On the largest wall of our living room hangs our daughter’s map, one of those kid’s maps that allow you to attach little felt representations of famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben and the Great Pyramids. The map doesn’t go with any of our African art, our library’s worth of books, or the photos of family and friends. But this map is necessary.
We got it when she was a baby as a way to show her just how big (and small) our shared world is. We wanted her to know that she was a part of the world and that the world was a part of her. As a young Black girl, my wife and I knew we had to be preemptive about this—in our introducing to her the concept of a world that she belonged in—because there were just too many forces aligned against her, ready to tell her to stay in her place. Her place is in the world.
I’ve spoken to some of my people, and there seems to be an almost venomous bias towards contemplating blackness outside of the United States. I sense an aversion to establishing any kind of connection (no matter how mythic) to Africa, and some heavy incredulity about there being Afro-Asians, Afro-Europeans, or Black folks anywhere else aside from Detroit, Oakland, Atlanta and Houston.
It makes me sad that so many Black folks don’t see themselves as part of anything larger than their families or neighborhoods. It makes me even sadder to know that this mentality will be passed on to their kids. I wish more of my stateside brothers and sisters would make the ontological leap and embrace all possibilities of their social/cultural and geographic identities. Our children need this. They need to know they’re part of the world, but they also need to get out and experience it.
I am fully aware that I’m speaking from a place of middle class comfort. With the economic downturn and airlines becoming greedier by the minute, it’s almost impossible for some folks to even consider taking a trip within the U.S., let alone going on an international trip. However, I urge folks to save. Save the dimes, pennies… hell, bring your recyclables to the spot that’ll give you money for your bottles and cans. Save enough money to travel.
If you haven’t done so already, get you and your family passports—yes, the prices for these have increased too. Once you have the passports, the reality of international travel becomes more attainable, and I’d argue, desirable. Consider it an investment in your child’s psychic well being.
If we believed various forms of media, most of us would see the world as pieces of damaged real estate where people of color are bearing the brunt of violence. While this is true to a degree, our world is also an amazing place full of love, mystery and wonder. We owe it to our children to broaden their horizons.
We need to disconfirm the negative messages they constantly receive. When police brutality, overt/covert racism, inequality and oppression seem to dominate the narrative of Black existence, we need to show our children the multitude of choices they have. Parents need to expose them to the varying contexts in which they can exist and thrive. Combating the stereotype that Black folks don’t travel is one of the most beneficial things we can do for our children.
Traveling abroad is Black history: Langston and Josephine in Paris; Alice Walker in Kenya and Uganda; Marian Wright Edelman in Switzerland; Katherine Dunham in the Caribbean. The list of African-Americans who’ve embraced as much of our world as they could is longer than you could possibly imagine. I will insist that traveling abroad with your children will reify their blackness. It will make them prouder, they will stand taller, and they’ll own being Black from a wide and globally informed perspective. Teaching Black kids to be global citizens is just as important as teaching them how to defend themselves from the ever-increasing inequity that is living in the United States of America.
As we plan our next trip, our daughter is very involved. She is telling us what she wants to do and see; I’m amazed and delighted that thinking about traveling is a part of her social and cultural vocabularies. I look at her and smile, all the while thinking: that Nas joint “The World Is Yours” sums up what I felt looking at my daughter research Martinique: “Whose world is this?/It’s yours!”
Shawn Taylor is the author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race and Masculinity, and People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm. He lives in the San Francisco Bay area with his wife and daughter, and can be found sporadically on Twitter @reallovepunk.