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Amplifying Black Voices in Travel

By Julia Cosgrove

Aug 12, 2020

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In 2018, Black Americans spent an estimated $63 billion on travel.

Amanda Friedman

In 2018, Black Americans spent an estimated $63 billion on travel.

Celebrate National Black Business Month by supporting Black-owned businesses and Black authors.

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Since 2004, August has been recognized as National Black Business Month, which shines a light on Black-owned companies. It’s also Black August, which was first commemorated in the 1970s as a time to learn about Black revolutionaries and honor their struggle in the fight against inequality, discrimination, and systemic racism.

Since I last wrote to you in June and shared AFAR’s Black Lives Matter statement, I have had many illuminating and frank conversations with Black colleagues in travel and media. Some exchanges were with people I knew; many more were with people I didn’t know. I appreciated each and every one of the emails, messages, and phone calls, especially those that made me uncomfortable and held me to account.

We at AFAR, like many other publishers and media companies, have a lot of work to do to meaningfully diversify our content; to welcome more Black voices onto our staff and into our pages; to more meaningfully and accurately reflect the experiences of Black travelers today; and to upend our default white reference point. 

Our national conversation around race, and specifically around justice for Black Americans, is an overdue and critical inflection point for our country. But how do we as a society turn words and black boxes on social media into substantive action? And how do we plan for a future that breaks the bad habits of the racist status quo? One small first step for us at AFAR: explicitly and deliberately amplify the voices of the Black travel community.

Martinique Lewis, a consultant who focuses on diversity in travel and is cofounder of the Black Travel Alliance, puts it succinctly when she writes, “I’m the change I want to see,” challenging travel brands to put Black millennial travelers front and center in their advertising and marketing campaigns. “My mission is to change the face of tourism forever, so that we all feel represented and see ourselves reflected,” she says.

In 2018, Black Americans spent an estimated $63 billion on travel compared to $48 billion in 2010, according to a study by Mandala Research. Evita Robinson, the founder and CEO of Nomadness Travel Tribe—and a 2018 AFAR Travel Vanguard honoree—believes the spending power is even greater, and she’s working on a new survey to uncover more data about Black and brown travelers. Evita is a powerhouse of ideas: Listen to her TED talk and RSVP for the next edition of her Audacity Digi festival, which takes place October 24. Early-bird tickets are available here

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Thomas Dorsey founded the first Black online travel portal in 1997, the early days of Web 1.0. Thomas loved the approach of the Access travel guides by Richard Saul Wurman (anybody else out there remember those?) but was disappointed when he read in the Access Chicago guide that the south side of the city was to be avoided. He felt that Black travel was an underserved and untapped market. Today, his award-winning site Soul of America features 138 Black-centered travel guides, and he’s rolling out a mobile-first redesign later this fall.  

Sheree Williams is the publisher of Cuisine Noir, the country’s first Black-owned food, wine, and travel magazine. “As Black travelers and wine drinkers, we have been ignored, but our money is green, too,” she says. Based in Oakland, Cuisine Noir has been passionately telling the stories of chefs, winemakers, and tastemakers of the African diaspora for nearly 11 years. “We try to show these stories as a part of our lifestyle, just like anybody else.” 

Seven years ago, the writer, teacher, and activist Faith Adiele founded VONA Travel, the country’s first writing workshop for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) travelers, because “the travelsphere is famously segregated.” She is also the author of the travel memoir Meeting Faith, which won the PEN Open Book Award. Faith wrote to me that “travel writing is uniquely suited to correct racism, stereotypes, and the global inequities resulting therefrom.” If that’s not travel as a force for good, I don’t know what is. 

Further reading

While I’m not traveling as much as I’d like right now, I’m at home reading (and drinking wine—more on that below). When I was a fifth grader at Malcolm X Intermediate School in Berkeley, California, Ms. Hall taught Black history. A book she read to us has stuck with me for 30 years: The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales, by Virginia Hamilton. I recently ordered a copy to read to my own daughters.

Out this month is a new work of nonfiction by the 28-year-old writer and cultural critic Morgan Jerkins. Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots details Jerkins’s own journey across the country to Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and California, examining her family’s history and her own multilayered cultural identity.

After I finished reading Calvin Baker’s fascinating Atlantic piece about the writer Gayl Jones, I ordered Jones’s Corregidora, her acclaimed debut novel first published in 1975. James Baldwin called the book “the most brutally honest and painful revelation of what has occurred, and is occurring, in the souls of Black men and women.” 

And one of the most anticipated book releases of the year, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson (The Warmth of Other Suns), explores how America has been shaped by a hidden caste system that defines our history and our present day. Wilkerson writes: “Ignorance is no protection from the consequences of inaction,” which presciently articulates our current moment. Caste is next on my reading list. 

If you’re like me, you’d like some wine while you read.

Wine, like travel, is a notoriously white industry. For the last few years, I’ve had the pleasure of participating in the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley. I’ve met incredibly talented writers, editors, and wine communicators at the Symposium, including Dorothy J. Gaiter and Julia Coney. Dorothy, who is a legend in journalism and wine writing, gave the keynote speech several years ago and moved me to tears as she talked about the challenges she faced as a Black woman covering race in newsrooms. She did it again (the tears, that is) in this piece for SevenFifty Daily. Julia Coney is an entrepreneurial force for good, and she recently created Black Wine Professionals, an organization designed to lift up the multifaceted Black professionals in the world of wine.

Close to my home in the Bay Area, Bodkin Wines is a Black-owned winery based in Healdsburg, California, specializing in obscure wines made from common varietals. Bodkin’s winemakers and owners Chris Christensen and Andrew Chambers created America’s first sparkling sauvignon blanc, which seems like the perfect drink for the dog days of summer. Also based in Healdsburg, Danny Glover of L’Objet Wines makes pinot noir and sauvignon blanc “in the pursuit of grace.” Couldn’t we all use a little grace these days? If you’d like to support Black-owned wineries, breweries, and distilleries around the world, check out this comprehensive directory from Cuisine Noir, and buy direct when you can. 

Over the coming weeks and months, AFAR will be featuring more stories about Black travel and food communities you should follow, Black podcasts to listen to now, Black writers doing meaningful, necessary work in the travel space, and other topics. I hope you’ll join me in making this moment in America count. If we all challenge each other to have difficult conversations about race and racism, deliberately diversify our networks, and support Black-owned businesses, we can start to move from symbolism to action. To borrow a message of hope from my years at Malcolm X Intermediate School: Together we can.

>> Next: This Travel App Offers a New Way to Learn About Black History Around the World

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