Tag Archives: POC

What Mainstream Travel Media Still Gets Wrong #Dispatch: Fly Brother

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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Fly Brother (aka Ernest White II) tackles international travel in unabridged, unapologetic, full and complete color.  He is a former assistant editor of Time Out São Paulo whose writing has appeared in Time Out London, the Orlando SentinelEbony, TravelChannel.com, American Airlines’ Black Atlas, Travel by Handstand, TripAdvisor, Viator, Jetsetter, World Travel Guide, and Matador. He has also been featured on The Root, The Huffington Post, and the Montreal Gazette Online, and has appeared as a host on the Travel Channel’s Jamaica Bared and Destination Showdown, which aired this past summer on the Travel Channel.

Bani Amor: Tell us who you are. How would you describe your work?

Ernest White II:  Well, my name is Ernest White II, and I’m a writer and educator from Jacksonville, Florida. I’ve lived in five countries and traveled to almost 40. I’m a huge aviation geek and history buff with an affinity for house music and old school movie-musicals (my most obvious gay trait).

I feel like my two professional strains – writing and education – are constantly influencing one another. I think my writing offers a bit of knowledge to the reader, whether it’s a personal travel narrative, a how-to guide, or a piece of fiction. Conversely, the way I interact with my students is by incorporating literature, film, history, and (of course) travel as a part of my teaching methodology (which is easy to do when you’re teaching English, history, or social sciences, as I do).

I guess I must also mention that my work as a writer is driven by my desire to connect people of color – particularly black Americans – to the world outside our immediate communities.

Be that through highlighting a specific cultural connection or collection of influences, or something more universal to the human experience.

BA:  So thinking about Place and Identity is pervasive in all your work.

EW: I absolutely feel that place and identity are pervasive in my work. We as people are greater than the sum of our parts, but where we’re from and the identities that stem from that, as well as the identities that we craft on our own, are two of the largest constituent parts to who we are.

BA: Truth. What came first: writing or traveling? Was becoming a travel writer inevitable?

EW:  Traveling definitely came first, because I’ve had a love for geography, cultures, and languages since elementary school. My first inclination was to  be a novelist, but I think considering my absolute compulsion to travel (which can severely impair novel-writing time) pushed me towards the inevitable.

BA:  Your ‘Why Fly Brother?’ mission statement (and all the comments that follow) is probably one of my favorite things on the internet. You say, “People want to know what being black means outside of the US.” Do you have an answer for that?

EW:  Thank you! I think that statement can be read two ways: as indicating a curiosity that (black) Americans may have about their own potential experiences abroad, and as a curiosity about non-American folks in the African Diaspora worldwide. I certainly don’t have a singular answer to that curiosity because, to my mind, there are infinite ways to be black inside and outside the US.

BA: Of course.

EW: I could also say something like “It means people copying your dance steps, music, and speech patterns and you get arrested with greater frequency,” but that would be a bit cynical, wouldn’t it?

BA:  You’re talking to Cynic Numero Uno, you’re safe here.

EW:  I know you feel me.  ;  )

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BA: Just a few years ago, a search for ‘black’ or ‘POC travel blogs’ wouldn’t bring up many results. Now, there are tons of folks doing it. What’s changing?

EW:  First, I think it took a minute for people of color to get into the blogging game in general, and specifically, travel-related blogs. I think that as a demographic, again, speaking generally, we spent more of our computer time focused on money-earning endeavors, and it was only when we began noticing the dearth of writing out there that spoke to our particular experiences, that we began to write in earnest.

BA:  Yes, sometimes folks wait around for a hero, someone with guts. It speaks to representation.

EW:  I absolutely agree that sometimes people need to see someone else take the plunge first, which I understand. I can be pioneering in some ways and a total wuss in others.

BA:  Word. It helps not to be The Only One doing a thing.

EW:  But that also reflects the historical relationship of people of color to travel, especially those of us from backgrounds that don’t include recent immigration from another country. Just as travel was seen as a luxury item, I think we tended to view blogging about it – at first – as somewhat of a waste of time.

