Quoted: On Volunteering and Culture Shock

Peace Corps Ad

Once I arrived for my three-month training program in the small town of Santa Lucia Milpas Altas [Guatemala], I was disturbed to learn I was only one of seven minorities (and two Latinas) in our group of 52. We were completely outnumbered bu Caucasian trainees. Suddenly, my earlier misgivings were overshadowed by a more pressing question: Why are there so few minorities in the Peace Corps?

You’d think that as a US government agency operating in 77 countries, the Peace Corps would do a better job of representing our nation’s racial diversity. But only 19 percent of the more than 8,665 Peace Corps volunteers are minorities. This, in a country where almost 35% of the population is non-Hispanic white. [...]

As it turns out, I have experienced culture shock in Guatemala, only it has been through the misrepresentation of the United States as a homogenous country by an agency that should do more to encourage diversity among its volunteers.

– Susan Alvarado, “Culture Shock in Guatemala”, Latina, September 2011

The university I was assigned to was in a city about 75 minutes outside of the capital, and I remained a spectacle for the nine months I was there. I should state that I have never been mistaken for anything but Black. Even before I locked my hair, I have always had full lips, a broad nose, high cheek bones and dark skin. All of which made me so completely unprepared for people stopping dead in their tracks in the street, the marketplace, or basically anywhere I was, and starring with mouths open, pointing and yelling at me or to whoever they might be saying, “Nigeria!” “Hamaica (Jamaica),” “Mali,” “Burkina Faso,” and so on.

I couldn’t understand why I was such an attraction when right in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia there were people who looked just like me. Furthermore, my Filipino, East Indian and European co-workers never even got so much as a glance in the streets. All of the attention made me wonder….do Black folks not volunteer in Africa? Because if they did, I wondered what looked so alien about me–a Black woman–in Africa?

– Adisa Vera Beatty, “Color Struck: Black and Volunteering In Africa,” Clutch Magazine

  • Kara

    Good point. I wasn’t aware of the lack of diversity in the Peace Corps. I’m not terribly surprised though and it does need to be addressed. I love volunteering and I thought about going into the Peace Corps or Americorps after college, but figured I couldn’t pay the bills in either program. I was worried (since I grew up poor and got through college poor) that I wouldn’t be able to afford volunteering and traveling. I figured it was for people who could either have their parents help them out or with trust funds. *shrug* The Peace Corps would have been a good idea after college now that I know more about it. Americorps, still a pretty crap bargain. Have you seen those stipends? Sheesh.

  • Soulsentwined

    I’ve also heard that for TEFL programs many institutions prefer to hire white people to teach English. It is not impossible for POC to be hired but it is more challenging and they may be assigned less desirable locations.

  • Soulsentwined

    There are probably several reasons for low participation of POC in Peace Corps or Teaching English programs.
    a) a college degree is required; blacks and Latinos are under represented on college campuses
    b) many first generation college students are pressured by family to study business/engineering which seem to be uncommon majors for these programs
    c)Safety concerns – as a black woman who briefly considered the Peace Corps I definitely thought about this
    d) Under advertisement of these programs and the financial or professional benefits. The only program I’d heard of was the Peace Corps. After I ruled that out I was unaware of other opportunities to work abroad for someone with no work experience and a college degree.

    If I had known more about opportunities to teach English in Asia I might of considered it, when I graduated in 2003 and was unemployed. I’ve been reading expat blogs and a lot of these teachers get to live in major cities and earn enough to pay off their student loans and travel during breaks. Now that I’m more established I feel like it would disrupt my career to move abroad.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve noticed the same thing too.  I’ve never lived in France but have traveled there, and as an American who speaks French well they seem to be all over it.  But yes, could clearly tell that being a North American black person (they generally assume that if you are Canadian if you speak French) was preferable.
    I had a friend who spent a semester abroad but she’s very light and with her hair relaxed, she was mistaken for North African and she was treated horribly in restaurants, while attempting to get an appointment in a hair salon, etc.  
    Foreign black people are cooler to many white people aren’t they ? I’m still always intrigued by how many people I know who are my age who have a white mom and an African dad (b/c I’m in my late 30′s and these parents were hooking up in the 60′s-I think of all of the shocked parents they must have had).  Weren’t Africans kind of viewed differently back then? I thought I’d read that somewhere.

