WHAT ABOUT DISCRIMINATION?
Today, African-American students have many
reasons to study around the globe, but unfortunately no place is
perfectly free of ignorance, racism or discrimination. Just like at
home in the U.S., you may find various levels of acceptance by some
people and discrimination by others while abroad. African-American students should be aware that these problems
do exist in various degrees in other countries, but this should not
prevent you from traveling. There may actually be opportunities for
you to be a positive influence on those you meet. You should feel
free to travel to your places of interest (unless there is a civil
unrest that may affect your safety. Please research your destination
thoroughly before you travel. You can start with the U.S. Department
of State’s travel warnings at
www.state.gov/travel). Many students have
entirely positive experiences when exploring their roots or
exploring another culture.
One of the biggest challenges African-American students face in
studying abroad is the curiosity factor. Black students in
predominantly Caucasian or Asian countries report that they may be the subject of prolonged stares. People
may even want to touch their
hair and skin because it looks different from their own. In American
society, this kind of behavior would be seen as inappropriate and
rude. However, the countries where this is an issue for Black
students are usually homogenous countries. The people they encounter
may have never seen a Black person except on television and may
Living in another country can also be liberating. African-American
study abroad returnees often report another interesting experience:
Many who travel to countries in Africa are often surprised that
Africans see them not as African-Americans, but simply as Americans.
This is also often the case in countries with a sizeable Black
population, such as Brazil. Students have reported that it is
particularly interesting how they, as African-Americans, are
sometimes not subjected to the same discrimination that Black
citizens of Brazil or South Africa deal with on a daily basis.
Studying abroad can certainly give you rare and unique opportunities
to examine discrimination (or lack thereof) in different contexts.
Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells are two prominent
African Americans who traveled abroad to educate others of the African
American experience in the late 1800’s. They were welcomed with open
arms everywhere except for their own country. Today, we live in a
more culturally accepting world than they did, but discrimination
and racism still exist. You may encounter a few ignorant people, but
think about the courage that Ida B. Wells and Frederick Douglass had
to travel to foreign countries. This may be a great opportunity for
you to be both a student and teacher of cultural understanding in
this infinitely diverse world.