Category Archives: Travel Diaries

Western Privilege and Anti-black Racism in Panama

By Guest Contributor Aliyya Swaby

Residents of Colón, Panama, have been fighting to get the government to renovate their dilapidated colonial-era buildings, with little success. Images by the author.

In late September, I moved from New York City to Panama City to start a freelance journalism project. For two college summers, I had traveled in Latin American countries and did not see many people who looked like me.

In Ecuador, a friend told me I seemed more “French” than “Ecuadorean” black, because I wasn’t too aggressive. As I walked around Peru’s inland cities, men called out “Chincha,” the name of the predominately black coastal city.

I thought I would feel more comfortable in Panama, where the skin color gradient includes darker shades of brown. After all, my West Indian immigrant parents belong to the same diaspora as many Panamanian black people, whose ancestors were imported by the U.S. government as laborers on the Panama Canal.

But the reality is more complex. I recently found blogger BlackinAsia’s posts on being a black Westerner abroad, and immediately zeroed in on this quotation: “We inhabit a liminal space which is difficult to dissect, but that’s why a more nuanced analysis is necessary — with “Westernness” bestowing on us some privileges abroad (e.g. diplomatic immunity) rooted in the global power of our countries or origin, but our “blackness” leading to our oppression due to anti-black sentiments. We encounter and live both while abroad as black Westerners.”

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Race + The Netherlands: Exile

By Guest Contributor Marly Pierre-Louis

Photos courtesy of the author.

I was warned before moving to Amsterdam that there’s a term Dutch people use for kids which translates to “monkey.” They use it with all kids and it’s supposed to be a term of endearment. They literally have no context for why you can’t call a Black kid that. The thing is my son is exceptionally cute (just sayin’) and people are constantly cooing at him, especially older people. Sure, they’re all smiles and sweet sounds but are they in fact calling my son a monkey?! And if they are, what do I do about it? Curse them out in English? Memorize Dutch insults to sling at all offending grandmothers?

We were also warned that we should make sure to be vocal about our two-year-old not being involved with any Zwarte Piet celebrations at his daycare. Most schools not only have kids coloring in pictures of him but they may even consider having Sekani dress up as a Piet! Excuse my Dutch but WHAT THE F*CK!?

The Dutch are so adamant about their love for Piet that the indoctrination begins as early as daycare. When parents have tried to have their kids abstain from the festivities at school, it seems unfathomable to teachers who do everything from guilt tripping the parents, “Why do you want your child to be left out?” to turning the kid against their parents, “your mommy doesn’t want you to have fun.” I heard from a friend that a Black mother she knew went to pick up her daughter from school one day only to find her face painted Black. This is all problematic for so many reasons.

When Sinterklaas season began, I was fully preparing to go to war.
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Brixton Village Market: The New Brixton [Travel Diaries]

by Guest Contributor Kiratiana Freelon

My dream of visiting the black mecca of London in 2009 ended because of the Tube, when the Victoria line was out of service and a London underground employee convinced me it would take two hours to get to Brixton by bus.

So when I arrived in London early 2012, a voice in the back of my head kept saying, “I must get to Brixton. I must go to Brixton. I must get to Brixton.” After tweeting about my desire, Olympian Andrew Steele tweeted the following to me:

Thankfully, the Victoria line was working, and my journey was a straight shot from Oxford Circus.

As I emerged from the Brixton Tube Station, a steel drum band greeted me on the corner. I stayed to listen to the music, but as it was cold, I finally started walking.

The first thing I spotted was the open–air market, which reminded me of a typical African or Caribbean market—lots of starchy tubers, grand pieces of meat, exotic veggies and fruits, and a ton of random stuff, from socks and bedding to key chains?

But where was the covered market?

Before I headed toward where I thought the covered market was, I spotted a stand selling fresh juices and Jamaican snacks, including beef patties. I decided that a patty would be my introduction to food in Brixton.

I would later regret wasting my appetite.

As I entered the covered market, the first eatery that caught my eye was a small cupcake shop. Then I saw a diminutive gourmet brick oven pizza joint. Then, a Caribbean food and goods place, a hamburger restaurant, a tiny shop selling hair weaves, three Colombian restaurants, a braid shop, a vintage clothes shop, and finally a home-style Thai restaurant. And that was just the beginning. Continue reading