Dealing with racism while travelling

My Chinese Singaporean friend and I recently travelled to the south of France, which is an absolutely stunning region. It’s sunny, peaceful and has lovely beaches and architecture.

The only thing that ruined it for us was the attitudes of the people around us towards our presence. Being Asian, we were subject to racism wherever we travelled.

The rude stares, the unwarranted ‘ni hao!’ from several random locals, the queue cutting (people knew how to queue until they realised they’d have to stand behind a foreign POC) – a local French person even sneered “are you from China?” at us and then walk away.

I noticed other non-white people getting similar treatment, even if the way they were discriminated against was a bit different.

If you’re a Person of Colour travelling in the West, especially in certain parts of Europe where there aren’t many immigrants, then chances are you will experience racism at some point on your trip.

More often than not, these experiences aren’t explicitly life-threatening. However, sometimes, we are put in situations that feel dangerous, or that are uncomfortable enough for us to feel threatened. Being a traveller makes POCs doubly as vulnerable as we would’ve been back home. You’re in a new place, trying to get around without getting lost, unaware of the way this foreign city works, and worrying about the threat of hate crimes on top of all of that isn’t fun at all.

My friend and I got lost and had to walk down an alleyway in France where a group of French guys had gathered, and they were literally glaring at us.

We were terrified, so when all we got was a ‘ni hao’ and a few sniggers thrown at us, we were actually relieved. How sad is that? We shouldn’t have to be grateful that we were not physically harmed in the name of racism.

Dealing with racist locals while you travel can be tough. After all, you’re supposed to be there on a holiday, not feeling frustrated at people’s ignorance and lack of decency. At first, I was downplaying my feelings of anger towards these racist actions and comments because I did not want to ruin the trip for myself.

But then I realised that I hadn’t ruined the trip — these ignorant locals had. That realisation did help me to release a bit of the pent-up frustration that would build up each day as we walked around and received sneers and glares.

A holiday can be fun even if you admit to yourself that your destination isn’t the perfect place to be.

While all I received were annoying remarks and mean looks, my Sudanese colleague, who is also a Muslim, had to ask me if it was safe for his family to travel to the south of France.

When I asked him what he meant, he said that he was afraid of the police being suspicious of him on the basis of his race and his religion. So it should be said that every community of non-white people experiences racism when they travel in a white country to a different degree.

The most important thing to acknowledge is that racism should not be “part and parcel” of travelling in the West.

Racism should not be a default, even if we are experiencing it in places that are not our home.


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