Note from BW of Brazil: Of course here at BW of Brazil, the focus is on the issue of race as it affects persons of visible African ancestry in Brazil. But if you haven’t figured it out racism/white supremacy is a global phenomenon. This means that, as a black person, wherever you go in the world you may come across treatment or attitudes that signal to you that your presence is not welcome. Damn shame! Here you are spending your hard-earned money on destinations in which there is a strong likelihood that the people receiving your money don’t look like you. And then there’s the other side. You open up your home to guests from overseas who you don’t even know and you get that look: “Oh…we don’t know you were…..BLACK!”
I’ve believed for some time that, in some ways, we should stop seeking acceptance from people who don’t look like us and start reaching out and accepting ourselves. People around the world, in general, want to be near their own. Why is it that it seems that black folks are the only ones who don’t see to get it? Anyway, in today’s story, I bring you a group of brothas who want to help the travel experiences of other black people be a bit more pleasant. Welcome to Diaspora. Black! If you’re coming to Brazil, perhaps they can be of service to you!
With apps and agencies specializing in tourism for Afro descendants, travelers try to escape racism and travel more often
by Guilherme Soares Dias
The number of Brazilians traveling abroad reached 8.5 million in 2016, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism. What no agency linked to tourism and none of the main agencies of travel and exchange of the country can find out what the percentage of black people there in this universe. There is no exact or even estimated data. “We know it’s a smaller audience,” it said simply answering one of the agencies, but without risking how much. But this, whoever travels, already knows. Even in places crowded with Brazilians, it is difficult to find blacks – even though Brazil has 54% of its population identified as preta ou parda (black or brown). In recent years, however, applications and tourism agencies and exchanges have emerged that have specialized in serving this audience, whether or not the focus is on a roadmap dedicated to African roots. These are important actions to try to change this reality.
Rio native and geographer Carlos Humberto da Silva used to receive visitors in his apartment in the tourist district of Santa Teresa, in Rio de Janeiro, through a famous international platform of shared accommodations. Several times, he faced surprise upon guests’ arrival, when they realized he was the host. A couple of Dutch left soon after meeting him, without giving a reason. And when he place a photograph on his profile on the site, Carlos saw the search for the property decrease.
When he was traveling, he also faced embarrassment in the hotels where he was staying. “I would go out to dinner at night with a group, for example, and when I came back I would hear the famous question, ‘Do you want to talk to someone?’ ‘Where are you going?’ Questions that they did not ask other guests.”
With this being a common experience of black people be they tourists or hosts, one of the initiatives that focused on turismo negro (black tourism) was Diaspora.Black, a virtual platform that networked travelers and hosts, connecting them to services related to black culture in various cities around the world. The challenge is to find space in cities where blacks can be unconcerned and feel welcome. The idea of the platform came after some of the creators, who were part of shared accommodation sites, went through racist experiences, such as guests leaving the house after discovering that the host is black or fewer guests compared to apartments of white friends.
“I ended up getting many African-Americans or people interested in black culture. These experiences demonstrated the need for a service that values and respects the população negra (black population),” believes Carlos, one of the founders of the platform, which offered his apartment in Rio.
In operation since July, the network is present in ten countries and has more than one thousand registered users. In addition to houses and private properties, the platform also articulates spaces such as quilombos, terreiros and cultural centers, with the purpose of strengthening the ethnic tourism network from the afrocentrado (Afrocentric) perspective. “The goal is to promote the access of visitors who value authentic experiences and, above all, agree with the preservation of local memory and traditions,” says platform developer Maria Rita Casagrande.
It reinforces that racial inequality and stigma are still reproduced on conventional platforms. According to a Harvard University study, blacks are 16 percent less likely to be accepted or receive guests. “Other research indicates that conventional platform algorithms restrict the visibility of black advertisers even in black-majority neighborhoods and cities, which favors income concentration and economic exclusion on collaborative platforms,” he points out.
It is against this logic that Ebony English works, which offers English classes with the appreciation of cultura negra (black culture) and provides exchange options for students and non-students interested in knowing that there are countries in connection with other blacks. The United States was a very strong destination, but with the dollar high it gave way to South Africa. “We mostly care for blacks who don’t feel they are contemplated in other programs. There are people who even made other exchanges and were not so welcome,” explains Marta Celestino, director of marketing and new business at the school. It reinforces that this is a market niche abandoned by institutional racism. “They are people who have money and are looking for products in which they feel represented.”
