Traveling While Black

Green Book cover, 1949 edition. (Google)

Beyond an encounter with law enforcement or maybe a job interview, is there any time that we're made more conscious of our lack of privilege than when we're traveling and therefore out of our element?  Of course this isn't a new phenomenon -- enterprising Black folk of the past published The Negro Travelers' Green Book to address just this issue, and back then it was truly a matter of life or death.  The Green Book ceased publication in1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed, and the Book's overly optimistic publishers thought it wouldn't be needed anymore, that we had reached that time "...when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States."  Yet here we are, in 2017, still planning trips with a certain amount of trepidation.

Now, I'm not trying to make light of what our forefathers went through.  Though race-based violence can also be a reality for us, especially when we have a run in with the cops, today we mostly worry about bad service, verbal abuse or the cancellation of services once we show up and the host realizes we're guilty of Traveling While Black.  Our grandfathers, on the other hand, traveled with the absolute assurance that they would be lynched if some racist woke up on the wrong side of the bed, or in the case of Emmitt Till, if someone decided to lie just to get some attention.  There is a clear difference here that I am in no way trying to conflate or mitigate.  Yet the fact remains that vile pockets still exist where our safety is not assured, and where our money may not be good enough. 

So how many of us check to see if that Airbnb condo owner looks like us, or at least has some reviews by people of color before we book before we end up with our reservation canceled for having a "Black sounding name?"  How many of us read all the bad reviews of a hotel on TripAdvisor to make sure that no one mentions any instances of racism on the property?  Once arriving, how many of us Lyft around the area instead of trying to stand outside and risk the humiliation of being suddenly invisible to cab drivers?  How many of us scour the internet looking up the neighborhood a restaurant is located in before buying that Groupon?  How many of us have tried to convince ourselves that these steps aren't necessary, and then got burned?  Consciously or not, each of us has sought out and researched our own personalized version of the Green Book.

 “There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment,” the Green Book said in 1948, nearly 70 years ago.  They thought that day had finally come in 1964, yet the machinery of racism and prejudice simply adapted itself to the times, showing itself in new and unexpected forms.  When will the Green Book's optimistic statement finally be true?  Maybe in another 70 years.