RACE / ETHNICITY

It would be supremely tonedeaf to ignore the fact that one's race as well as ethnic / religious affiliation will have something do with how well (or unwell) they are received abroad. Like sexism, racism is quite alive and well around the world, in some places more than others.

I, myself, am a "mutt" in the full sense of the word: not much is known about my origins but it's obvious that I'm

Pedestrians from an Ariel View

a genetic mix of "a whole bunch of things". Currently, my national identity is billed as "Russian American" but there is a heavy Armenian influence from my maternal grandmother and the Jewish phantom of the father I never met, so "what I am" ethnicity-wise remains an open question. 

 

And yet, despite my ambiguous nationality and appearance, I am, for the most part, perceived as as a “white  European lady”, which means that I have it quite easy on the road, compared to my traveler counterparts "of color". The "white western foreigner" status has done nothing but propel me socially when abroad, especially in budget destinations, largely because it comes with the assumption that I am much richer than I actually am. It's opened doors into all kinds of exclusive clubs and events and I am welcomed in stores and restaurants with more grandiosity than I – or anyone – could possibly deserve. There are countries where light-skinned foreign women are fetishized to such absurdity that they routinely get the “celebrity treatment”, with men lining up to take pictures with them and generally monopolizing their time and space.

           

Now, I have long learned not to be flattered by such attention. It does not make one special in any way: it's just your garden-variety objectification of women. Being shown off like some designer brand accessory is dehumanizing, plain and simple. But – still not as dehumanizing as being a person of color and having nightclub doors slammed shut in your face. Still not as upsetting as hearing people call out racial slurs in a foreign language as you stroll through the streets. Not as degrading as being treated with superiority and suspicion by staff and security at upscale  shopping malls. Dark-skinned travelers deal with this kind of bullshit disproportionately more than caucasian tourists (who may on rare occasion draw ire for their nationality -- but not race).

           

Then again, travelers who are members of racial minorities already know all this – it's the rest of us that need to catch on. So, I'll refrain from whitesplaining racism any further. Trust that I address civil rights issues as they come up throughout the book.