  • http://twitter.com/DYomoah Doreen

    I would have to say that depending on where you are, I have to completely disagree with you that most of the expat community is white. In China, for example, there are far more expats who are Japanese and Korean. In Ghana, there are way, way way more expats who are Senegalese, Nigerian, Guinean, Togolese, and Beninois than ones who are white.

    The TEFL world- yeah, it is predominately white. I don’t want to get too far off topic of the original post, but this is largely because a lot of countries have policies, and if not, individual companies have policies that automatically exclude people who are not citizens of the UK, the US, Ireland, Australia, and Canada from teaching. The rest of us, even if we *are* English speakers, are incapable of doing it properly English, being citizens of predominantly non-white countries.

  • http://twitter.com/DYomoah Doreen

    Ugh, the photo treatment. When I (black woman) was living in China and teaching kindergarten, and we went on a field trip to the zoo. A man and his son came up to me to ask if he could take a picture of me. I felt so humiliated, so dehumanized, that I was being given the same treatment as the animals that we came to see and learn about. And I couldn’t say no, because my students were around, and being 3-4 years old they clearly would have no comprehension of what was happening besides me being mean to people, because that’s obviously how it would have been portrayed.

    Here in Ghana, I’ve noticed the same thing happening to Asian people. I don’t know what it is, and there is clearly some cognitive dissonance going on, because on the one hand, people claim that whites and Asians are the EXACT SAME RACE, and the on the other hand, when Asian people are walking around, they mock, them, laugh at them, yell “ching chong ching chong” or “mee hao” (yeah, I know)… or “China! China! China!” and they never do that to white people. It’s… interesting, when these same people (and I’m not making a generalization here, I mean specific people with whom I’ve spoken about this and who participate in all the ching chongery) claim that white (as in, European/people of European descent) and Asian/people of Asian descent are indecipherable from one another.

  • Gemma

    It’s really unfortunate that in order to be considered well-traveled, one has to go to places inhabited by such provincial doofuses. Maybe if they at least watched TV once in a while, or took the time to explore the world via the Internet, they wouldn’t be so childishly astonished by the sight of a human being of a non-local ethnicity.

    • Anonymous

      That’s not really what is happening here.  This treatment was reserved for me as a black woman.  I’ve been several places where being white, having light colored hair, and being tall or tallish were not normal.  Yet those people were not harassed, or mocked, and people did not attempt to photograph them after pointing and staring.
      So the idea that there is some place in the world where people aren’t provincial doofuses who have never seen someone who doesn’t look like them isn’t the point, and I’m well aware that as a black person I’m going to get treated like this in many places outside the western world.As for being a member of a non-local ethnicity/race, I actually am in South and Central America, but I realize that in some parts of those countries, they still haven’t managed to see their own local black people.  You cannot suggest that a poor person in a developing country is going to be Facebooking or watching American TV (not that there are loads of black people on TV) in order to educate himself.My point and issue is that white people get treated like people in many places where they stand out like sore thumbs, and black people do not.I think I mentioned (or perhaps didn’t) being in an area full of tiny (well under 5 feet tall) indigenous people.  They are brown.  I am brown.  They have dark hair.  I have dark hair.  Yet they pointed and laughed at me, and not at the red heads (which is universally the most rare hair color), or people covered in freckles, or the American and European white people who towered over them.  So why is it in a town that has no white people, and has no one over 5’2, a 6 foot tall European woman isn’t pointed at or mocked?   How did they get the memo that a white person is  person but I’m some kind of zoo animal that they shouldn’t respect?

