Monday, November 17, 2014

I'm moving

Thanks so much for all your support but starting today my site is now ! Please check it out!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Traveling While Black: Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Brazil

So in the fourth installment of this race and travel mini series I discuss my experiences in warm Spanish speaking cities. I lump them together because my experiences were very similar.
Let's begin with San Juan and Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. I've actually been here twice. Great food (and drink), nice weather, definitely a fun destination. But this is about race so I will narrow down my recap to my experiences there as a brown girl. Now Puerto Rican's come in all shades so as a brown girl I didn't stick out. However, like any countries that host the African diaspora, there are issues with color discrimination. My first time going there was during law school for a conference. I was feeling myself so I rented a car to get around. When I drove back to my hotel resort from the car rental place I asked the lady at the gate to direct me where to park. She pointed me to where the employees park. I had to explain to her that I was actually a guest and she looked at me with disbelief. Now again, I won't say that she made an assumption based on my skin tone (and hair, it was in my natural curl) but it was off putting. San Juan area does not host a lot of brown people (most of what I saw were fair skinned like JLO). But that was the only "off" experience I had there. I mean, I went back a few years later. I can't throw any shade on PR, it's a good and welcoming place.  

Then I went to Rio de Janiero, Brazil. Now this is a multi-racial town. Brown of all shades. Mixes of everything (black, white, indian). The people are beautiful. Before I went, I made sure I was in shape. Visions of a bunch of Gisele Bundchens stepping over me like Heidi did Carrie in Sex and the City entered my head. 

But when I got there I blended right in. Color wise and body type. In fact I saw few Giseles! Perhaps they don't reside in Rio! I was stopped several times by people with questions because they thought I was a local. At one point while a friend and I were playing in the water some tourist from Columbia asked to take pictures with us because they thought we were locals. (Okay we were in our twenties so that was flattering). And when some guys from the States met us they were disappointed when they heard us talk and found out we were not locals. Oh, and I found many black hair salons so again, you know that's a mark of acceptance to me!

We came for carnival and I just loved seeing people who looked like me, curls and all in another setting. And the people LOVE them some carnival. The only negative race/color wise was that there was prostitution and a lot of those prostitutes looked like me (brown girls). So there were a few times when I had to signal to the male tourist (usually older white males) that I was not a prostitute (didn't help that my friend and I booked a hotel in the "red light" type district. It was affordable and on Copacabana, what'd we know?) Based on my understanding of the culture, if anything there is more of a history of color discrimination and class issues (the middle class is hard to find).

Finally, a few years ago I went to the Dominican Republic. I once had some friends who are originally from DR mention that when they went back and stayed at a resort chilling by the pool they were treated/spoken to as if they were really the maids and weren't suppose to be there. They are darker toned ladies. I can't recall what part of DR they were in. I went to Cabarete (known for kite surfing) and had no negative experiences with race or color. Many of the people are mid to dark brown and in fact the men often told my friend who is of a light complexion that she needed some sun. I got many declarations of affection while there.  So my description of this town is brief with respect to race. It was just like visiting a Caribbean town.  I felt comfortable. If anything some of the men were too "fresh", to use my old lady term, so I'd say watch out for that and don't wander around alone. But this was my first time that not only my race was of interest in a positive way but my color. Check mark for this place.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Quick P.S.A. to Men on Online Dating

I'm not ashamed to admit that I've tried the online dating thing...a few times. I've visited many a site and talked to many a friend and after a spirited discussion with some gal pals recently I thought I'd do a post (which I'm sure will have some follow ups) on things I wish men wouldn't do in the realm of online dating.

For this post I will focus on my top three. Some are, admittedly, superficial and I will own up to it.

1) Wearing hats in all your pictures. A couple pics here and there are fine but if all your pics are with hats on (especially baseball caps) then I don't know what I'm getting into.  I once went out with a guy who always wore a baseball cap. He even wore it when we went out to dinner. This was getting ridiculous. Well eventually, I asked him in my Brad Pitt from Seven "What's in the box?" voice.
I just had to know. So he took off the hat...and he looked like George Jefferson. Sigh, it's unfortunate that he had premature balding and I sympathize with that. But holding on to that rim of hair did nothing for him. He wasn't even thirty. Why look like you were ready to move to that "deluxe apartment in the sky?". Just "let it goooo, let it gooo" and sport the bald head. Needless to say, after that,  I always wonder when I see a guy with only pics of him in a hat. (same goes to pics of a guy only wearing sunglasses, no shade to cock eyes, but...well, I don't like surprises)

2) Going ghost. Online dating has made us the laziest people in the world. I just finished reading Pride and Prejudice (and Zombies, I have to take some gore with my silly romance) and it reminded me all the more how we just don't try anymore. Always looking for that "bigger better deal" and not caring how we come across. But one thing I really hate is when you go on a date or two with a guy, chemistry is full on, sweet words/flirts are shared and don't hear from them again. My friend theorized that they must all go to an island. We wonder if it's fun there.

