Where Have You Been?

ObservationsI love to travel. In my world, travel is an adventure that unfolds in ways I cannot anticipate. If given the chance, I prefer side roads to main streets, a homemade meal to a fancy restaurant, and a small village to a tourist resort. I would rather travel to places I’ve never imagined, than visit the same beach two years in a row, and I would rather make friends at a local park than hang out at a hotel bar with peers from home. To me, travel adds flavor to life and widens my horizon, regardless of where I go.

Most of my journeys have been freely chosen and enjoyable. I have been the obvious bad-mannered tourist wearing shorts and flip-flops in tiny sacred chapels, a guest in local homes, a student receiving language lessons from playful neighborhood kids, and the lost hiker who walks off to the right when map says left. Some of my travels have left me forever changed, with a new outlook on life and the world, and some have made me rethink my very identity to the core. And none of my travels have been terrorizing.

In Killing Rage, bell hooks speaks of different types of travel. The kind of travel that involves forced migration to places where one hopes to be safe from persecution, trafficking across borders without consent, displacement from one corner of a city to another due to gentrification, and movement from a community of color to white spaces where one becomes the Other whose worth and merit are constantly questioned.

Frightening journeys are not always counted as valid. The travel stories are not openly shared and there may be no pictures to verify the sights seen on the way. The traveler may not be greeted with warm welcomes upon return. There may not be a return at all. Those journeys require more courage and strength than any vacationing tourist could ever assemble.

And travel is undertaken even while staying put. A first-generation college student may find himself moving mentally away from his native community toward a classist academic elite and an international student may experience a gradual shift from her previous cultural identity to a multilayered sense of self. My therapy clients take on journeys back to times in life they would rather forget, passages from helplessness to empowerment, and treks leading to new points of perspective. To be brought along on those travels is an honor.

In a way, our greatest journey starts when we enter this world and the best roadmaps may lead us down dark and narrow paths we never planned to tread. And yet, on every road there are lessons to be learned.

We have all traveled. Learning each other’s stories can only enrich our own.

HerStory

How many prime time TV series in the US in the past decade or so have starred a woman of color in the leading role? As far as I can tell, very few… But ABC’s How to Get Away with Murder does. The pilot episode kept me hooked and in addition to the twisted plot it was refreshing to not watch yet another white, straight, male character take care of all the action.

A New York Times writer was also intrigued. In fact, she was so intrigued that she wrote a column praising the selection of Viola Davis for the main role, considering that, in her eyes, Davis is “older, darker-skinned, and less classically beautiful” than other leading actresses. Not so subtle, really. As Davis said in response to that, “classically not beautiful is a fancy term of saying ‘ugly’ and denouncing you, erasing you”. Calling Davis less classically beautiful was an ice-cold way of suggesting she is less-than. Not really belonging on prime time TV. But Davis isn’t stepping to the side for anyone.

The fact that this whole dialogue is happening in the media, made me think of the series of emails I have received from my aunt in Iceland with links to biographies from the Brown Girl Collective. The biographies have centered on African American women who made history and all have had another thing in common – that I had no idea they existed. They were educators, activists, writers, doctors, and pioneers in a society that would not make room for their ideas and fully acknowledge their contributions. A society that would rather keep them on mute.

Our version of history will never be accurate unless we include herstory. And women’s history cannot revolve only around white women in the U.S. and Europe. Although the countless white women who faught for much needed rights deserve all the attention white male leaders, inventors, and pioneers have got, women of color have a claim to no less space in our minds.

In the same way, our representation of the world will be massively skewed and oppressive if the media spotlight only shines on white men and women.

Growing up with the misconception that “people like me” have never accomplished much on their own, resisted successfully, turned brilliant ideas into practice, and stood out from the crowd, is a recipe for discouragement. Discouraged people can be kept down. History and media have an equal potential to be dangerous tools of oppression and powerful catalysts for social justice.