  • Anonymous

    I’m well aware of how I am allowed to act in different countries and would not assume I’d “win” in a dispute.  In India, we had a tour guide who actually grabbed the cameras and smashed them for us.  I appreciated that.   If I was outnumbered and alone, I’d either hold up my jacket or ignore it.  
    In most cases, I give people mean looks.  In Russia, some Chechens or something similar came up to me on two different occasions (in one case touching my arm), but stern stares and a loud “No” did the trick in both cases.  So the pair who had a camera instantly pocketed it and stopped the grinning.  And the pair who were selling things on the street stopped as well.  
    I’ve never been confronted in private, and in the cases when I was harassed, it was in public places and also in places where being an American with money was useful (so for example, having a paid driver or tour guide).
    In some countries, the power of the dollar will make people defend you.  And I don’t get harassed in Western Europe as a Black American and the amount of curiosity has dwindled noticeably over the past decade.  But there I was always assumed to be American or Canadian.
    In the most recent instance when it occurred, I was at a popular tourist destination so I just gave the guys (who were not native to that country either) nasty looks.  If one of the park rangers had been around, I might have seen if he would have dealt with them.  
    I mean, I don’t exactly want to or get to start fights here without consequence, so why would you think that I’d think that I get to do that abroad?
    In my experience, expressing disapproval is pretty useful if the people have any conscious.  Some people suddenly become very uncomfortable or embarrassed.
    Clearly the decision to ignore or make eye contact varies country by country.  I would ignore it if I was in the Middle East, since in my experience some of them do not take kindly to being confronted by a woman.   
    A lot of people have been nice but the nasty ones definitely stand out in your mind, and you wonder how some people are nonplussed and others go out of their way to be as horrible as possible.

  • Anonymous

    I’m well aware of how I am allowed to act in different countries and would not assume I’d “win” in a dispute.  In India, we had a tour guide who actually grabbed the cameras and smashed them for us.  I appreciated that.   If I was outnumbered and alone, I’d either hold up my jacket or ignore it.  
    In most cases, I give people mean looks.  In Russia, some Chechens or something similar came up to me on two different occasions (in one case touching my arm), but stern stares and a loud “No” did the trick in both cases.  So the pair who had a camera instantly pocketed it and stopped the grinning.  And the pair who were selling things on the street stopped as well.  
    I’ve never been confronted in private, and in the cases when I was harassed, it was in public places and also in places where being an American with money was useful (so for example, having a paid driver or tour guide).
    In some countries, the power of the dollar will make people defend you.  And I don’t get harassed in Western Europe as a Black American and the amount of curiosity has dwindled noticeably over the past decade.  But there I was always assumed to be American or Canadian.
    In the most recent instance when it occurred, I was at a popular tourist destination so I just gave the guys (who were not native to that country either) nasty looks.  If one of the park rangers had been around, I might have seen if he would have dealt with them.  
    I mean, I don’t exactly want to or get to start fights here without consequence, so why would you think that I’d think that I get to do that abroad?
    In my experience, expressing disapproval is pretty useful if the people have any conscious.  Some people suddenly become very uncomfortable or embarrassed.
    Clearly the decision to ignore or make eye contact varies country by country.  I would ignore it if I was in the Middle East, since in my experience some of them do not take kindly to being confronted by a woman.   
    A lot of people have been nice but the nasty ones definitely stand out in your mind, and you wonder how some people are nonplussed and others go out of their way to be as horrible as possible.

  • Anonymous

    I’m interested in Peace Corps for loan forgiveness and animal husbandry/veterinary experience.

    I’m not sure if female participation is particularly low as well, but one of my obstacles to participating is convincing my mother. She’s told me of stories about female participants getting killed, raped or assaulted. And she even cited the massive tsunami in Japan as a reason why I shouldn’t go, because the natural elements could kill me (which supposedly couldn’t happen to me while I’m in the US).

    Maybe this is due to some propaganda, but if this is what I’m up against traveling abroad I’m not afraid. I could suffer worse, and in fact have suffered, while being in the US.

