“White privilege is not having to google the destination’s treatment of your race beforehand,” writes Gloria Atanmo. It’s something most white travelers wouldn’t think to research as they look up restaurants and attractions ahead of anticipated vacations. But in a powerful Facebook post, Atanmo, who writes The Blog Abroad, reveals that she also delves into locals’ attitudes toward Black people before she sets off on her latest adventure.
It can put a damper on a holiday, but questioning how and if they will be welcomed is a concern for many Black travelers.
“I've been the kind of person that's like, "If I work really hard, if I'm always smiling, if I'm positive, my skin color won't matter,’” Joanna “Jo” Franco told Inside Edition Digital. “And my travels quickly showed me that that's not the case.”
Franco is a YouTube personality who was half of the travel vlog duo “Damon and Jo” before they stopped creating videos together last year. Franco now has her own channel focusing on lifestyle content, but includes many lessons from her trips. Franco doesn’t dwell on bad encounters, but said she does try to turn them into teachable moments. “If I was the first person of color, the first Afro-Latina that somebody in Poland would meet and they liked me, then that would change maybe their prejudices,” she said.
Yet, she can’t help but be caught off guard when someone says something to her that’s outright ignorant. “They'll say things like, ‘Wow, you're so pretty for a Black girl.’ And I'm like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, let's unpack that,’” she said of an encounter she had in Egypt.
There, she says a local told her, "Wow. I thought you'd be fat and ugly." After the initial shock wears off, Franco said, it’s time for a lesson. “We are programmed to have biases, whether it's about skin color or gender or anything,” she said. “I do believe that we all do have the power to connect to strangers and to tell them, ‘Hey, remember that thing you thought about me? That's not me at all.’”
A study by Mandala Research shows that African American travelers contributed $63 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018. That’s up from $43 billion in 2010. Despite their spending power, Black travelers say they often feel as if they are not wanted.
“You think that travel would be a cool thing, that we could all enjoy our vacations and connect with other people and stuff like that,” Stefan Grant told Inside Edition Digital. “In a lot of ways that very much is the case, but at the same time, ignorance knows no bounds and people will put their ignorance even above their own self interest.”
Grant said he learned this firsthand while renting an Airbnb on a 2015 trip to Atlanta, Georgia for the A3C Festival, an annual five-day hip hop music festival that takes place in the city. He said it was hard to get a booking on Airbnb at all, with some hosts refusing his request to rent out their property to him for undisclosed reasons. He was eventually able to book accommodations for himself and his guests, but he says their stay prompted neighbors of the property to call the police.
“My entire goal is to deescalate the situation,” Grant said of the police showing up. He said the officers quickly determined that he and his friends had the right to be there. He tried to lighten the mood by asking the officers to join him for a selfie. “They were like, ‘yeah, sure, as long as you get my good side.’” His recounting came with a laugh, but one twinged with relief.
He posted the photo to Twitter, not expecting the response he got— many other Black people saying they had faced discrimination by Airbnb hosts. They shared their stories under the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.
“Some friends have actually had to use photos of white people to even get their booking approved,” Grant claims. “So, yeah, that's a real thing.”
He says the stories gave him an idea that would become his business: Noirbnb. The site is dedicated to creating experiences that celebrate and are inclusive of travellers of color. Hosts who list their properties on the site are letting visitors know they will not be turned down because of the color of their skin. Grant said he reached out to Airbnb with the idea to create a space where Black travellers could search for accommodations without worrying about getting turned down. While he met with representatives from the company, they did not move forward with plans to implement his idea, Grant said. So he decided to go ahead with plans to set up the space anyway.
Allegations of racism by hosts on Airbnb were backed up by a study performed by Harvard researchers in 2015 who say they found that people requesting to rent accommodations on the site using distinctly African American names were 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctly white names. Researchers proposed a remedy of making renters anonymous, but Airbnb contends that identity verification is vital to building trust in a sharing community.
In response to years of complaints about some hosts, Airbnb released an update in 2019 detailing the steps it has taken to prevent discrimination on its platform.
Airbnb did not respond to Inside Edition Digital’s requests for comment regarding Grant's claims. In a statement to Inside Edition Digital, an Airbnb spokesperson said, “Discrimination and bias have no place in the Airbnb community and stand in the way of our mission to create a world where anyone can belong. We are deeply committed to continuous improvement in this area and making travel equitable and inclusive for all, and have been working hard to make good on the commitments announced in September 2016.
