Approximately a third of the U.S. population holds a valid U.S. passport, a ticket to see the world. But as many Black American families view travel as a luxury instead of a necessity, it’s rare to see Black youth trekking across the world compared to their White counterparts. Travel is a rite of passage; it challenges the traveler’s attachment to national identity and introduces the option of being a global citizen. Black youth can create lives outside of the United States, and see the world beyond just simple vacations. But it’s going to take a shift in consciousness to get Black youth to make world traveling a top priority instead of just an option for retirement.
“I think there is a misconstrued, automatic assumption that traveling is expensive and something that isn't accessible to Black communities,” says Evita Robinson, the founder of Nomad•ness TV, a youth-focused travel reality show.
Money is often cited as the main reason that Black youth are not capable of backpacking across the world like their White counterparts. But truthfully, the savviest young Black travelers will tell you that it’s all about prioritizing and choosing where to spend the little money you may have. The real question is whether or not Black youth are inspired enough to make travel a top investment.
“A barrier has been built and reinforced before the opportunity has been presented. There are no mainstream African-Americans that truly represent and present the idea of travel in a way that entices Black youth. This is exactly the problem that I work to solve. I am very much a part of this demographic as a twenty-something year old, New York City living, hip-hop head,” explains Robinson.
What’s the effect of Black youth, like Robinson, receiving mainstream exposure for their travel adventures? It gives Black youth the opportunity to see young people who look like them camping out at an international hip-hop festival in Germany, trekking through the world wonder Angkor Wat in Cambodia, and what it’s like to live and teach English in Japan. Her stories are counter narratives to traditional travel adventures that tend to feature young White travelers exploring the Parisian Eiffel Tower or the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy, which may or may not interest young Black travelers.
“I believe more Black youth aren't traveling because the brand of travel is seen as elitist and expensive. A world of the rich is not fathomable when local community issues are more pressing,” adds Kenji Summers, the founder of the Passport Project, a network of Millennial travelers and a fund that helps young non-passport owners through subsidizing passport application fees.
The issues that Summers speaks of are not small, and include Black Americans fighting high levels of unemployment, incarceration, and educational ills. But there are plenty of Black youth who have made a decision to travel extensively despite their struggling socio-economic backgrounds. Unfortunately, those testimonies are rarely given high levels of exposure, and once again, the stories of Black youth, like Robinson, bite the dust.
So what’s the solution? Should Black travelers rally together, share their stories on a community level, and start pushing Black youth to travel using grassroots efforts? What will it take to get more of our people to see the world?
Tracey Friley, the founder of The Passport Party Project, a philanthropic initiative that gifts underserved girls with their very first passports, puts it plain and simple: “Travel teaches social flexibility, increases self-esteem, and creates thinkers. These types of positive results yield better global citizens, better global citizens equipped with a broad view, a view that could lead to, among other things, serving in their own communities or in communities where it is most needed.”
This domino effect can take a generation of Black youth and transform them into world citizens who think on a global level in terms of career, lifestyle, and strengthening communities. Having a world perspective will not only advance Black American communities in the long run, but also make the investment in travel well worth the return.
Arielle Loren is a writer and filmmaker that offers real-life commentary on women’s issues, sexuality, health, and travel. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Corset Magazine, the “go-to magazine for all things sexuality.” Check her out on Facebook, follow her on Twitter @ArielleLoren, and visit her personal site.