Neither White nor Black: Where are the 'Brown' travelers in travel media?
Apprx. Reading Time: 7 minutes
To answer that question in a single word - 'Everywhere', would be the correct answer. Yet, when it comes to being depicted or represented, especially in the context of travel and travel media, we're quite invisible. I am aware that if I were to go back to my hometown, this question would never, ever occur to me. While I'm not stating facts, I think I could be right when I say, out of a 100 Indians, about 98 would be Indian. After I moved to U.K., I came to realize, how devoid India was of color! Having its fair share of universities, we did get the occasional students from a few African & Middle Eastern countries in my city in India. There were also a few White travelers/professionals visiting, every once in a while. However, if you live in a country that's dominated by people who look exactly like you, in different Pantone shades of Brown, questions like representation, equality do not arise in the context of color within your own country. We do have our fair share of internal squabbles though. India is still internally struggling when it comes to accepting that no matter how many states or cuisines we could have, we still belong to the same country, but it’s a different issue altogether.
So, why am I suddenly discussing color and not posting pictures?
An article recently did the rounds which made people talk about the lack of color in the blogging space and travel media in general. The Black community came together, discussed it, suggested ways and means to help improve the state of things. It was about the lack of people of color (POC) in travel media, yet other than a couple of Asians participating, it was being led by the Black community. No, I do not have an issue with the above. In fact, I'm in awe of it. In awe of how I had no Black friends for almost 25 years in my life. In awe of their struggles. In awe of their spirit - of sticking together and uplifting each other and raising their voices when there's an issue at hand. I was also in awe of how there weren't any Asians talking about it or leading it and mainly about the lack of 'Brown' people.
Do we now need another campaign for Brown people or Asians?
When Oneika asked me what would I be called, I realised, I've always been called Asian. I've never had an issue with that and never will but what many people fail to understand is that not all Asians are POC. Not in the literal sense of the term. I've seen many Koreans and Japanese who would probably be more White than White people themselves. I'm unsure if I could even call them POC. (I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!) It does not, however, guarantee them a place on the table. Have you ever seen a Hollywood movie try to have equal representation? You'll usually notice the following ratio, 3 Whites, 1 Black, 1 Brown/SE Asian/Chinese individual. It's funny to notice that even though Asia is the biggest continent, we get one individual to represent us if we're lucky!It isn't about bringing Brown people to the fore but having diverse voices and perspectives and not equating POC to be only Black people or people from Latin America. Many Asian countries do have their local languages, and the people in media thrive within their own country, but if they do step out and move off someplace else, chances are you won't see many of them around elsewhere as prominently as White people or even Black people! Yes, less than Black people! Asians are the biggest race in the world, and my recent visit to India made me gawk at our spending habits! Disposable income was rising day by day and millennials were investing in travel, food and adventure. Looking at how much my friends spent on average on travel and based on the questions I get asked, I can vehemently state that Indians if not all Brown people try our best to stick to countries where we'll not feel left out, where we feel we'll get the most value for our money. Value isn't restricted only to goods but also to the way we're made to feel. A lot of us shy away as we don't see 'our' people. Many articles doing the rounds are about things to do and see from a White person's perspective. So we prefer to join a 'group tour' and stick amongst ourselves (and sometimes make a nuisance of ourselves!)
Why do we make-do with the situation?
Maybe partially because we're our own biggest enemy, and we need validation. You need to see the way Black people greet each other when abroad! It'll make you smile and make you feel so good! When Indians bump into each other when abroad:1. We'll first try to figure out if it's an Indian (Or a Pakistani or Bangladeshi)2. If its an Indian, we then try to narrow it down to the state they might be from3. Then if we suddenly think they're as 'cool' as us, they're bestowed with a smile. I won't deny, I have previously been guilty of the above myself. I also try my best to keep away from Indians as much as possible. (Why? I'll be putting up an article about that soon, in the meanwhile, Soumya's article covers a few points) In brief, almost all Indians believe we need to 'stick together'! Eat together, hang out together, spend every minute awake together and if some are not happy to oblige, we're haughty and we've lost the 'values' taught to us by their ancestors! While, each to his own, in due course, we forget that keeping away does not have to translate into competing or ignoring each other.Another issue which many of us deny is how we still worship westerners in India.Yes, we do. Not all foreigners, just westerners and not including POC.We prioritise them above family, are pleased as punch if they grace us with their presence. We are the best at hospitality for a reason! In the process we forget that some of us have brilliant minds. We're creative as hell. We do not need validation nor someone telling us if what we're doing is right.We keep pushing ourselves down when we decide our content is inferior to others. If some of us think someone else is doing better, we compete rather than collaborate. I do not claim the above is applicable throughout Asia, but I can certainly say so of India! But, in a field dominated by White, good-looking people, our voices need to be heard. Our opinions matter. Black people can't talk for us and neither can the Chinese or the Koreans or Malaysians! All of us need to share our own viewpoints! We probably stick to each other because we're wary we'll be subject to racism, hatred or be sidelined. Which isn't always the truth. Nobody else can clarify this except us!
What's the issue and what can be done about it?
The bottom line is that we lack diversity and when people talk about POC somehow brands and representatives translate it to only being about Black people. To ensure none of us is raising a flag, sometimes a single POC is thrown into the mix. I work as an Analyst, and the situation isn't any different in other sectors. The problem isn't constricted to only travel media. Completing an 'equal opportunities' from does not increase opportunities in any field, more so in travel media. In our case, it's a two-way street as we need to shine first! We need to produce stellar content and stop suppressing our voice. There are numerous influencers of color, even in the Brown community, many who feel entitled and then there are those who are smart and talented, and it's just of late that a couple out of those few are being recognised. We also need to come together and amplify each other's voices. Doing so does not convert to fewer opportunities for us. Like Lola puts in one of my favourite articles ever, 'Say my name.':
"The reason we get to do some things and get to some places in life isn’t just for the mere fact that we worked our backs off day in day out and that we continue to do so daily.It is also because someone not only remembered our names but operated from a mentality of abundance, didn’t feel threatened by all our hard work, and mentioned our names to that one person who held the key.The key to lighten the heavy load on our backs."
Brands, tourism boards, publications need to realize that content produced by White folk, no matter how superb it is, isn't a 'one size fits all' criteria. An Asian on average may not earn the same wage as their overseas counterpart yet if you consider the population, all of those wages put together and the tendency to travel in groups, contributes to a massive chunk of incoming funds to a destination. If destinations want a piece of the pie, they need to do better to give us a hand while we hustle. No, it is not possible to include and amplify all the voices you might find in Asia, but some of us do have one, and we'd like to be heard.