BA:  Interesting, but do you think that’s a direct result of the active exclusion of POC by the travel industry?

EW:  I do think there was some active exclusion of people of color in travel up until the late 1960s, at least in the US. You still had segregated airports, bus terminals, buses, trains, beaches even. Then, there was the prohibitive cost of air and sea travel. Couple that with the very real need for steady employment within the community, and you can see a built-in reticence to just drop it all and travel.

Once, I was profiled on a black news website about my travels and forgot to mention something about how cheaply I travel during the interview. Sure enough, one of the commenters mentioned that I must have a trust-fund or something. Even now, the idea that travel is prohibitively expensive still exists.

BA:  It can be seen as “privileged” or something “white people do” within communities of color.

EW:  Absolutely.

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BA:  Any thoughts on how race is handled in travel media today?

EW:  Generally, I don’t feel that non-white people are treated in the same exoticized way as you’d see in travel media (mostly personal narratives, magazine articles, travel posters, and tour brochures) up through the early 20th century. Nowadays, there’s an atmosphere of cultural sensitivity up to a point, and then it just gets ignored as an issue too big to address.

BA:  In travel media, anything is up for grabs if it sells. Indigenous communities turn into destinations to be consumed, bought and sold, reinstating imperialism altogether.

EW:  Well, you know what, this speaks to the larger problem. I think when it comes to indigenous communities and tourism, the exoticism has never gone away. Lord, it’s depressing. And STILL ignored by mainstream travel media.

BA:  I don’t expect much from mainstream travel media, but even the other stuff is full of this kind of rhetoric. I think travel writers just copy what’s out there. I was literally told the same in travel writing class. Just do what the mainstream folks are doing, and you’ll get in. And as long as a white majority is still steering these conversations, this kind of content will go unchallenged.

EW:  That advice kind of disgusts me, nahmsayin? ::sigh:: preachin to the choir

BA:  That’s why a lot of that glossy travel mag stuff is so trashy! Not that it’s all bad. There’s hope, people.

EW:  It goes unchallenged all the time. I just read an essay in a major travel publication by a very famous writer who has made questionable statements regarding race before. If we’re being honest, there is some, shall we say, tongue-biting that must be done if we want to have some semblance of success in the industry.

BA:  Which is to say, if you don’t wanna go broke.

EW:  We have to play along somewhat until we get into a position to be completely true to our voices. It means sometimes taking the slower road to success; subversion.

At what price do you end up “selling out?”

I will say that there isn’t any amount offered that would make me feel good about misrepresenting my people or anyone else for that matter. Not with my name attached.

BA:  Preach!

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Stay True to Your Roots #Dispatch: Miyuki Baker

 

I’VE BEEN CHATTING with travel writers, activists and personalities of color about their experiences navigating the media industry and the globe with an intersectional lens, while exploring themes like power, privilege, place, and identity, themes that are rarely touched on in the mainstream travel space. Read previous #Dispatches here.

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Miyuki is a resident of the place where circles overlap. As a queer, multi-racial/lingual female mixed-media artist, she is happiest when working with people who embrace intersectionality and creativity. After graduating from Swarthmore College in 2012, she received the Watson Fellowship to travel the world in search of queer artists and activists and made 8 zines highlighting what she learned under her publishing house Queer Scribe Productions.  She is a freelance artist, journalist, barber, translator, seamstress, lecturer and performer. Contact her at heymiyuki at gmail dot com.

Bani Amor: Tell us about yourself. How would you describe what you do?

Miyuki Baker: I’m a queer woman of color artist, activist and explorer.  I make things and tell stories in the hopes that they will shed light on our shared humanity.

BA: How does place influence/factor into your work?

MB: Since I’ve been on the road since May 2012, I’d say place influences my work quite a bit. I feel like the work of documenting and chronicling what I see and experience in new places is heavily affected by the fact that I’m parachuting in and then leaving a couple of months later. It forces me to make intense connections quickly and try to minimize the feeling of dislocation for myself.  It makes me think about the outsider/insider perspective a lot and to be sensitive to/respectful of the local politics of the place I’m in.

