A few weeks before I went to China I was on a tour in Marrakech and met a travel blogger couple from the States. When I mentioned excitedly that I was going on a press trip to China, their reaction caught me off guard. “Why would you want to go there? The people are disgusting and the food is horrible!” Yes, maybe I had been bragging just a tiny bit because – business class flight!! – but that reaction seemed outright rude. And as it turned out, they had never been. With that, I was really confused how someone can call an entire 1.4 billion people disgusting without ever having set foot in their country.
This was the first of a few incidences that had me thinking about traveling and racism, the privilege and the prejudice of seeing the world, writing about it and sharing our thoughts. I wrote my thoughts down for Travelettes and was happy to see the overwhelmingly positive reactions. It gave me hope that traveling and travel blogging really does connect people, opens us up to the new and the unknown, and lets us overcome fears and prejudices, the ones we know of and the ones we never knew we had.
I’ve said it in this post and I will say it again – everybody is entitled to their opinion and to not liking certain places. I know some readers were upset when I made it quite clear that I didn’t like Brazil. I hope I also made it clear though that this was for entirely personal reasons and not Brazil’s fault. People have different preferences so it is only natural that some prefer a rugged Canadian mountain scenery, others skyscrapers or warm oceans to surf. As a travel blogger, just as much as a traveler you don’t have to rave about the world and you can, of course, have favorites of what you want to see or where you never want to go again. Life is short, go where your heart longs to go, for whatever reason.
But then there are reasons to not go somewhere that just don’t count and quite frankly, are not on. Like not wanting to go somewhere out of prejudice, preconceived notions and stereotypes or out of sheer racism.
I used to believe Mark Twain when he said Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness because I believed the same. But after my own experience about going to China, I was shocked to realize that prejudice and traveling are not mutually exclusive. A few incidences came up and while I thought it horrible that these things happened, I also thought that they sparked a very good and healthy debate. I was amazed to read this article by Expat Edna about how she is still on the receiving end of so much everyday racism not only in her daily life but also in the world of travelers (who are supposed to be so above and beyond it all, right?!). It made me incredibly mad and very sad. It also served as a really good reminder to myself that I need to check my white privilege and mind my words. Words matter.
I guess it was naive to think that this one debate sparked by a few very influential travel bloggers was going to resolve ‘the issue’. Alas, of course, it hasn’t. People are still people.
Before I was flying back to Germany I stumbled across the post from Vanilla Sky Dreaming, a blog I had liked on Facebook but never read. It was called “Why I completely hated Oslo, Norway”. I clicked on it either expecting one of those satire pieces or a very personal account on why she genuinely disliked Oslo so much that she would use the word ‘hate’. I got the latter and then some.
The post has been taken down since as it has allegedly crashed her site so I can only paraphrase. The author describes how she felt Oslo was completely overrun by refugees which really bothered her and made her – as a blonde girl – fear for her life when she tried to explore a city full of Arabic graffiti. Because, you know, that’s what you better do when Muslim men walk around minding their own business, you should fear for your life.
I had to re-read certain paragraphs to actually fully understand the extent of what she was saying. I honestly couldn’t believe that someone could make such horrible, racist remarks in a blog post thinking she was giving a personal account of a city trip. Luckily I wasn’t the only one who felt that way as some of the comments showed; comments that went, of course, unanswered (unlike the ones, hoping that she made it safely out of Oslo!).
Then my friend Janet called her out for it by writing this very awesome post that I can only second. Some reactions were again mind boggling. One reader, for example, called Janet out for bashing a fellow travel blogger.
Seriously? How about getting your priorities straight?
While some may believe that travel bloggers are a unanimous group of people, we are not. Especially after an incident like this, I do not want to be grouped together with such a person just because we may share the same profession. If you want to group us all together, then we need to be okay to hold each other to higher standards, to call each other out and say – hey, that’s not okay what you said. And, of course, we need to give the other person a chance to reflect and respond.
Janet was threatened to get sued.
Now I am not exactly sure how that would even work, but legalities aside what a sad sign if you can only come up with threats or to laugh off the hurt that your words and your ignorance have caused people (can I be sued for linking this now??). Or you know, be very proud that your very hateful state of mind has gotten an otherwise mundane city review go viral. All PR is good PR, right?
I am not perfect. I do constantly need to check my white privilege not only when I am home, in South Africa but anywhere in the world. And often, I think, I fail. I do have prejudices, make comments that are not okay, say things that may offend. Just because I don’t put them in writing here, doesn’t mean that I don’t have them.
However, if I do, I would rather be called out than not. If I say something wrong, something offensive, something racist, something hurtful, I want to know. I am not perfect, but if I fail, I want to have a chance to do better. I want a chance to think things over, to regret, to repent and to hopefully become a better person, a better traveler, and a better writer in the process.
I want to be held to higher standards as a travel blogger and as a human being. Don’t you?