But look-a-here (yeah you know I'm about to make a point when I get southern), don't come back like nothing happened. If you got side tracked because you were dating a bunch of women like you were on The Bachelor and then had to make a decision to narrow it down, I can dig it. On the flip side, we women get our Bachelorette moments. But once you made the decision stick to it. And if you realize that you made the wrong decision and months later want to come back, do it with a little humility. When I get a text or email from a guy I haven't seen or heard from in five months, he gets the side eye. Assuming I even remember the dude (hint, add your name in the text because, crazy thing, I probably haven't waiting by the cell phone for you to call all this time) at least apologize for the disappearance act and come hard with the "courting". A girl likes to feel special!

3)Stalkers.  If you wink or like or favorite me but don't ever write to or respond to my email then I gets uncomfortable. A friend noticed a guy viewing her page almost daily but he never wrote to her. Naturally that creeped her out. I can't tell you how many guys have liked my photo or favorite me but never write. Why? No, honestly, I need to know because in my mind, and many women's minds, you are just viewing our photos over and over again and well...the thought ain't pretty. So if it's really that you are just shy, get pass it, you never know if the woman will like you if you don't bother to write. If you are married and just staring, stop it. And if you are too cheap to purchase a subscription, save up! Morale of the story: Stop creeping us out!

Because the more you know....

Monday, November 10, 2014

Traveling while black: Germany and France

So in part three of my travel and race series I combine Germany and France. I visited these countries during my study abroad in England in the early 2000s. One thing I have noted in my travels is that  some people in other countries are surprised that you, as a person of color, can vacation internationally. This sentiment is changing, however, during that time in Europe I encountered many a person  who could not fathom that I was American.

Now this was after 9/11 and there was a lot of anti-Bush sentiment from all groups so I didn't go shouting it from the roof tops that I was a US citizen. But I swear, people would guess that I was everything but. I got that I was first English, then from a country in Africa (forgot which one), Canadian, Jamaican.
This view is changing slowly but surely now (check out instagram travelnoire for proof) as more and more black people in this country are traveling overseas far and wide. But apparently in the early 2000s this wasn't so? I once again blame the media as I suppose a lot of our television exports of black people were not just Girlfriends and Oprah (I'm looking at you The Wire) so perhaps others simply thought we were too poor to travel? I'd even hear from other black travelers that they'd get mistaken for famous because apparently this is the only way we'd be on travel?

 Let me not get onto my soapbox about the importance of experiencing different cultures if you are lucky enough to be in a position to do this. But, just travel, it'll change your life. Okay so a quick take on Germany and France from the eyes of a person of color.

First Paris, France. I was only here for about 4 days. I did not feel uncomfortable here at all. It's diverse (it attracts a lot of french speaking African people and, therefore, there were places catering to black hair and beauty which is something I'm always kinda sorta checking for when I travel).  This is not surprising as the history of France, although rooted in slavery as well, became more open decades before the U.S. did (it's why Josephine Baker move there, I think, but there were many more black artist who became expats because of the tolerance of the French).  If anything, the main thing I noticed about the French was that they just wanted you to respect their culture and language. They had no problem ignoring you if you asked for directions in English but if you asked for help in some butchered French they were very accommodating and would speak English back to help. I guess it was the effort that counts and we didn't want to be seen as "the ugly American" anyway. Especially not at that time when Americans were such targets. Paris, in the end, is a lovely place and I'd recommend it.

On to Germany. I was here for almost a week in Heidelberg and Frankfurt. I must admit, I was nervous to come here. I mean, with a history of the Holocaust and Neo-Nazis I didn't think a brown girl with the last name Solomon was going to be welcomed. In the airport military/police walked around with rifles which was a first for me so I was even more unnerved. Of course I got "randomly" questioned along with my friend but I wasn't surprised. But, as with many things, time changes attitudes. Of course I've heard current stories of black people facing racism and even assult in Germany. However, for the 4 or 5 days I was there, I felt no racism. I felt stares, lots of them. There are some people of color in Germany but its not a melting pot, at least it wasn't 10 or so years ago. So when a brown girl shows up with natural hair, well I get a couple of looks. But they were looks of interest not distain. I didn't mind the stares since I understood where it was coming from and at least no one asked to touch my hair (this happened to a friend when we were in Spain, however, it was a child so she let her play with her braids).