    So, it may not necessarily be that students and young persons don’t know or don’t want to go. Maybe their parents don’t want them to go for some reason. But I figure it would be a good opportunity for me to make up for my overall lack of international experience as well as contribute to lessening my debt and helping me look good for grad school/master’s program/etc.

    • Anonymous

      There is a notorious case from the 70′s when a female Peace Corps volunteer was killed by another American (another volunteer I think) and a combination of the Peace Corps not wanting to sully its name and bad police work (in Tonga?) resulted in the murdered getting off scott free.  
      So your mom might be exaggerating but the way that the organization worked to avoid being embarrassed was enough that it could be a deterrent all of these decades later.  Perhaps she remembers that case, and honestly if you were a parent, would you want to risk it.  I think this guy had been harassing and stalking the young woman in question, so the ball was dropped in so many ways.  

      • Anonymous

        I think this also factors into why a lot of POC do not participate. The overall danger of being the wrong gender and/or wrong skin color. The danger would be magnified if you’re queer and/or dis/abled. It would definitely matter if you’re in a place like Libya where they spread propaganda of Black Africans as hired hit men.

      • Anonymous

        I think this also factors into why a lot of POC do not participate. The overall danger of being the wrong gender and/or wrong skin color. The danger would be magnified if you’re queer and/or dis/abled. It would definitely matter if you’re in a place like Libya where they spread propaganda of Black Africans as hired hit men.

      • kate m

        There is an amazing book about this incident called American Taboo.  Pretty shocking story and definitely worth a read.  Put me off the Peace Corps for good…not that I was particularly interested to begin with.

      • kate m

        There is an amazing book about this incident called American Taboo.  Pretty shocking story and definitely worth a read.  Put me off the Peace Corps for good…not that I was particularly interested to begin with.

      • Anonymous

        http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/parents-slain-volunteer-peace-corps-error-led-murder/story?id=12607274

        This story is very detailed and illuminating. Is participation in this organization even safe?

        • Anonymous

          Can the Peace Corps guarantee every volunteer’s safety? In this case, there were errors on the part of the people in the staff office that probably led to this woman’s death. In most other cases, it seems to be PC’s handling after the incidences that is of issue. I would not join and expect that the organization could protect me from crime. When you join you still have to remember you are in another country that more than likely has an inept if not downright corrupt law enforcement and criminal justice system. You don’t have diplomatic immunity or any other State Department perks. I’m not apologizing for PC’s handling of the case in the link, but I think people are taking a horrific but rare incident and generalizing that to the entire organization.  

          • Anonymous

            This incident was particularly callous on the part of PC. I mean, a girl is murdered and you can’t determine why or honor the dead woman for her family’s sake? They returned her things in a cardboard box in such an unofficial and offensive manner. I hope that if I died while serving PC would treat my death with a little more seriousness and respect.

            PC should have removed this girl. She should have been placed in a safe house or something. No one should have had access to the e-mail which she was promised would be confidential. She did the right thing by reporting this guy. I mean, does PC want to be known for hiring rapists and murderers? This isn’t the first time one of PC’s hired volunteers has killed someone. People figure they’re immune to persecution b/c they’re outside the US and things are done differently.

            My understanding is that the organization is broad. But just based on the interview of the woman sent to represent PC, I don’t think they value their female membership all that much. She apparently couldn’t say anything lest it tarnish the organization’s image. I hope that people are being told that a part of their experience includes being privy to crimes that would perhaps be less tolerated in the states. That would be an especially hard pill to swallow since a crime like rape and sexual assault often goes underreported in the states.

            And when women are raped and sexually assaulted there may be no help for them. It’s like trying to punish them for what happened, something which is not their fault. Even if you do all the right things and blend in with local women that won’t make you immune to rape and sexual assault. That’s like saying even local women don’t get raped and assaulted, and that’s hardly true in most countries.