BA: Tell us about Queer Scribe Productions and the International Art/Activism Zine Project.

MB: In May 2012, I started a 14 month trip around the world to make zines about queer art and activism. I ended up going to 15 countries and making zines about 8 of them which you can see in full color at queerscribe.com I was particularly interested in finding how the local culture, politics, history, geography etc. affected the media used by artists and activists in queer communities. For example, the opening of a queer film festival in Bangalore, India has encouraged many more locals to try their hands at film making.

I also performed in most of the countries I visited as a way to give back to communities, but most of the time I was trying to meet as many different kinds of queer artists and activists, attending events, lectures and festivals.

BA: Did you encounter any challenging conditions while traveling with your project?

MB: Initially it was that I had my camera, laptop and cell phone stolen within the first couple of months of my trip. I’d say I got over each episode pretty quickly but there were moments where I wanted to put more into the zines but couldn’t because I didn’t have a personal computer. I made all of the zines on borrowed computers or in internet cafes. Ultimately, it was because I didn’t have an electronic barrier that I was able to jump into more social situations so it was a blessing in disguise.

Other than that, my first couple of weeks in Buenos Aires were rough because despite how overt gay culture is there, it felt extremely commercial and not at all what I was expecting. It took me a lot longer there than anywhere else to find any radical queer activists who welcomed me.

BA: What did you learn about international queer communities, if anything?

MB: I’d hope that I learned something about international queer communities after 14 months of focusing on it 😉 It’s almost too daunting to say anything in such a small space but I’ll say that I learned the importance of both staying true to your roots (or revitalizing your roots/indigenous traditions) and also adapting. Things are always in flux but I found the sticky tentacles of colonization contaminating most places. In those situations you just have to find a happy medium! And many vibrant queer communities around the world were doing just that 🙂

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BA: Why did you choose zines to be the medium for your project? How would it have been different otherwise?

MB: I specifically chose zines for their DIY and low-budget nature (except the time when I printed in color–eek!). I wanted a medium that wouldn’t be pretentious and could be easily/cheaply distributed.  I found that performing was great on site, but to share different stories, I can’t imagine using anything other than zines.

BAWhich QTPOC* artists/writers/projects inspire your work? What would you like to see more of?

Aami Atmaja, Tania de Rozario, Louise Chen, Elisha Lim, Aryakrishnan Ramakrishnan…
I’d like to see more collaborations!

BA: Anything you’d like to add before we wrap up?

Subscribe to my illustrated blog at heymiyuki.wordpress.com where I draw and write about travel, art and food every week 🙂

Also, I’m raising funds to become a yoga teacher. Visit my campaign at igg.me/at/miyukiyoga to see my amazingly edited (just kidding, I did it on iMovie) film and support me in exchange for zines, custom portraits, prints and more!

Germany The Queer Edition
* QTPOC – Queer and/or Trans People of Color

Help Me Get to VONA!

hey folks,

so today is the first day of my Indiegogo campaign, which I’m launching to help me get to VONA this June!

Click Here to Donate!!! 

About Me

I’m a queer, disabled, mestiza travel writer, photographer and editor from Brooklyn by way of Ecuador who has been transient for about 11 years. I fund my adventures by crafting non-commercial indie travel media at the crux of race, place and adventure, but for the past 3 years, all my cash saved from dead-end jobs has gone to paying for my extensive medical care.

About VONA

VONA/Voices is the nation’s only multi-genre workshop for writers of color, and I’m lucky to have been accepted to join in this June! I come from a single-parent, working-class, immigrant household in New York, and opportunities like this are rare, Even if I had finished high school and gone to college, I still wouldn’t have gotten a writing coach of color who focuses on travel! Spaces like these are really important for people like me in this white, straight, male-dominated industry.

