The look. I know it all too well. I’ve seen it before, many times in airports, and in everyday places across America. I’ve seen it all of my life. It’s the look that says:
“What are you doing here?”
“You don’t belong here.”
“Go back to where you came from.”
I have accepted the fact that the mere sight of the words “Black” and “Movement” appearing in the same sentence strikes fear in the hearts of some people. Her eyes seem to be locked onto my shirt. The shirt that I designed. The shirt that I proudly wear on every flight I take. The Black Travel Movement Passport t-shirt.
She obviously can’t read between the lines. If she could, she would know that the shirt actually says:
“We’re here too.”
It says we’re doing more than you expected and more than you wanted us to do. We’re doing more than you would allow us to do, if you actually had that power.
I smiled as I took my seat, hoping to somehow thaw her icy exterior. I always give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe she has had a bad experience. Maybe some black person has actually done her wrong or caused her discomfort or grief.
I approach every encounter as an opportunity to teach them, to show them that we are not all thugs and criminals. We’re not whatever lie, misrepresentation, or misconception the media or their peers have placed on their hearts concerning black people (and more specifically black men.)
In these moments, I am not just a traveler. I am an ambassador. I am a peacemaker. I am a teacher.
Me: Hi, I’m Reggie.
Her: What does that shirt mean?
Me: It’s a travel group, a community of African American travelers. We travel the world both domestically and internationally and have epics experiences.
Her: I don’t mean to sound offensive but why do you need a black travel group? Why can’t you just travel like regular people?
In my mind, I’m thinking “b#$%@… Did you really just say that?”
What I said aloud was, “I am not offended.”
“Most people in America and around the world get their perception of black people from the media. That media has traditionally misrepresented and painted a less than accurate picture of who we are. The truth is, many black Americans are educated, hard-working, compassionate, honest, loving people who want the exact same things out of life as you. We want to be loved, respected, and treated fairly. We want to work hard to provide a better life for our children and we want to enjoy our lives along the way.”
“We need a Black Travel Movement because there are so many systems, like the criminal justice system and the education system working to oppress us. This community allows us to come together, travel together, encourage, uplift and empower each other. Along the way, we get to show the world who we are with our own words and actions. Now that may seem a little radical to you but you haven’t had to battle systems, ideas, or prejudices stacked against you. Have you?”
Her: No, I guess I haven’t.
I decided to put her at ease by changing the subject and asking her about herself.
Her: My name is Elaine and I train show dogs.
Elaine and I spent the next three and a half hours chatting about everything from avocados to zebras. I really wondered if she had ever had a conversation with a black person but I didn’t want to make her feel embarrassed, so I didn’t ask.
Once the plane landed, I lifted her suitcase down from the overhead compartment. She thanked me and asked if she could hug me. I jokingly whispered, “Elaine, what if one of your friends sees you hugging a black man? Your father would disown you.” We laughed and I gave her a hug.
Another mind set free from the prison of prejudice.