If you follow any of my social media accounts you've probably seen I'm very passionate about racism and social justice issues. In fact, I started as a sociology major in college. I switched because i started to wonder now what exactly am I going to DO for a living with all this knowledge? So I switched majors to make sure I had some skills that would actually transfer to a job. That is what our parents want at some point right? Fast forward to today and I've been doing lots of soul searching on how those parts of my personality fit into my business and a moment of clarity hit me how it's all related. I've been saying it for years on memes and blogs, but the knowing and understanding really just hit me like a brick. Travel does end bigotry. I've been called to this to bring people together.
It's nearly impossible to hold on to ignorant beliefs when you have a real face and story to replace those stereotypes. When you realize just how small and powerful you as an individual are in the world, how can you not want to improve it?
My first international experience was a high school trip to France. Can you believe I studied French for 5 years? So funny how I end up obsessed with travel to Latin American countries when I never formally studied Spanish. On that 2 week trip, I connected with my classmates on a level we never had at home with our rigid high school social order. We were cool, but most of these people never spoke to each other outside of class. I had a sense of accomplishment navigating a foreign country long before cell phones and realized the whole world does not feel the same way about Americans and Black people as what I've been told. Yes, 17 years old was the first time I felt at home in my own skin. Some people may be shocked to hear that and others are nodding in agreement. One of my vivid memories is talking to one of our host students, Nick, about that feeling and him telling me, 'Oh we don't have that problem here with Black people, but we don't like Arabs so much.' (Looking back I realize the situation is much more nuanced, but you get the point) It's human nature to find some group to subjugate for some reason. There isn't some innate deficiency in African-Americans that caused all the hatred back home. The feeling of constantly having to prove myself as good enough was wrong and I've participated in it just as much as those who made assumptions about my abilities. I scored just under the native French speakers in my class on a national exam, yet this trip was the first time someone complimented my accent and language skills. (Don't even think about asking me to dust off those rusty skills though!) I didn't even own how good I was because I had internalized that feeling of not being enough. Imagine being able to give that gift of knowing to kids today who are feeling marginalized by everything going on.
Years later when we were in our 'Freedom Fries' debacle I knew it's not true that French people hate us. Had I not made friends there, maybe I would've been more susceptible to those messages. Recently when Charlie Hebdo happened I thought about the second part of Nick's statement. Bigotry is a disease that will rot away the fabric of our society if left unchecked. The best way for us to spread peace is to face our nature head on and evolve. Some people are sick, demented assholes, but it's just that....an individual. We won't learn to stop generalizing to a whole group until we realize that group is made up of real souls living their daily lives just like us. It wasn't sports, work, forced integration or color blind thinking that bonded our group together on that trip. It was the shared experience.
The benefits are just so amazing I don't know why everyone isn't doing it! Over the years I have met some fantastic people traveling that I would never converse with at home. Thank God for Facebook! Exposing my son to other cultures, not as charity cases or differences to fear, but people with lives and families much like our own has shaped his world view. It's totally different from mine and I even learn to be more open minded from him.
So to bring this all full circle, I'm challenging you to take a d
eeper look at your travels this year. Though it is a vacation to you, the ripple effects of this exposure will reach far and wide. Your kids will gain valuable perspective that may even give them a competitive advantage at college time. You will come away from your experience changed if you let it happen.
Another big takeaway from this... I also realized wow I really am a nerd since that memory also involves some Get 27 (a liquer for the non-francophiles), a handsome Frenchman, no adult supervision, but only resulted in a conversation. Haha!