            I’m still interested in the organization, but with a track record like this it’d be really difficult to convince my mother. And I would need to be sure I had some deciding power in where I’m placed and that I would be fully ready to live in a different setting. I wouldn’t want to live by myself, but even that may offer only limited protection.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t think that it is their job to watch everyone but they do have the power to fire or expel volunteers, whether Americans or locals who are stalking, terrorizing, or raping people.

            So in the case in the 70′s, the murderer was another PC volunteer who was harassing and stalking the girl he wound up killing.  Are you suggesting that ignoring the very real threat that he posed was appropriate?  They did have the power to remove him and they did not.  They had the power to investigate the man who was raping students and who eventually murdered the volunteer who reported him.  

            There are way too many cases to act as though the PC just made  mistakes once or twice.  We just brought up two examples but those are not the only ones.

            I actually know another woman who left her PC assignment early and was always very tight-lipped about why…now I really wonder…

    • Anonymous

      oh, they have a much worse track record on the safety of female volunteers than I’d thought…

      http://www.politicsdaily.com/2011/01/17/peace-corps-turns-50-amid-charges-of-rape-murder-and-cover-up/

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, I did a quick search and came up with a few recent stories and some admissions on Jezebel. It’s apparently a big problem if out of the over 44,000 women who have volunteered at least 1,000 have reported being raped or sexually assaulted.

        As far as death stats go 239 from 1961 to 1999. 23 up to 2011 being due to murder. So, as far as incidence rates of death it’s like 3 out of 10,000 volunteers. Overall rape according to PC it’s around 2%, but I believe it’s much higher if we’re all familiar with how under reported these crimes tend to be.

        Obama has recently changed PC leadership so I hope these things do improve. I may still consider joining, but I think it matters where you’re placed and how PC runs things in particular regions. But PC mishandling and cover-up is involved most certainly.

        One girl was killed b/c she reported a fellow volunteer and citizen of Benin b/c he was raping his students. PC did not handle the situation properly b/c somehow he knew she had reported him.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, I did a quick search and came up with a few recent stories and some admissions on Jezebel. It’s apparently a big problem if out of the over 44,000 women who have volunteered at least 1,000 have reported being raped or sexually assaulted.

        As far as death stats go 239 from 1961 to 1999. 23 up to 2011 being due to murder. So, as far as incidence rates of death it’s like 3 out of 10,000 volunteers. Overall rape according to PC it’s around 2%, but I believe it’s much higher if we’re all familiar with how under reported these crimes tend to be.

        Obama has recently changed PC leadership so I hope these things do improve. I may still consider joining, but I think it matters where you’re placed and how PC runs things in particular regions. But PC mishandling and cover-up is involved most certainly.

        One girl was killed b/c she reported a fellow volunteer and citizen of Benin b/c he was raping his students. PC did not handle the situation properly b/c somehow he knew she had reported him.

  • Maymunah

    In a lot of African countries, if you are black it’s assumed you are from Africa. People might point at you at say a random country name but it’s usually not meant as harassment but as a way to start a conversation, you might even even end up getting invited to dinner.  No one does that to White or Asian people because we assume they are not African. 

    • http://twitter.com/akacocolopez Coco Lopez

      I would agree. In my stay in Morocco my look was interpreted as being from any wide number of places from Maroc to Malaysia, however I interpreted it as people being interested in where I was visiting from. 

  • Keith

    Are you really nit picking the term Caucasian? Really?  Being that race is a cultural construct and words and definition change from region to region that has the be the most irrelevant comment on a post that I have read to date.

    • Roger

      Considering how white people as the meaning of the word Caucasian came out of 19th century racist pseudo-science, it’s use should be discouraged. It is also causes confusion when discussing people of the Caucasus.

      The wikipedia article on the term is just ridiculous: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caucasian_race

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cocojams-Jambalayah/100000590546331 Cocojams Jambalayah

    I;m wondering why there are so few People of Color in the Peace Corp and NGO programs abroad. Is it because generally speaking compared to PoC, White people can afford to take time off from working for a pay check or they know it will be much  easier for them to find work than PoC.As for the negative attention that Black people get in those countries (including in some African nations as described above, imo, that’s because the residents of those nations have bought into the negative racial stereotypes of Black, and don’t consider themselves to be  Black (or as black), though they may be dark skinned compared to most White people.

