Tag Archives: Traveling

Black in Europe

In 2001, my mom and I visited Europe for the first time. We went to Amsterdam, and it was awesome. We went on to visit numerous countries in Europe over the next decade. We met cool people, saw amazing things, ate great food and had a good time.

One thing that we noted whenever we traveled was our blackness. I mean, Europe is pretty white, like really white. In all of our years of traveling, we only had one bad experience. It was in Dublin; some dude rolled up to us speaking Gaelic. He said “Something, something, something ‘nigger’ something, something.” Oh we heard it. You don’t mishear that. It was a record scratch moment. We side stepped him and headed into a pub. An hour or so later, walking back to our hotel another Irishman strolled up to us to apologize on behalf of Dublin for his countryman’s behavior. He witnessed the verbal attack and was disgusted. Frankly his apology was more stunning than the original attack. Back home, apologies just don’t happen. #realtalk

Wait, there’s a place where white folks actually apologize for racist behavior? #wheretheydothatat? #shocked #howifellinlovewithIreland

Up until last year, we hadn’t traveled for a long while. I went back to graduate school. Then Hope came along, and there just wasn’t time or opportunity. About two years ago a colleague helped me put together an abstract for an international meeting and the next thing you know, I was giving a short talk at a meeting in Helsinki. I took my mom.

Of all of our travels, Finland was the WHITEST place I’d ever been. It was so white that folks openly stared at us; a child actually walked into a closed door staring at us. We went for a day or so without seeing any other people of color. I remember posting on Facebook about seeing two African immigrants on the public tram and they nodded at us. #universalblackacknowledgement We were nearly giddy to see skinfolk!

Despite being black in an uber-white space, I never felt hated. Oh, I felt kinda weird, like a curiosity, but I never felt like I was psychically or physically in danger. I never felt like I wasn’t supposed to be there, and I feel that at least a couple of times a week in America, my homeland. It didn’t feel bad. Odd, yes; bad, no. Socializing with folks from other countries naturally turned to the current state of political affairs and 45’s presence in the White House. Feelings around that ran from rampant curiosity to downright pity at the state of affairs.

Traveling as an American was different…it elicited different responses, sad responses. We simply aren’t the beacon of light on the hill anymore.

So, a year later, I got the idea to take both mom and Hope to Europe when I attended this year’s meeting. I arranged for us to spend some time in Paris before heading to Switzerland. I’ve already blogged about our vacation drama, but I want to share a few observations from my time abroad.

Paris feels radically different than it did when we first visited in the mid-2000s. The Champs Élysées feels a lot more lowbrow than it did years ago—I mean there’s a Five Guys burger place on the Champs! #ButWHY The city feels more crowded now, not necessarily in a bad way, just more populated. It’s a LOT more brown, like a lot. Like a lot a lot. The impact of immigration is very visible. It’s a different city, and it’s still beautiful.

One of the things I’ve always taken special note of when I was abroad is how easily recognizable black Americans are. My French is shaky, but thanks to many years of studying Latin, my reading and auditory comprehension is passable. People in shops and restaurants would murmur about us being Americans. We are easily distinguishable from African immigrants, our diasporic skinfolk. This identity put us in a special category—one that wasn’t necessarily good or bad, just different, certainly curious because most Americans in general don’t travel and frankly African Americans really don’t travel—if we do it’s often to the Caribbean. And yet, I still felt, safe, not unwelcome in Europe where folks find us curious.

And I kept thinking about how 45 (I really try not to utter his name) says don’t let happen to the US what happened to France. France, or least Paris, is a lot more brown. Things are really, really different there and the brown part seems to have a lot to do with the change. I’m guessing that 45 also sees that, and that’s what he’s signaling despite his love for fast food and no doubt delight at being able to go to Five Guys.

It’s not hard to make the leap in this language that brown equals bad. It’s certainly not hard to make the leap that our biggest immigration concerns in the US are centered around brown people, either to the south or east of us, but not the north or northeast of us. It’s not hard to see how other countries have adapted to increased brownness, no doubt with growing pains, but somehow grafting in these new dimensions of the country’s identity.

We also saw it in Switzerland. Certainly much more homogeneous than Paris, but still way more diverse than Finland. #lowbartho And you know what? It was fine. Folks of different hues going on about their daily lives.

We did hear about the waves of white nationalism that are moving across Europe, but interestingly the media doesn’t seem to feed the story. White nationalists are painted as fringe, illegitimate, a pall on society; they aren’t shown in “balanced” context that the US media has come to favor, offering hatred a platform for open promotion and even inviting social justice advocates the opportunity to debate purveyors of white supremacy. Of course, Europe, while still wildly imperfect and wrestling with many of its own demons, knows intimately the cost of legitimizing hatred.