"Since 2016, we have removed 1.3 million users from the Airbnb platform after they declined to agree to Airbnb’s Community Commitment and Nondiscrimination Policy," the statement continued. "Additionally, we have introduced new policies, upgraded enforcement and support for incidents, actively engage with civil rights partners and communities of color, and continue to develop new approaches to fight discrimination on our platform.”
Grant isn’t the only Black person to create a space for people like him where he felt it was lacking. Oneika Raymond created her blog, Oneika the Traveller, in 2010 for the very same reason. “The travel media landscape is very, very white and it's very, very male,” Raymond told Inside Edition Digital. “So I often found that as I was traveling and as I was looking for information, I couldn't find anything that was geared towards the Black female traveler.”
She also posts videos to YouTube with titles like “The 5 Best Countries for African Americans to Travel” and “Black Girl in Russia,” where she provides viewers with personal knowledge of what it’s like to visit those destinations as a Black person.
In 2015, Raymond made a video titled “5 Things to Expect When Travelling While Black,” in which she outlines some experiences that one might encounter when they venture to new places where Black people might be few and far between. They range from what she considers to be harmless— stares or requests for pictures from locals who don’t see Black people often— to microaggressions and obviously racist comments. In the video she tells the story of being denied entry to a nightclub. Raymond said she went to the club with a group of friends, most of whom were white. People working the door let in her white friends but stopped her from entering, she said. Her friends had to vouch for her to gain entry.
Raymond stresses in her 2015 video (and says it still holds true today) that 99% of her experiences on the road have been overwhelmingly positive. She has turned her traveling hobby into a career. Aside from her award-winning blog, she is also the host of two shows on the Travel Channel, “One Bag and You’re Out” and “Big City, Little Budget.” She has also worked as a spokeswoman and ambassador for many global brands.
While Raymond’s goal was to be recognized as a Black woman in the travel space, YouTuber Jo Franco says she set out to just to be a part of the community like everyone else. “I never wanted to be known for being the Black girl traveling,” she told Inside Edition Digital. “Part of that is just because I'm more than the outside of my skin. I am just there to be curious, but the truth is my experiences are much different than somebody who might be white.”
Franco did create a video for her channel called “Traveling While Black” in 2015 at the request of her followers. In it she discusses the stares she gets as she moves through the world as well as the previously mentioned ugly comments during her Egypt trip. She ends the video on a high note, saying all of that “ain’t going to stop my hustle.”
Franco and Raymond, both living in the United States, say their racist experiences while traveling mostly happened abroad. While both have traveled the states extensively, they haven’t had the same experience that Grant says he had while renting his Airbnb in Atlanta.
Raymond theorized her sex has saved her from more serious or possibly dangerous encounters. As Black men across America lose their lives during what should be harmless encounters, Raymond said she believes she is shielded from the assumption of being dangerous. “I present in a certain way. You know, I'm very smiley. I'm very cordial. I guess I don't give people a reason to take issue with my presence, but that in and of itself is a privilege,” she said.
But all agreed that racist people won’t keep them from exploring the world and they don’t want their experiences to make other Black travelers too weary.
“I'm like, ‘Man, if I talk about this, it's going to scare people from traveling,’” Franco said. “That's not the message that I want to portray.”
But it doesn’t seem like Black travelers will be deterred. The publishers of Black Meetings and Tourism Magazine said in the 2018 Mandala report on African American Travel that this sector of the travel industry has been on a steady incline since the last publication of the “Negro Motorist Green Book” in 1966, just two years after the Civil Rights Act passed.
The Green Book served as a reference guide for Black people traveling the United States filled with lodgings, restaurants, and other businesses that were welcoming. In 2001, the United States Travel Association named the African American market as the fastest growing segment in the industry and marketing has been heavily focused on courting Millennials of color.
Raymond finds it refreshing to see the industry take notice of her community’s interests, but she gives the credit to people like herself who have charted their own paths within the travel space.
“Black is not a trend. The Black traveler has been here. Black people have been here and we're going to continue to be here,” she said. “Let's really, really work to make this a long-lasting thing and to ensure that Black travelers are really getting the services and the attention and the consideration that they deserve.”