The music didn't stop when I entered a room. In fact when my friend went to a beauty salon to see if she could get her hair done, although they were not equipped to do "black" hair, they were friendly about trying. My friend opted not to get it done though. When I think of Germany, I think of history, friendly people of today, food, clothes that actually fit me (because they are a curvy people) and a city (Frankfurt) so clean you can eat food off the ground (don't worry, I didn't). Frankfurt of today is not a frightful city to me so it got my stamp of approval.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Traveling While Black: London

In my second post on international travel while being a brown gal we go to England. London to be exact. I studied there for a summer in law school. While there I traveled to other parts of England and also to Germany and France (to be discussed in another post).

I have a strong nostalgia for my time in London but the start was a little shaky. I flew there with many of my class mates and we all were wearing our dorky summer law school program shirts. We got off the plane together. Went through security. Yet I was the one who was randomly stopped and questioned about why I was in the country. Sure I was the only black girl in the group, but I had the same shirt. I stood, embarrassed, as I answered their questions as my class mates stared, walking by me. They asked me several questions. Why was I there? Where was I staying? How long would I be there? What did I do for a living etc.  Was this random? I try not to be super sensitive about this stuff but of course you can't help but have a little voice inside you ask, why, out of all the students was I, the sole black person, picked out and questioned so vigorously? Prior to 9/11 black women were the top group racially profiled on planes (we are drug mules for our drug dealing boyfriends of course). Therefore, the thought did cross my 22 year old mind that perhaps I was being profiled.

I was beginning to wonder if this whole study abroad thing was a good idea.
But I made it to my dorm and hoped for the best since I was going to be there a while and, well, it got better. To be honest, I ended up finding the people of England to be very delightful. They were very friendly to me. It felt like New York (where I stayed in London) but with some southern hospitality. One day I literally stood at a corner with a map opened,  confused about where to go when a nice older white lady asked me if I needed help and then proceeded to give me good directions to my destination.
I mean, people here will help if you ask but they just don't stop and offer, at least not in my experience. And especially not in a big city. That moment always stuck out to me.
I also visited the English country side and beach and Cambridge. All pleasant, racially uneventful experiences.

For a time, and maybe still, I was especially hoping to get back to London.  I enjoyed the diversity and trendiness of the city. It took a while, but I even learned about Brixton, which is an area of London where many black people lived and they even had their own history of racism similar to the L.A. riots. I found a black beauty supply store there so, needless to say, I felt I had it all!

One other thing I enjoy about the British culture is in its media. They aren't as concerned about fulfilling a certain type for their lead roles. I saw way more inter racial couples on TV then (this was early 2000s) than in the US and not all the actresses were thin blondes. Yet the "plain jane" or the brown person was as popular as ever. Before we had a black person leading a mostly a main stream  (Scandal) they had Luther
(Idris and all his accent glory). Only now is US getting in on the game.

Of course I know the history of slavery with this country so I am not saying that racism does not exist here. But for a summer, I was fortunate enough to not experience it and that gets my thumbs up for a city that is safe and comfortable to travel to while black.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bmore Bashing

I am a Baltimore Native. Yes, I grew up in the county but when I moved out from my parents, I moved to the city. I was educated in Baltimore (by way of Loyola and University of Maryland Law), got my culture from Baltimore and had many a good time there. While I no longer live in Baltimore I find a need to stand up for it. So what's there to stand up to, you ask?

Upon my exodus from Baltimore, I cannot tell you the number of times I will tell someone where I'm from and get everything from a raised eyebrow to a "are you packing?" to a "but you don't seem/sound/look like you are from there".  What does that mean? It's so annoying! shocked animated GIF

As if my life in Baltimore was just one long episode of The Wire. It doesn't matter if the person I'm speaking to came from a not so spiffy neck of the woods or are not living so comfortably, they still feel in a place to judge. Why the hate towards Baltimore? I've had people recount many a tale about an unfortunate event they have had in Baltimore and summarize the whole town with that event. Usually said event is in a less than savory area or club.