I wish America did. I’m praying that we don’t stay on the path of learning the hard way.

Every trip I’m reminded just how privileged I am as an individual, but also as a black woman.  I know that the desire and the ability to travel is special. I’m trying to teach Hope that as well. It’s hard though since she hasn’t situated how these experiences really reconcile with life before our family existed. Layer on issues around race and privilege and it’s just a lot. It’s a lot for me and given how my mom was one of 4 kids to integrate her school in the 60s, well over a decade after the Brown v. Board integration decision, it’s a lot for her too. For all of us, despite the new technicolor Europe we discovered on this trip, Europe is still hella white, and we still are hyper aware of it. And it still makes you feel…some kinda way.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this year; here we are in the fourth quarter already. I realized that one of the things I’ve been unconsciously doing has been turning into the skids, the skids being those things that make me uncomfortable. Given how incredibly unsafe white spaces have felt in the US in recent years, I’ve found myself figuring out ways of leveraging the discomfort or the space to my benefit. I was a little more conscious of it this time, but after pondering our time in Paris and especially at the Louvre, I realized just how hard I worked to create a specific Black Faces in White Spaces experience for me, Hope and Grammy.

I made Hope and Grammy watch Beyonce’s and Jay-Z’s Apesh*t video, and then we deliberately went to see all the things in the video. We marveled at the beauty, but we also marveled at how crowded the exhibits were, how much access the Carter’s actually had in filming the video and how blackity-black that video is in such a crazy white pace. Then we thought about being there ourselves and how blackity black that felt in those spaces. That was some awesomely wild ish. I’m not a Beyhive member, but I am a fan and that video dropped at the right time for me and mine. Pulling that artistic thread gave us a little bit of an anchor during our trip. I don’t know if we needed it, but upon reflection it was really nice to have. It’s really nice to ruminate on it now as well.

Despite all the other drama around our trip, this part, the part about being both back and Black in Europe gave me a lot to ponder about politics, about identity (they are wrestling with what it means to be European all over the continent), race and color, and about privilege. Now that I’ve got some distance from the family drama and the fall of out the bug phobia, I can really appreciate the experience. I’m grateful  and I’m grateful that I got to share it with my family.

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Thoughts on Living with a Phobia

Here are my thoughts: I loathe phobias.

I hate them with the hate of a thousand needles in a cheating ex-boyfriend’s eye. I hate them so viciously that I wish I could stab phobias with my phobic killing sword.

Hope has a bug phobia. It is horrible.

I fucking hate it. Yes, I do not like to use all out curse words in this space, but the reality is that this phobia thing warrants a full on f-bomb.

Everywhere we go, everything we do, somewhere, there is the possibility of there being a bug.

When we got to Paris, Hope acted shocked that there were bugs. But when we got to Switzerland it was like she was furious that I did not warn her that, yes, in fact, the country has bugs.

There seems to be a noticeable amount of ladybugs and bees here. They are not particularly noticeable to me and Grammy. They have largely shaped Hope’s miserable Swiss experience, and thus, they have shaped all of our miserable Swiss experiences.

I must admit that I try desperately to be kind, understanding and sympathetic to my daughter’s phobia but seriously, it has become a major trigger for me because her fear routinely creates dangerous situations for everyone around her.

Wanna know how I discovered she had a phobia?

A couple of years ago, a gnat got in the car and she literally came across the front seat and pushed me out of the drivers side door while the car was moving. Fortunately we were in a parking lot and the car came to rest on a parking block. I wasn’t sure what was happening; I just knew that I had to get away from her and whatever it was she was freaked out about. I’m glad we were in a parking lot; I shudder to think what would have happened had we been on the freeway.

We have tried hypnosis to modest success, but the reality is that this phobia is debilitating.If I don’t kill everything around us, the only legitimate response apparently, I’m a horrible person. Today, I had to keep her from falling in the Rhine River and pull her from the path of an oncoming bus as she spun out of control *running* from a bee minding its own business buzzing by. This evening I nearly dropped my laptop when she pushed me off of the couch from a bug that was across the room under a chair. I just sent her to her sealed off room in tears because she seemed insistent to stay on bug watch and as my grandma would say, you keep looking and you will find what you’re looking for. Magically, a spider appeared on the wall and she freaked the hell out, yelling, screaming and crying. I’m praying the neighbors don’t call the our host to snitch on us.

We could close the windows, but air conditioning is not really a thing here and it’s currently about 71 degrees outside. Screens aren’t a thing either.

I’m sure I handled it all wrong, but I’m like, it’s late, no one is up, stop looking for bugs, go the eff to sleep. #samueljackson I spent the afternoon saving you and trying not to get accidentally killed in the process because a bee flew by minding its own frigging business. I’ve done breathing exercises with her. I encouraged meditation and mindfulness. I’ve sat with her to try to get on top of the anxiety. I’ve drugged her.

