what I was doing my skin was different, and that made me funny/interesting/something new to look at. The picture above shows a market that I was trying to take a picture of, while instead, a couple of friends stopped to stare me down.

2. White skin means I must have money for everyone
-Absolutely every single time I walked out of the hotel I was at some point approached by a stranger and asked to give money for a special cause. Examples of special causes include money for university books, money for food, water, food, or money for practically anything else you can think of.

3. Other white tourists are instantly your best friend
-As you walk down the street other white tourists will smile, nod or wave at you even though you have never met them before. They are also quick to come over and talk about anything that might be on their mind.

4. White means you can be taken advantage of
-I was mugged 4 times in 2 weeks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (luckily I was never harmed probably due to the fact that locals, in general, are fairly nice people and as I was told countless times by locals, stealing is okay, hurting someone is not). In addition, prices seemed to be triple what any local would pay which led to an exceedingly annoying amount of haggling.

Encountering racism abroad is also not just specific to Ethiopia, or Africa even. I was well prepared for these sorts of activities as countless travel guides all describe different racist events that can occur when you choose to travel. People of Asian descent travelling to Asia from North America and being treated differently than white Westerners, African American woman travelling alone through Europe being believed to be prostitutes, African Americans travelling to Africa and still being considered as ‘white’, and once I even traveled with my French teacher to Paris and he wasn’t considered french there because he was from Quebec.

Side Note: This is not always a bad thing as my friend from the Philippines is able to use her Asian looks to fake being foreign and consequently skip airport lines in American airports because the attendant doesn’t want to deal with someone who doesn’t speak English.

Now none of these things, to me at least, were ever that bad. I mean I don’t mind being stared at, talking down prices is not that harmful and I managed to foil all mugging attempts, they were more just annoying. But seeing as there are different levels of harm that are being caused (being thought of as a prostitute does not sound fun), I can see how this can escalate into a problem quickly.

The best advice I can give while travelling is to not fret over these small issues, but rather to be prepared enough to be able to handle it if the situation arises and otherwise, enjoy your travels!

I would just like to make sure that everyone knows that I am never trying to sound racist and if this post comes off as racist in any way please let me know so I can fix it.

As always: comments, questions, concerns or even random thoughts? I would love if you shared them with me so please comment below!

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