The Gist

Since 2011, I’ve been struggling with chronic pain in the right side of my body, emanating from tears in my shoulder. Without access to health insurance in the States, I’ve been traveling back and forth to Ecuador (where my family is from) for treatment, and underwent surgery last Fall. Though it was unsuccessful, I still owe over $1,000 for it, and continue to pay out of pocket for medical expenses. Since the pain has expanded toward my right hand, writing for more than 30 minutes a day (as well as basic functions) has become impossible, meaning I can’t work for a living. I’m stuck in a situation where I can’t pay for my healthcare and can’t get better without it. Lame!

But I’m not asking for help with my medical costs. A flight from Ecuador to California runs about $700 (with luck) and though the fine folks at VONA have fronted half of my tuition in financial aid, I still owe them $300. I’m asking for at least $900 to help with these costs – but anything at all would be mad mad mad appreciated!

In exchange, I’m offering my zines, photos and writing services as perks!

The Deal

Guess what: being super critical of the tourism industry and writing weird travelogue-type creative non-fiction does not have me rolling in dough. I’m ultra-niche – queer, mestiza, broke, disabled, female; I travel the world alone and give no fucks. I’m pretty shameless about the way I live my life, but recognize when it’s time to ask for some help!

What’s important to remember is that voices like mine are squelched every single day, that there aren’t many folks doing what I’m doing. Things can and should be different. This is where you come in!

Other Ways You Can Help

Let’s be real – I’ve seen a lot of campaigns like this that I couldn’t afford to support due to lack of funds, but there are other ways you can help. Share, like and comment on Facebook, follow me on Twitter and Tumblr, purchase a zine on Etsy, follow, like, comment and reblog my stuff on WordPress, or shoot me an e-mail at heyitsbani at gmail dot com. Shout out and connect!

Click Here to Donate!!!

Super Mega Ultra

Hey people! I’ve got so much to share. First off, I landed back in the motherland (Ecuador) last Tuesday night after 7 tough months of Polar Vortex Lyfe in NYC, and couldn’t be happier to be back. After some much needed beach time and catching up with the fam, I’ll be renting a room in Quito for 2 months – so hit me up if you’ve got any leads.

Secondliest, I’m happy to announce that the fine folks at VONA/Voices have accepted me into their program in Berkeley this June! VONA is the nation’s only multi-genre workshop for writers of color and this is the first year they’ve got a travel writing track going on (with Faith Adiele) so I was quick to apply. Other writers I’m mad about – like Staceyann Chin, Patricia Smith and Junot Diaz – will be there too. So I’m stoked.

My person on the back of a truck, circa 2012
My person on the back of a truck, circa 2012

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog for a while, then you know that I’m almost always broke. For about 3 years now, I’ve been struggling with a chronic pain condition in my shoulder, and I’m here in Ecuador to make use of the healthcare – which still costs quite a bit – and for which I’ll be paying out of pocket. I had surgery last fall (which I’m still paying for) but unfortuntaely, it wasn’t successful, and the pain has extended to my right hand, making regular writing (and therefore making money through work) pretty impossible. But I’m trying to stay positive.

The Fine Folks at VONA were able to grant me some financial aid (THANKS!) but I’m still struggling to pay the remainder of tuition and buy a plane ticket out there. I’ll be starting an Indiegogo campaign in one week to raise the funds to get me there, and any help would be super mega ultra appreciated!

I’ll be launching the campaign in conjunction with an interview series where I discuss race, place, media, belonging, community, diaspora, exile and adventure with other travel writers and bloggers of color and poc thinking about these things, right here on the wonderful platform that is this website. So if you want in, please get in touch. Muy exciting!

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“The Struggle”, from Philly’s Magic Gardens

In other news, the second issue of my travel zine Everywhere All The Time is out and available for order on my Etsy shop Boom For Real Press, so pick ’em up! If you ordered the first issue, waited a long time to receive it and I promised you the second issue free, hit me up! I’m also up for trades (anything related to travel, disability, qpoc lyfe, or latinx shit is cool!)

Finally, you should check out The Body of Jean-Michel Basquiat, a profile I recently wrote for Nowhere Magazine’s blog about how place permeated the artist’s work.