    • Anonymous

      Among other things (at least for me) the Peace Corps and other programs don’t come across as very welcoming or inviting. With Peace Corps you will be living in a foreign country for at least 2 years often confronting a culture completely different from your own, learning a new language, and navigating a new society and new way of living more challenging than the life you were used to.  That is rough enough, but being the only POC volunteer would add those additional stressors we have to deal with in white-majority spaces.  As has been mentioned, as a POC you may have to deal with different experiences and reactions from the local population than white volunteers ( I’ve heard of some hosts families being disappointed that they did not get a “real” American when their POC volunteer shows up!). I think I would find it depressing to have to deal with not only the obvious stresses of dealing with adjusting to life in another country but then having to deal with typical  priviledged attitudes from the other volunteers. As someone who works in a field where international work and travel is common, I can tell you that even some of the most humanitarian minded people have not rid themselves of Western Superior Complexes and down-right condescending attitudes toward people of different nationalities and cultures. Outside of your host family, you become dependent on the support of your fellow volunteers and the field staff. I would not want to be caught in a situation where I don’t have an adequate support system. Perhaps if the experience were for a one week or one month, but two years? That’s asking too much.

      It is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think economics factors into it and perhaps cultural attitudes toward travelling as well.

      • Anonymous

        Oh, I had a college classmate who had a pretty horrible time as an exchange student with a family in Morocco because they were quite upset to see they’d been given a black girl and were pretty clearly expecting a white American coed.  
        She was pretty blatantly left out of family events, locked in the house when they went places, and on one occasion, her host sisters ditched her downtown  after using her as their excuse to go out. It was pretty early in her experience, so she didn’t know at that point that was their game, but they got to a point where they clearly had some men in cars waiting and she was left to wander the streets of Casablanca alone until they were done.
        The family then had the nerve to ask her to take gifts back to the U.S. to their son, who was studying there…she gave them away to poor people on her way back to the airport.
        So the situation with host families who want and are expecting a white person would make me think twice for accepting any option to live with foreigners in certain parts of the world.    
        She was however able to find some peace and hospitality when she was brought into the homes of poor people, with whom some of her fellow exchange students were staying.  I got the impression that more of them were darker hued, and what little they had they gladly shared.  She said it was a great lesson though b/c she’d been initially thrilled to see that she was staying in a fancy house instead of a more humble abode.

        • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cocojams-Jambalayah/100000590546331 Cocojams Jambalayah

          Nichthommi, as an arm chair traveler who considered it a big adventure for me to travel to Alberta, Canada, I just want to say that I very much appreciate your comments on this subject.  They are a very interesting and insightful read.Thanks!

          • Anonymous

            Well, thank you for the compliment.  I’ve been really privileged and had some really unique opportunities, but it’s always been my goal to see as much of the world as possible.  I’m intrigued by the differences and not frightened, and I hope that more black Americans take advantage of these opportunities.
            I do find that even a lot of wealthy black Americans still fear going abroad, or when they do, they stick to Caribbean resorts.  It reminds me of a comment Oprah made about black people and camping…I think she said that black people don’t like being reminded of being poor.  And while I do think things like education play into it, there are definitely people who want to use vacations to feel special and live in what to them feels like luxury.  So I’ve always noticed that white middle class people who aren’t particularly wealthy will still sometimes join Peace Corps, or hike through the Andes, or backpack through India.  And Europeans just seem to be made of something entirely different than Americans when it comes to traveling the world, although I don’t notice many black Europeans when I travel either.  I think economics is a huge factor though considering what I know of blacks in South and Central America and Europe.There are parts of the worlds where the best things available are quite humble, but I find that it makes me really grateful to be where I’m from.  In my opinion, there is no place on Earth that would grant me a better life as both a black person and  a female.  And as I said, there are great people everywhere.  So there are people who point, stare, and laugh, but there are people who are nonplussed, and others who find your unfamiliarity to be lovely.  Some of my worst moments were juxtaposed with some of the best.  (B/c some people just like what they like no matter what they’ve been coached to like).  