Seriously. I. Don’t. Know. What. Else. To. Do.

And I am tapped out. I’m exhausted. This leg of the trip has felt like one miserable disaster after another and I can’t wait to get home. I know she feels the same. Grammy feels the same. We all feel the same. I just want to rest because this trip has been anything but restful.

So, I’m girding myself for one last day in Switzerland and one last day in Paris. I’m hoping for a mini-reset. We need it. Hope needs it. Grammy and I need it.

Phobias suck and they suck for everyone.

In an effort to put some good energy out there, here are some snaps from our time in Switzerland!


The Trip

Early on in my “vacation” someone posted a HuffPost article on my personal FB timeline that described the difference between a vacation and a trip when kids are involved.

I didn’t know.  Seriously, I didn’t know that I hadn’t been taking vacations for the last 18 months.  I had no idea that Hope and I were taking “trips.”

Oh, you bet your bottom, I know now, though.

So, picture it, two Fridays ago, I loaded up the Mini Cooper with a roof bag and piled Hope, Sister K and myself into car for a 9.5 hour drive to Boston–our first stop since I had 3 days of work to do there.

You know, it actually wasn’t awful.  We popped in an audiobook (Mitch Album’s The First Phone Call From Heaven), snarfed some fast food and took a couple of potty breaks before rolling up to our hotel at 11pm.

As if rolling to Boston with ish pilled on the top of my clown car like the Beverly Hillbillies wasn’t an indication that we were on a trip, real trip indicators were totally about to jump off.

We stayed in a super swank room–it was LAID! However, my office only booked a king room, so I ordered up a rollaway bed for Hope.

My girl was saltier than the Dead Sea that she would be relegated to the rollaway. Sister K and I were like:

YoDog

You betta go on and lay yo arse on that dang cot and go to sleep, girl.

Day 1 – Boston

I was tied up in 12 hours of meetings and presentations.  After I was done we hit up a restaurant for dinner.

Hope: I woud like the Bourbonzola Burger please.

Bourbonzola Burger appears.

Hope: No one told me gorgonzola cheese was on the burger?

No, really, why bother with reading the details on the menu.  It’s sent back and replaced by something more “suitable.”

Day 2 – Boston

I had a modest 10 hour day of  work so we hit up the Minions movie that evening. Nope, no popcorn, we’re going for dinner afterwards.

At a swank Italian dinner:

Hope: I’ll have the spinach and cheese ravioli please.

Spinach and cheese ravioli appears.

Hope: UGHHHHHH.  You know I don’t like that much cheese; I can’t eat this.

I can actually feel her willing me to share my proscuitto and fig flatbread pizza. I take a deliberate, exaggerated bite out of all 8 pieces and lick the ham too.

smug.gif-1

Not today, Miss, I am NOT sharing ish today.  #allthewaypetty

Then there was another huffy silent treatment prompted by her continued stay on the rollaway. #girlbye

Day 3 – Boston to Martha’s Vineyard

Hope: This BBQ sandwich is so huge. I can barely pick it up; I probably can’t eat it all. Do y’all want to taste it?

(Note: Don’t ever ask me or my sisters to have a bite of something that looks super tasty and expect to us to take itty bitty portions. Hope learned that day.)

Sandwich comes to the front seat.

Half of the sandwich returns to the back seat.

Hope chose to not eat the rest of the sandwich due to a wretched case of the hissies.

mileyy

By the time we got to the Vineyard and found that the keys and house info were not left in the realtors box for us, the driving, fatigue and trip-inspired annoyance resulted in me pulling off the road into the hospital parking lot and sobbing.

It got straightened out, and we had the pleasure of hearing Hope complain about this creepy house and the triggering of her bug phobia, thanks to a few creepy crawlies trolling the house at 11pm.

Just before we turned in, she declared —DECLARED—that I needed to only have her stay in hotels because she did not like this house situation and that’s what she prefers and I need to make her happy.

Listen…Whoooosaaaaaa.

Obama

Let’s just say I got her together quick and let her know that my fantasy is an actual vacation without her and that it could be arranged.

Day 1 – MV

Rainy, complaining, buggy, whiny.

I ended up showing Hope what a grown folks’ hissy fit really looks like. It was epic. It was real. I might as well had been Kanye.

kanye-west-charged-with-paprazzo-attack

The rest of the trip actually improved considerably. Hope and I had a great time, and she already wants to go back, of course, that has more to do with the little cutie at the ice cream shop, but still.  We settled into a nice routine; she even did chores in the rental. It was a good trip after all.

But yeah, it was definitely a trip and not a vacation!


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