I travel. I before studying abroad in India I made two trips to Japan to visit family and friends. I have spent a significant amount of time over the last two summers traveling in East Africa. I have yet to pull a “drop everything and leave for a year” like many of the people I have met while abroad. Still, I consider myself a traveller, if you will. I have yet to go to Europe, Central and South America or Oceania, but I’ve been lucky to seen more places than your typical 23 year old. However, no matter how much I travel there are always things that irk me about both other travelers, as well as those who don’t travel and feel like they need to talk about it. There are the usual things. Expats and tourists who flagrantly display privilege and want nothing more than to get shitfaced in a foreign country. Lady tourists in developing countries who don’t understand cultural norms or values and like to show their lady parts off in their short shorts and low cut tops. Americans and Europeans alike have all earned the stereotypes about them abroad. I try my best to disprove those stereotypes by not being ignorant or an asshole. I’m usually rewarded with amazing friends and lifelong memories.
When I get home, however, there are always those who have not been elsewhere who think that because I am a “White” woman traveling in developing countries where I am not the majority, I am poverty whoring and have some sort of savior complex. Let me get one thing very clear: you are wrong. If you have not been to these countries, developed relationships with their people, traveled and lived there, you have absolutely no right to tell me that my experiences are invalidated by the color of my skin. I never claimed to be “making a difference” or said anything about “poor little African children”. In fact, if you know me, you know that I usually say exactly the opposite. When I have volunteered abroad I have only volunteered for organizations run and staffed by locals. I have not payed thousands of dollars to go to a glorified summer camp where we spend our days building churches or schoolhouses. I do not feel that I am in any way adding to the lives of those I meet simply because I am a White American female. If I add to their lives it is because I’m a decent human being who has taken the time to develop a relationship with them. Their impact on my life is undoubtedly far greater than my impact on theirs. I recently had a (now de)friend on facebook post a status about how pissed it made her when White girls travel abroad and then get tattoos of words in other languages or maps of where they went. Here words were, I believe, “If I see another white girl with a tattoo of an outline of Africa with a heart where Uganda is supposed to be I’m going to flip”. Now, I understand where you’re coming from. There are plenty of people who travel for all of the wrong reasons and feel that they have made a difference, when really they have spent two weeks doing something, left it unfinished and never thought about it again. That is the nature of the volunteer abroad program beast. They go home and tell their stories about safari and all of the poor underprivileged colored people they helped and use it on college applications and to make them seem more cultured when they find themselves in a semi-intellectual conversation. Trust me, I fucking get it. However, when I then posted this link on my facebook she commented within minutes about how surface value it was and how it was insulting, etc, etc. Chill, bitch. I posted it because I thought it was funny having actually been to Africa (more than once, I might add) and seen programs like this in action. I thought it was funny because whenever I see these ads on television I am infuriated by how surface level they are. I thought it was funny because it is pretty fucking accurate about how the portrayal of poverty in Africa has come to supersede the notion that Africa can be anything but destitute and depressed. The Africa that I know is thriving, alive and colorful. Please don’t get me wrong, poverty in Africa is more real than you or I could ever really know. The vastness of the Kibera slums in Kenya literally took my breath away as when I drove by it last summer. However, commercials that portray White people “making a difference” only lend to the idea that Africans are not able to help themselves. Trust me, the Africans that I have met are able to build and create and imagine more than me, you or your friend who’s an engineer. I digress. She said that it was surface. Sure, I agree. But it is accurate and it is infuriating. And she made it seem as though, because I am White, I don’t understand the full scope of what I was posting. You are wrong. Yes, I have not lived it. I am not African. I have not lived in slums or rural villages. I did not carry jerry cans filled with water up hills and through valleys at a young age. I did not see my family get murdered in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Because I am mixed I don’t know what it feels like to know that the fate of my ancestors lied in the oppression of colonialism. However, that does not mean that I cannot feel for a place and people that I love dearly. That does not mean that when I see something that I feel accurately depicts real problems of stereotypes against those people that I love, that I cannot post them because you think that it’s too surface value to be posted on the facebook page of a White woman. If I wasn’t White would this be a problem? I might have taken it a little too personally. I don’t know. I promptly deleted the post and unfriended her because I have a Kinyarwanda word tattooed on my body and it means more to me than any map of Africa. And according to her gross generalizations, I am not validated in my experiences enough to have learned to conversationally speak a language and then have a significant word added to my collection of tattoos. There is a huge misconception in the POC community that all White people are ignorant and therefore unable to discuss race or have meaningful experiences in countries where their ancestors are not from. I understand where it comes from. Many White people are ignorant and don’t even know what a meaningful experience is, let alone know how to have one in a developing country. However, it is unfair to generalize.
Thats it. I’m done.