  • Anonymous

    I’ve definitely experienced the point, stare, follow, (insert) random brown country shouts when traveling abroad. Unfortunately, having had to deal with street harassment from men here at home has made it so that I’m not even bothered by people people doing it to a lesser degree abroad.

    Even with a black president, the US is still largely viewed as a white country because of the media that’s consumed and the vast number of white Americans who travel, live, study, and work abroad.  There’s a certain level of privilege in being able to drop out of the labor market (even before the downturn)  to travel or to work unpaid for 6-months for an NGO.  And while not all American black people who go abroad are necessarily rich, there’s definitely some cultural “capital” that comes into play when knowing where/how to travel and what opportunities and programs are available.  Angela Tucker recently started this great web series, “Black Folk Don’t” which looks at the stereotypes surrounding some of the things “black folk don’t do” and one of the episodes is on travel.  Definitely worth a viewing.

    On the Peace Corps.  They’re aware of their lack of POC problem, but they honestly don’t know how to convince people of color, particularly first-generation college students, on what benefit they would get from the program.

    • Anonymous

      Well, I’d say one big benefit is the loan forgiveness, so perhaps it should be marketed that way, esp. for first-generation college students.    One of my friends(black female like me) did the Peace Corps for 3 years and I was pretty sure that she got some loan forgiveness.  Of course, given the rules and the locations, it probably takes a more open-mind to even consider it.  It does still seem to be a path taken by more privileged, whether financially or historically.  There are things that middle class whites seem comfortable doing that middle class black people largely still do not.  
      That web series sounds fascinating.  I just know that when I travel off the beaten path a bit, fellow black travelers are quite non-existent, and yes, my blackness is assumed to be something other than American, although it’s interesting how people are able to get the hemisphere right (so I’ll get pegged as Jamaican and not “insert African country here”).  And I’ve had a couple of “I Love Obama” moments.  Although in some parts of India I was mocked, stared at, jeered, or heckled, I did go into a tiny store in Delhi and an old Sikh man chanted “Obama, Obama, Obama” and raised his fist in the air.  And in Russia, the immigrations official saw my U.S. passport and said “Obama.  Yes!” and gave me a thumbs up, followed by a “George Bush.  No!” and a thumbs down, and he didn’t let me through until he saw we were on the same page there…

      • Anonymous

        Your Russian immigration official story definitely reminds me why I’m grateful to have Obama in office just in terms of black American visibility.  I don’t know how many times pre-Obama that I or other POC folks I’ve traveled with have had our citizenship questioned.  I had one immigration official ask me if my passport was stolen because there’s no way I could be “dark” and American.

  • Anonymous

    Ugh, I’ve had this experience too in countries where white people are not the norm.  White travelers, white co-workers, and white volunteers don’t get a second glance, even if they are VERY unusual or unique (e.g. white people with dreds, red heads with freckles). 
    As a black person, I’ve been pointed at, stared at, mocked, and in general made to feel uncomfortable.
    I dislike the fact that white skin can be so easily accepted in places where it is not standard, but somehow these people still get the memo/message that they should be laughing at me.  I was just in South America, in a small town full of tiny indigenous people, and 6 foot tall European women who towered over locals were treated normally but I got treated like a sideshow freak even though my color at least was closer to what the locals had than what a white person has.  
    I like to travel but really resent having to pay a black tax for it.

    • http://www.facebook.com/erikakharada Erika Harada

      The absolute worst experiences I’ve had in terms of how I was treated was in the country areas of Brazil or Chile. A lot of them gave me the chink-eye gesture and laughed. One group even tried to take a photo of me, like I was some sort of rare animal. There were plenty more people who were kind and generous, which made me want to go back again, but the actions of some of the people hurt me quite a bit, though I  doubt it was their intention.