We all have unique experiences when we visit a different city or country, but how often does your black identity have an impact on your trip? In our Diary of a Black Traveler series, we ask members of the Travel Noire family to share their personal experiences of being a black traveler in an unfamiliar space. Maame Blue (@maame_blue) shares why she quit her job to experience a different way of life in Melbourne, Australia and explains how dealing with racism head-on taught her more about herself.
Travel Noire: Why did you decide to go to Melbourne, Australia?
Maame: I got a one-year working holiday visa to go to Australia. I quit my job and was excited to experience living in another country.
Travel Noire: Did you connect with the destination on a personal level due to your black heritage?
Maame: Not really, it was more about having a change and I had some friends in London who used to live there and raved about it as a cultural hub.
Travel Noire: Did you feel like you were treated differently because you were Black and from a different country?
Maame: Absolutely. Never have I lived in a place where so many complete strangers have tried to touch my hair, comment on it, make jokes (they thought were friendly) about it.
Travel Noire: What challenges did you face (if any) because you were black and how did you overcome them?
Maame: One of the first mistakes I made that I never repeated again, was going to a comedy club with some new white and non-black friends. Most of the comedians were fine, but the headliner took about 15 minutes to do a set about the n-word and why he, a fifty-year-old white Australian man, liked to say it. I’ve never heard someone say the word so frequently in such a short period of time, with about three hundred people just laughing loudly along with him, and me being the sole black person in the room. I made my exit as soon as I could, feeling more victimized than I thought was possible. I couldn’t tell if the people I had gone with were also laughing, but I had to have a long conversation with a newer friend about why it was wrong and had impacted me so negatively – as you can probably guess, I was the first black friend she had ever had.
Travel Noire: How did you grow from overcoming that experience?
Maame: I think I held on more tightly and proudly to my blackness after that, more than I had done in London. There’s something about feeling singled out that either makes you shrink or rise. Plus I made a more conscious effort to understand the history of the country, to see the way they treat their own indigenous people to this day, just because of the color of their skin, and I worked to connect more with people that looked like me, or non-black friends who were woke enough that I never had to explain what being woke was.
Travel Noire: What impact has that trip had on your life?
Maame: I definitely know myself a lot better, have become more diverse in how I interact with other cultures and am more motivated than ever to focus my efforts towards equality. But all that aside, I’m way more conscious about surrounding myself with people who understand me, not the ones who see me as the token black friend, which has happened more times without me realizing it than I care to say.
Travel Noire: Would you encourage other black travelers to visit Melbourne?
Maame: I would because culturally and creatively, it has a lot of potential. The history is rich, albeit extremely sad and the ramifications of which are still rife around Australia. But there are a lot more people of color outwardly challenging the status quo now, and white allies speaking loudly about the injustices to Australia’s own indigenous people. Additionally, as a country, it has some of the most beautiful sights and is a transient enough place where you can meet all sorts of people, some that think like you and some that don’t. And I think if anything, it can help you get to know yourself better.
What else should people know about Melbourne based on your experience?
Maame: The arts flourish in Melbourne, and I’ve been able to see plays, shows, bands and festivals I haven’t had the opportunity to do in London, because financially it’s easier in Australia. Being a black woman and dating there, however, is as you can imagine, still not a walk in the park.
Source: Travel – Travel Noire