Sure, there is crime but there are also great things about this town.
  • It's accessible because its small, which for me is a great thing. I love a manageable city (Florence, Amsterdam).

  • It has some really cool areas. Fells Point (cute boutiques, good places to eat and drink), Federal Hill (fun bars), Harbor East (fancy and trendy shopping and eating),Mt. Vernon/Charles Village (hipster), Inner Harbor (touristy but fun for shopping/nightlife), Hampden (quirky).
  • Its artsy. I know people, especially in the music area, who have left their cities to come to Baltimore because of the art scene. (Check out Mt. Vernon and Charles Village area)

  • Movies love us. Sure The Wire, The Corner and Homicide were filmed here. But Wikipedia "films shot in Baltimore" and you will see a host of notables you didn't know were filmed here. Mostly because its a town that has locations that can mimic other cities. Step Up 1 and 2 were filmed here. House of Cards, He's Just Not That Into You, Sleepless in Seattle...

    Just to name a few. If this city was so dangerous, I doubt so many stars would risk their lives coming here.

  • It's a great place to learn. John Hopkins, University of Maryland Grad Schools, Loyola are all top tier schools and there are many others (Towson, Morgan, Coppin, Notre Dame, University of Baltimore...).

  • The people. Sure some folks are "special". But Baltimoreans are a chill, down to earth, non pretentious, fun bunch.

No city is prefect. Not every city can be glamorous. But one thing is certain, judging someone based on where they are from is absolutely ridiculous and you never know what great person you are missing out on by dismissing them because of where they came from.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Traveling While Black: Barcelona

I absolutely love to travel. In my pretend life I'd love to be a black female version of Anthony Bourdain, except with more focus on shopping instead of food ;-) .  But as a female I can't just pick up and go. I don't have a camera crew with me and although certain places sound awesome, when planning a trip I don't just look at what sites there are to see but what the culture is like towards women and African Americans. I'm not into spending my money in a city in which they will go around calling me the N word, nor a town where I fear for my safety.

Regardless of anything, traveling the world as a black female is markedly different than as a white male. If you thought we faced racism and stereotyping in our own country imagine what
a country that is not as diverse or not raised in our history must think of us. How one sided would a person think if their only experience with black people are what shows and news were exported to their country?

I've been traveling overseas, off and on, for almost twenty years (since I was two, yeah two years old) and my experience has changed over time and depending on the countries. I am fairly certain that there is a link between the media's images of black women and how I am treated.

I will be doing a series of posts dedicated to my experiences traveling overseas as a black woman and would love to hear if others experience things differently or the same regardless of race and gender.

First up:

Barcelona, Spain- my first time experiencing out in your face racism. I loved my time in this country (the shopping, the history, the food) but the racism I experienced will always mar my memories of this place. I hope its better there now. But at the time that I went, the 90s, there weren't a lot of exports of black people in the media. Further some European countries that saw an influx of African immigrants did not appreciate it and extended that negative attitude towards tourist of the African diaspora. It boggles my mind how people can just treat others they don't know poorly.

I came to Spain as part of a group of students and we lived in the homes of the locals. I am not sure my Spanish teacher told the couple we were staying with that we were black. She shouldn't have had to but sadly, these things matter. The couple did seemed surprised to find we were black and showed quickly that they were not comfortable with us there. We never had dinner with them, instead they served us after they ate. And the food was not good (some of the meat was bleeding okay?). Deciding that we didn't deserve that, my roommate and I just ate out every night for dinner. They told my teacher we were messy (I was not and the clothes on the floor they claimed were ours were sometimes theirs). We ended up spending the last night in a hotel so we could have one good night there. On our way out we gave the family flowers and a thanks because we were raised right. In response they just asked us for the key to the house.

In contrast my other classmates were fortunate enough to stay in good homes so I won't blame the whole country. It is just sad that we were off the start treated like second class citizens without having done anything wrong. There were other events (being called a monkey, having some club goers throw ice at us in the club) that really tarnish my memories of the place.

In that same time, I also experienced local males (adults) being overtly flirtatious with us, to the point of harassment in some cases. I was a teenager so this was scary. I still blame this on the export of rap videos which, at the time, featured an array of scantily clad black women. If that's all you see of black culture well, if you're closed minded enough, you act on that.

In sum, would I steer black people away from visiting Barcelona? No way. It was a nice time and most of the people were friendly. It's just interesting to note  that even a time of rest and relaxation can be uprooted by people who feel entitled to mistreat you based solely on your race.