Black Travel Groups Find Kindred Spirits on Social Networks

Ashley Southall, New York Times, July 23, 2015

As I stood barefoot at the entrance to the Chottanikkara Bhagavathy Temple, a labyrinthine Hindu shrine in the southwestern Indian state of Kerala that is forbidden to nonworshipers, a man studied me.

Wrapped in a blue silk sari, I was an anomaly in the crowds of worshipers and wedding guests sweeping past. My pecan-brown skin had been tanned by the sun, my tightly coiled hair was cut in a close crop, and I spoke a foreigner’s English. There was no one like me there except my then-boyfriend, who was standing next to me with his modest Afro as we waited for my college roommate’s wedding party.

“What are you? South African?” the man finally said. When I told him we were American, he asked again, “South African?”

This kind of encounter with incredulity is a recurring scene for black Americans traveling to far-flung destinations, and their experiences led to the creation of the Nomadness Travel Tribe, an invitation-only collective of more than 10,000 globe-trotters spread out over 36 countries.

The group began in September 2011 on Facebook as a fellowship of travelers who rely on one another as they navigate a world that is not accustomed to black American travelers, one that is liberating in the best cases and inhospitable in the worst. I joined over a year ago. Though open to any invitee with at least one passport stamp, the vast majority of Nomadness members are African-Americans and women. About half are millennials, and most are strangers, the plus-ones of plus-ones. We meet up like old friends in cities from Los Angeles to Seoul, refer to each other affectionately as tenders (a shortened slang term referring to attractive women) and JBs (short for “jungle brothers”), and snap up flights going just about anywhere in the world.

Nomadness is one of several virtual communities that have sprung up on social media in recent years catering to African-Americans, who rarely find themselves the target market of tourism and hospitality companies.

They are carrying on a long tradition of travel media created by and for black consumers, from the “Negro Motorist Green Book,” which helped black vacationers find lodging during the years of segregation, to the professional and fraternal organizations that book large group trips, to cultural sponsors like Essence, which draws thousands to New Orleans each year for its music festival.

Led predominantly by black millennial women, the new virtual communities rely on networks like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, to push travelers to venture out more often and farther afield. These networks include two-year-old Travel Noire, Soul Society and Black Adventuristas.

“We’re here,” said Evita Robinson, 31, the creator of Nomadness. “We’re taking our stake, we’re planting our flag and we’re very unapologetic about it.”

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Like their predecessors, the groups help black travelers figure out where it is safe to go, whether they will feel welcome once they arrive, and which activities might interest them. In addition, the organizations provide tips on things like caring for natural hair while traveling, responding when someone utters a discriminatory slur, and dating interracially and interculturally abroad. And unlike blogs and books, questions are answered in real-time by members all over the world.

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