Get Us in Your Inbox
It’s safe to say the past few weeks have been quite the “wake-up call” for many.
The murder of Minneapolis resident George Floyd, which was watched around the world, unleashed a shockwave arguably unlike any other U.S. racial incident since the Black Civil Rights Movement.
The general public spoke out about racial injustice and solidarity first — then came the companies.
In our own industry, guidebooks, travel brands and prestigious publications posted black Instagram squares for #BlackoutTuesday, and quickly churned out newsletters decrying racism with mentions of “Black Lives Matter” and pledges to “do better.”
Honestly, for many Black travel professionals such as myself, much of these actions elicited deep skepticism.
I made a 45-second skit, displayed below, which addresses this “side-eye” on behalf of colleagues well-informed of our industry’s blind spot. While laughs were had, a very serious question was raised: “Why did it take a racial crisis to finally address the diversity issue, and how can we trust that you won’t go back to your homogeneous ways once this ‘hot’ trend ends?”
View this post on Instagram A post shared by Travis Levius (@misterlevius) on Jun 4, 2020 at 10:41am PDT
A post shared by Travis Levius (@misterlevius) on Jun 4, 2020 at 10:41am PDT
If you’re white and feel a bit uneasy with the boldness of which some of your Black cohorts might be speaking right now, it’s because we (Black people) are hurting.
And we’ve been hurting.
But we’ve often been silent about our race-related stressors, whether abroad for work or in the office. We have been agitated like a shaken soda bottle, and what you’re witnessing now is the aftermath of a just-opened cap.
RELATED: 10 Influential Black Travelers You Should Be Following
Thanks to the omnipresence of systemic racism, Black people are hyperaware of race in the tourism industry. We walk into an Africa tourism trade event where 95% of attendees are white. We scan the conference speaker lineup to find one person of color out of 25. We go on group fam trips and are the only one held back for more questioning at an airport border security (this personally happened to me as recently as February in Moscow). We are mistaken for housekeeping staff in a five-star hotel. We roll our eyes at the brochures that only depict smiling, blonde-haired families and couples (even when they’re traveling in predominantly Black destinations).
The gap, clearly, is the level of this awareness by others.
Why did it take a racial crisis to finally address the diversity issue, and how can we trust that you won’t go back to your homogeneous ways once this 'hot' trend ends?
I hate to admit it, but the pandemic might have been just what the travel industry needed. Now, we’re all forced to stay put and truly reflect on the change needed within.
Band-Aid remedies will no longer work. Ineffectual nods when confronted about diversity issues and exclusionary work culture can no longer be swept under the rug. For any real change to occur, we have to come to terms that the core work must be done individually to transform the industry.
If we can get every white travel professional to do the work on awareness, and practice proper — not performative — allyship to Black and other people of color (POC) in the industry, things can truly turn around.
Black travel professionals have work to do, too, but in a different sense. I have a theory that, to some extent, homogeneous spaces remain so because the underrepresented do not see themselves reflected in them. We might not have all the power, but we do have our foot in the door to encourage other Black/POC people into the fold. It can be by reaching out and mentoring Black college students thinking about a career in tourism, or passing along travel-related jobs or opportunities if you’re unable to take them yourself. It’s up to us to represent and affirm to Black talent that they have a source of support, should they choose to join the global tourism family.
And we all are, indeed, a family — and talking candidly about the Black experience in tourism (and beyond) and calling for true inclusionary change is the long overdue family meeting we needed.