Traveling While Black


I’m leaving on the next plane/I don’t know when I’ll be back again…

–Yasiin Bey, “Travellin’ Man’

We are headed to France for the week. For me it will be a working vacation; for her, it will be a working vacation, but of a different sort. While I will be attending a philosophy conference, she will be teleworking from abroad. This trip, and its working significance for both of us has me reflecting back on a conversation we had once about the idea of writing a travel guide, “traveling while black.”

This idea came about after we discussed our separate experiences abroad and juxtaposed that with discussions we have had with our peers.  The great joy many white Americans take in traveling, generally, and especially traveling ‘home’ to the European continent is often not met with the same fervor of excitement for black Americans. And, when it is, the joy is an imagined space of ‘seeing the world’, a joy (that is) met, frequently, with the reality of an ambiguous ambivalence that only the term ‘history’ can begin to describe. This is the ‘history’ that often the notion of ‘travel’ and the meaning of ‘traveling’ is understood alongside that of being received abroad, not solely as American, but as an American of a special sort. There is often a state of indecision as to how you might be traveling; the often invisibility within the hyper-visibility of tourism; and, then, the experience of historical discontinuity of what it means to be black and traveling, freely amongst the world. James Baldwin once noted in his essay, “Stranger in the Village” such an ambiguous ambivalence of the meaning of history and ‘traveling while black’. He wrote, “the cathedral of Chartes says something to them which it cannot say to me.”

I hope to discover something new during this trip  but I, at the same time, discover that I am discovered in this world.  I take solace, however, in that I will not be alone; and that I will be ‘traveling’ with someone who is also discovering the world anew and also ‘traveling while black’.


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