And that’s all for now. Stay tuned with all the goings on going on on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter @bani_amor. Say that 5 times fast.

Everywhere All The Time #2 Now Available on Etsy!

Everywhere All The Time #2: Bright Sunny Days, Dark Sacred Nights is the second issue of my travel media zine featuring stories from a year spent traveling and living in Ecuador. From hiking in the northern highlands to a shack on the Pacific coast, the zine spans terrain, time and mood through text and black and white photos. The writing is influenced by my identities – queer, mestiza, POC, feminist, writer, weirdo – and is cut by quotes from Junot Díaz, Gloria Anzaldúa and James Baldwin. 36 pages, typewritten/handwritten and some computer writing, black and white with color cover. Order here!

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Mountains Beyond Mountains: On Expedition Denali, Race & Adventure in America

Happy New Year people! I wanted to kick things off with a story that went unpublished in 2013. Remember the time I interviewed Rosemary Saal, member of the first African-American team to try and climb Mt. McKinley in Alaska? A lot of people were excited, and I was asked to report on Expedition Denali as part of a corporate social media campaign about travel stories last summer. But once the time-sensitive article was sent, it took over three months for them to finally reject the piece, claiming it was “too risky for their brand”. Well fuck them and their brand. Yes, stories get killed all the time, but aren’t you tired of reading the same shit from the same people? Offensive, cheap and – worst of all – boring “content” permeates travel media nowadays; a little diversity wouldn’t hurt anyone.

So here’s the story and why it’s too important not to be told.

Mountains Beyond Mountains: On Expedition Denali, Race & Adventure in America

Summer 2013. From where I stand abroad, it looks as if folks in the States would prefer to talk about anything other than race and yet are being challenged to do just that on the daily. Fifty years after the I Have A Dream speech shook up our national dialogue on racism, it still remains an enormously tense topic, the negative aspects of which our social media-saturated culture feeds off of. But in between incessant Tweets on Zimmerman walking and Miley twerking, a moment of extraordinary progress was able make this summer memorable for all the right reasons.

Mountaineering project Expedition Denali made history last June as the first all-black team to attempt North America’s highest summit, Mt. McKinley (aka Denali) in Alaska. Sponsored by brands like REI and The North Face, the National Outdoor Leadership School organized 11 African-American climbers from across the diaspora – women and men, young and old, red state/blue state – on a month-long trek to the heights of America. They are now on a country-wide speaking tour trying to engage youth of color to get active in the outdoors and promote equality in the adventure industry as a whole.

“Think about the story that mountaineering has been,” says 21 year-old climber Erica Wynn in the project’s campaign video. “It’s been mainly white male, and if a little black girl were to look into mountaineering and hear that single story, she would probably say I don’t have much of a place there, or The odds are against me. I hope that Expedition Denali helps to change that story.” Teammate Rosemary Saal echoed this when interviewed her before the climb, saying, “I feel that many people of color have the mentality that we do not belong in the outdoors. When the sport was first being developed and explored, the traditional participant was a white male. For some reason, this image has stuck in the minds of many and in actuality has not changed significantly.” Her own friends point out just how stuck this image of the American Outdoorsman is in our minds, joking that ‘people of color don’t do that.'”

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Rosemary Saal

Growing up working class and Latina in the city meant my first glimpse of mountains were caught from the glow of the TV or even from the glossy pages of travel mags, but rarely would those graphics reflect anyone who looked remotely like me. Not much has changed.

“I grew up with people telling me what I couldn’t do,” says 56 year-old mountaineer Steve Shobe. “There’s a certain percentage of people who look like me who have also been told you can’t because of your color or, you live in the city and this is not for you.” When sports or travel media do feature black athletes it’s usually in the context of competitive sports or as the ‘exotic’ subjects of some travel narrative or other. “It is stereotypes and labels such as those that perpetuate the notion the POC do not have a place in the outdoors or the means to embrace nature,” adds Rosemary. “We seek to shift that view, or at least begin to.”