Militancy in the USA
In the United States, there is a movement called the Black Travel Movement, whose aim is to make blacks and Latinos seen as part of people who are traveling at leisure and not just on duty. There are 54 million blacks (equivalent to half of the black self-declared population in Brazil) and at least 10 million take an international trip a year. In the US domestic market, this population moves US$ 48 billion, according to the Instituto Mandala, specializing in tourism.
Some travel apps help African Americans who want to get in touch with the black culture of other places. One of the first publications in this direction was the Travel Noire, a platform that brings together employees of posts from different countries and aims to provide tools and resources for unconventional traveler, while the Nomadness Travel Tribe brings together about 15,000 members and allows sharing opportunities travel and organization of packages to common destinations.
Americans are the largest audience of ethnic tourism also in Brazilian destinations. In Bahia, where the segment is encouraged by the local Tourism Secretariat, there were 50 exclusive flights to the segment in 2016. The proposal is experience tourism in which there is cultural immersion. Among the most requested tours are Candomblé in Salvador, participation in blocos afros rehearsals, festivals such as the Festa da Boa Morte (Feast of the Good Death) and Yemanja, capoeira workshops, products associated with Afro-Bahian culture, visits to quilombo (maroon) communities, terreiro cooking workshops, among other activities.
For “professional” black travelers, who already have experience at breaking the world, racism manifests itself in different ways in each place. Most of them start off “subtle,” passing through stares as they enter shops, more elaborate searches at airports leading up to racial offenses. This is what blogger Paula Augot spent when she visited Finland. “I suffered two racist attacks in Helsinki. The first time a man called me a servant; on the second, another one intimidated me with a look and it seemed that he was going to draw a weapon the way he put his hand inside his coat. It was one of the worst moments of my life. I was afraid, but I kept staring at him, after all, there was nothing wrong with me. It was a very traumatizing situation,” says the Brazilian who lives in London and writes her travel reports on the blog No Mundo da Paula (In the World of Paula).
An experienced traveler, she says she has given up on going to Eastern European countries because she is alone. “In recent years we are seeing the far right surge in many places and there has been an increase in hate crimes. So, in countries with less immigrant presence, I always feel more uncomfortable,” she says. In the opposite direction, Paula has also had positive experiences, as in Turkey, where being black made it clear that she was a tourist. “I was the attraction anywhere in Istanbul, people talk to me, praising my hair … It’s ok that it was often just that I seemed to be a tourist and making purchases, but being black brought me many advantages,” she believes. But it was in Cuba that the blogger felt inserted. There, she could see herself somehow resembling the locals and thus was treated more warmly. “I was spared the scams for tourists, after all I looked like one of them.”
Paula Augot, from the blog No Mundo da Paula, felt really good in Cuba, where she got to see herself in some way as a local. Credit: Personal archive
Travel journalist David Carneiro, 33, recalls that no one likes not feeling welcome or offended unjustly, but that he never stopped traveling because of these fears. “Any racist act always says more about the person in himself than about the value of ourselves. I’m not paralyzed by fear. This doesn’t mean a passive attitude towards the problem. Whenever possible, I react actively, but not violently, to situations of prejudice,” he points out.
Married to a Romanian, he has lived in the eastern European country for four years and faced more bureaucracy to get a visa to the country compared to one of his white friends, in addition to obtaining permission for less time. In London, he was mistaken for a store clerk trying to buy souvenirs. In Morocco, he passed by on the street, and even after being discovered as a Brazilian, the enthusiasm of the hosts continued: he got hugs, invitations to tea, to meet the family. “It’s not a rule, but generally, the humbler the destination, the warmer and friendlier the treatment has been with me,” he recalls.
The journalist’s passion for travel is explained as a time to face a change of perspective. “It’s the opportunity to see things and people in a different way, an exercise in knowing other realities and putting oneself, even momentarily, in the place of those people who until then were only unknown. Traveling also made me avoid generalizations: I believe there are interesting and open people in the most racist countries, just as there are people who are ignorant and have limited vision in the most educated and evolved countries,” he says.