It’s taken me a while to write this post. Why? Honestly, I think it’s because this is a sensitive subject. It’s never easy to talk about race, gender, or politics. I usually try to stay clear of those subjects on here, but if I said I wasn’t in-tune with those things, I’d be lying. After all, I did major in politics. And after a few experiences this year, I want to finally openly write as a minority, and someone who does not identify as white. No matter how culturally-Canadian I may be (in a lot of ways but not all), I’m definitely still a “woman of colour” infused with a little “Eastern” culture.
What prompted me to finally write this was a blog post where the author wrote, “I am white blonde girl #10,000,003 up in this space, and the travelsphere does not NEED my voice. What it NEEDS is open ears and a little more interest in hearing from marginalized folks.”. Although I personally believe everyone’s entitled to write their thoughts, regardless of their skin colour, ethnicity, or nationality, I do see her point. I follow a lot of bloggers who don’t fit the WASP mould, but I’ve noticed that Instagram travel “influencers” tend to be similar, which is probably why I don’t follow many of them. That’s a discussion for another day.
I’m going to use the word “minority” in this post, even though by universal standards, it’s hard to define a “minority”. However, by Canadian standards, I definitely fall under the “minority” category. Being a minority does come into play when I travel. When I first moved to Spain, I didn’t immediately notice it. It wasn’t until I mentioned my background (I’m Afghan-Canadian), and that I come from a Muslim family, where the difference was noted. I wouldn’t say it was always negative – a lot of people in Spain seemed to find the “Afghan” part really interesting. Whenever I’d simply say I was “Canadian”, though, a lot of people were immediately disbelieving, saying that I couldn’t be Canadian because I wasn’t blonde. How ridiculous, I would think. I would hear this a lot at first when I first went to Spain, but heard it less as time went on.
The truth is, in some ways, I wasn’t treated any differently from my very-obviously-white counterparts. This was especially true when I spoke. However, in other ways, I was definitely treated differently. Negatively-speaking, some people made generalizations about my background (specifically regarding religion though, and rarely ethnicity). Positively-speaking, my culture has aided me more in terms of connecting with other cultures. I’d often hear people from varying countries (minus Northern European countries) say stuff about how our cultures are similar, or how we may have ancestors from the same area. So, my culture has been polarizing, but my familiar-yet-distant appearance has been oddly helpful.
Still, this is a vast simplification of my travel experiences. I’ve mostly tried to look at this from a positive perspective, by giving people the benefit of the doubt. I’ve still heard “racist” or prejudiced things, and have many stories – both positive and negative – I could relay. In my travels, I’ve seen a group of Moroccans be kicked out of a restaurant for simply being Moroccan. I’ve witnessed a Chinese-Spanish student be verbally and racially assaulted by a Spanish student for “not being really Spanish”, which prompted me to give the Spanish student a verbal smackdown. I have also been questioned a little more than others at airports, though usually at the same airports (Amsterdam, I’m talking about you). But these really negative experiences have mostly evaded me abroad, and when they haven’t, I’ve tried not to react too suddenly (most of the time). Some people are raised in an ignorant way, and it’s not their fault. Education really is the way to broaden minds, and sometimes that comes through simply telling someone about your culture or traditions.
It’s a big, scary world out there. But honestly, none of these bad experiences are specific to one place. I’ve seen and experienced racial prejudice in Toronto, which is one of the world’s most diverse cities. In fact, I briefly lived with a “discriminatory” girl who happened to be a “blonde” Canadian rather than some foreigner from a stereotypically-racist country. Thus, I know that sometimes, prejudice isn’t found across the pond but maybe where we live now, in “progressive” places. I’m also able to proclaim that I know many people who experience these things in the US, or wherever they’re from. Being from a less commonly-found culture shapes my view on the world, but any negativity that stems from it most definitely does not define me.
Travelling as a minority may be completely different from travelling as someone who fits a certain WASP-y mould, but it’s interesting. Throughout my travels (excluding anything to the US), I’ve literally only ever met one other person (who was also travelling or living abroad) of my background. Maybe one of the reasons why I’ve always really enjoyed my travel experiences, even with those awkward conversations surrounding ethnicity and race, is because I always worked hard for it and because I realize I’m fortunate to be able to choose to do these things. I’m grateful to be able to have amazing experiences and hope things in our odd political climate will change for the better. In the meantime, I’ll be out there to answer any questions and try to be as positive as I can be.