After being accepted for an international exchange fellowship, I found myself in an all-too-familiar situation—I was the only Black person among a group of professionals. Being the only Black person in the room is never a big deal to me; it comes with the territory—I live in America.
But as I traveled through Europe with white colleagues, I started to think about race relations with a global perspective in mind. Things tend to be white, black, and brown in America, and everything in-between is inconsequential, so I didn’t have many views on global race issues.
When I arrived in Brussels, I soon realized that race and identity go far beyond your skin color. The diversity of the people in Belgium was so unexpected and refreshing. All of the different languages stimulated my senses: so many different people, so many words. I heard French, English, Dutch, and German within just a few steps, and it was amazing!
So here is what I learned about global race relations while traveling through Brussels, Berlin, and Hamburg. #EuropeanAdventure
1. Most white Americans don’t know much about Black people.
I blame it on the failed school desegregation system in the 1950s. In short, integration didn’t work, and now we have generations of white Americans who don’t understand and even fear Black American culture. I noticed that many of the German people I interacted with had many questions about Black Americans. Their questions were not offensive; they were intelligent and came from a pure place of curiosity. I found this also to be true for my Australian colleague. The Australian guy started most of the conversations around race and created an atmosphere that allowed the other people in our group to open up and admit that they didn’t know a lot about Black people.
2. European people think Americans aren’t that smart.
The average German knows more about American politics than the average American does. My group traveled to Germany during the 2017 election, and every German we encountered talked about politics. On a Friday night in Kreuzberg (a trendy immigrant neighborhood in Berlin) at Paloma Bar, the music was playing; people were drinking, and my colleagues and I talked to a woman about the political issues in Poland! No joke, this woman even asked us if we knew where Poland was on a map! She grilled us elementary geography class style and was so surprised when we passed the test. The young French/Polish woman even said she couldn’t believe Americans knew so much—and that was the sentiment of most Europeans we came across.
3. White people can be “woke” too.
Traveling with a group of journalists is an adventure within itself; we ask way too many questions, we go to places we shouldn’t go, and we talk to strangers. Because journalists are so adventurous and open-minded, the conversations I had during this trip were so good on so many levels. It was eye-opening to find out white people had conspiracy theories on the 2016 election and, the Australian guy was passionate about the rights of Mexicans crossing the U.S. border.
4. When it comes to life and love, we are all the same.
I don’t want to incriminate anyone, so I won’t go into details, but I realized that all people are the same when it comes to life. Like Black women, white women don’t like to be rejected, and they are insecure about the same things Black women are. In my ignorance and limited interaction with white men, I learned that white guys worry about jobs, family, and relationships the same way Black men do. A woman in the group that I quickly became friends with recently moved to Asia. I asked her if she was dating anyone, and she said none of the Western guys that lived there liked her; she said she felt like the white guys were only obsessed with the Asian women. I laughed to myself because I thought only black women had that problem.
5. I would risk it all for a European man!
I have never thought about a romantic relationship with a white man. I never checked for them because I assumed they weren’t checking for me. I can recall only two times when a white guy tried to hit on me, and both times a third party had to inform me I was being hit on. After traveling through Europe, not only did I encounter beautiful-looking men, but I was able to talk and connect with them effortlessly. Most European men don’t have any preconceived notions about Black women like white American men do—and maybe that allows them to be more open to Black women?
Visiting Belgium and Germany was a life-changing experience; I met some incredible people, made some new friends, networked, and had the time of my life! I can’t wait for my next adventure.
Click on the photo gallery below to see pics of my trip.