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The ED Team

It’s funny how American media (the indie stuff is pretty bad, too) keeps this narrow image of The Backpacker going, when many have beards, tattoos, afros, debt. Some are gay, many are women. But it seems like every time I step foot on National Park land I’m surrounded by middle-aged Europeans with an aptness for staring at my brown skin. Similarly, folks have a hard time believing I’m American on trips abroad, because a lot of people associate travel with privilege, and American with white. The fact that people of color will make up the majority of American youth by 2018 but account for less than 20% of citizens engaged in outdoor activities is what’s known as The Adventure Gap, and it’s relatively new.

When the abolition of slavery gave way to the Great Migrations of the 20th century, over 10 million African-Americans were exiled from Southern farm towns to industrial cities in the North, severing the agrarian roots of black culture and confining the poor majority to urban ghettos. Systematic violence and discrimination in this country has created a schism between an ancestral knowledge of nature and the lived experience of being black in today’s America. Here, access to wild spaces is largely limited to those who have the funds for their own transportation, training, gear, permits or simply the time to not work and take a trip instead. Though many people of color can – and do – manage all that, it’s generally not encouraged in our communities. How could it be? People who are used to having their contributions to mainstream culture go unacknowledged tend to internalize that distortion until it becomes a reality.

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Erica Wynn

“Everyone deserves to have opportunities like this,” asserts Erica in ED’s YouTube video. “It’s not fair for [it] to be an exclusive activity.” As simple and uncontroversial as she may sound, it wasn’t long after Expedition Denali was announced that haters started to beat the post-racial drums, the way privilege tends to subvert the thinking of ordinarily reasonable people. Rosemary comments on the backlash, saying that “there are a few skeptics out there who do not see the necessity or significance of this expedition.”

“We have come a long ways,” continues Erica, “but we still are lacking a black presence in a lot of really positive opportunities, and I think that’s why Expedition Denali is still necessary – even though we’re in 2013 and we’ve got a black president – it’s still necessary, there’s still work that needs to be done.”

For those of us who’ve pushed through the stigma and successfully carved out a space for ourselves in different aspects of the adventure industry, it’s our responsibility to shake up any mainstream narrative that doesn’t embrace the diversity of our stories. Not doing so would only fuel a future where our last vestiges of natural freedom are abandoned because none of us gives a damn. “I wish to be that person,” says Rosemary, “inspiring and encouraging the next generation the way I was inspired and encouraged.” Long-time alpinist Billy Long is one of the expedition members on tour now, adding that “it’s all about personal stories delivered in a way and by a person that they can relate to, someone that can take the activity from an obscure thing you see “white people do” on TV and make it relatable, understandable and achievable.” This is how inspiration goes down, and it’s infectious.

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Billy Long

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Distill Productions were able to send a documentary film crew along on the journey and a book is in the works, too. The story of Expedition Denali’s historic climb will not go untold, and youth will have real faces to put to real voices that often go unheard. If it isn’t clear enough – McKinley was a metaphor. A living one with a powdery spine that leads to America’s apex, a place that can end you in a very non-metaphorical way. But for this project it also represents the rocky precipice on which we balance our dreams as a nation. The real challenge – whether we can build a community as inclusive as it is intrepid – is a reality waiting for us to wake up to. A summit the black climbers of Expedition Denali have carried us ever closer to.

Celestial Maps and the End of an Era

heyy folks. i’m here, looking for day jobs during the day, cutting up black and white copies of celestial maps for the new zine by night, working on cover letters as i apply for guidebook gigs, watching my old copy of brother to brother on vhs (truly horrible audio, but i recommend this movie to all QPOC* artists!) and lamenting the end of 5pointz. New York is truly over for me, and any connection I might’ve had with my hometown can only exist in memory. lame. 

in other news, i just put up a new “Work With Me” page over here for prospective clients, collaborators and anyone with a comment. get in touch! while i work on all this stuff at once, please support by simply liking the facebook page, following the tumblr page or ordering a zine. have good weekends! hope that condos don’t replace good art in your neighborhoods.

*queer people of color, duh