This post has been inspired by a few blogging buddies asking whether we’ve had any negative racial experiences in Croatia, as Mr C is black, and there aren’t that many black people in Croatia.
You can also read our previous post Notes from a “stranger” in Croatia.
It is always interesting to see people’s reactions when they see us as a mixed-race couple (Ms E white Italian, Mr C black British) and although we’ve never had any hostile racist reactions, there is curiosity nonetheless.
In London, where we live, nobody bats an eyelid at us. We are just part of the crowd in this cosmopolitan city which is a melting pot of
270 different nationalities and 300 different languages.
And we love it that way.
When we travel abroad, it’s a different matter as we observe (and in turn are observed by) people in different countries, from different cultures, different ethnicities and their reaction at seeing a black man with a white woman.
We often travel as a couple to Italy and to Croatia, and in both countries we’ve never had any negative experiences, although people do stare, especially older people in the smaller villages where they are not accustomed to seeing black people in the flesh, or if they see them they are usually poor immigrants (especially in Italy) and Mr C does not fit this description. So we think most people just stare out of curiosity.
And then there is travel to far-away destinations, take for example our recent trip to the Caribbean. Our plane carried 460 passengers, only a handful of which were black. Upon arrival in Barbados and approaching immigration, Mr C was waved by several immigration officers and invited to go through an empty immigration lane marked “residents” and I had to pull him away to the normal long winding tourist queue, so he said to the immigration guy “sorry mate, I’ve just come from London.” – although he really wanted to ask “Is it because I is black?” and next time he’ll probably take advantage of being a black man and go to the shorter queue!
In our hotel which catered only for British tourists, Mr C was the only black guest, as all the other black people where local hotel staff. On a couple of occasions, Mr C was mistaken by guests for a bar staff “hey Big Dave how’s it going?“, although luckily nobody asked him to bring them a beer or make them a rum-punch cocktail.
A married British couple that we befriended and were also there on holiday, commented that some of the hotel guests thought that ours was probably a holiday romance (you know the old cliché, white rich middle-aged woman travelling to pick up local black guy for love…).
So that gave me the idea to play along with it! When we left Barbados to board our cruise ship, we were picked up by our local transfer and we shared the taxi with another white British couple who were also going on the same ship. As we approached the port, we had to stop at the entrance for passport control. Three of us showed our passports, but Mr C had locked his passport in his suitcase which was now in the boot of the car, so the port-inspector looked at the three of us and asked “who is he with?” so I put up my hand and replied “oh he’s with me, I just picked him up from the beach a couple of days ago!” The taxi driver didn’t know what to do, and panicked as he believed my story and thought we would now be in trouble, but the inspector saw the funny side of my joke and laughingly said in his charming Bajan accent “oh really? well next time make sure you keep his passport for him” and waved us through, so we could board our ship.
I kept up the story of “just picked him up from the beach” for the remainder of the holiday, and it was fun to look at people’s faces and reactions.
But in other countries, we’ve experienced that Mr C is a magnet to the locals. Our ship stopped in a small island in the Grenadines, called Union Island, on a beautiful deserted Caribbean beach with no houses nor infrastructure, apart from a few rustic beach shacks run as bars by locals. Our group of 6 put down towels to sunbathe and swim, and Mr C was soon after approached by a local “rasta” guy who enquired as to Mr C’s origins, and upon hearing that Mr C is of Nigerian origins but British, the guy said “oh you rich man then, got yo’self a white woman, ain’t you lucky you not living in Nigeria?” and after some conversation, Mr C ended up giving the guy some change.
The same thing happened on other stops during the holiday, in Grenada, in St Vincent’s, and after a while I said to Mr C “haven’t you noticed all these people just befriend you, to make you feel sorry for them and get your money?”.
In other places which we’ve visited in the past, similar episodes happened. In Egypt on several occasions, Mr C was approached by locals, who would call him “my brother“, “my friend” or “Nubian man” and similar experiences in Cuba, and again Mr C ended up giving them some small money as he felt in a privileged position.
Mr C is quite a sweet person and very generous with people in a worse situation than his own.
What do you do in similar situations when you travel, do you give money to beggars?
Or is it best not to give to individuals who target tourists, does it just encourage them to think that this is an easy way to get money? If you want to help, is it best to give to a charitable organization in the country you are visiting? Most local guides we have used in the past when travelling in foreign countries, actively discourage tourists from giving money to beggars, especially children, as they explain that it is not good for their society and it just perpetuates the problem.
I know it’s a complex subject with no easy and “one-fits-all” answer, so we just tend to go with the flow and give according to the circumstances, as we do recognize that we are very lucky and extremely fortunate that we can have expensive travels and holidays, whereas in some countries people live a hand-to-mouth existence, or struggle day-to-day to feed their families.
source: Urban Dictionary.com
Is it because I is black?
Phrase coined by Sasha Baron Cohen - the ironically white, Cambridge educated comedian who has made a really successful career out of his TV persona/s. Sasha is not black and is not a Muslim. The phrase follows his screen belief that he is a black gangster from Staines (England), called Ali G.
Police officer: Can you please move back to the side sir or we will have to take you to the station?
Ali G: Wait a minute, come on, is it because I is black?