White People Asking Questions is a series where White people submit questions and they are posed anonymously to the public for a 24-hour period and are answered anonymously.
Oftentimes White people have questions about themselves, People Of Color (POCs), or awkward situations, but are afraid to ask them due to public backlash. On the other hand, POCs get asked these questions every day and are burdened with the emotional labor of constantly explaining the same concept to people that will never relate because it is not their experience.
But just because you can’t relate doesn’t mean you don’t want to learn and do something about it. Amirite? As Angela Davis said, “You have to be intentionally and actively anti-racist.”
Therefore, this series is having the conversation on how White People can be ACTIVE in dismantling racist systems and not passively watching. What is unique, though, is this series is set up to be answered primarily BY White People FOR White People teach each other about their privileges. POCs are always welcome to participate in dialogue, but this also creates a space for POCs to watch White People do the work in educating each other. Many times our communities are so disconnected that we don’t know the conversations happening amongst other communities. This is also meant as a resource for POCs to direct White People to for difficult concepts.
How Not To Travel Like A Basic Bitch wants to acknowledge and thank everyone who took on the emotional labor of sending in these responses. We include all responses that are directly relevant to answering the question. We don’t filter or edit, but we do correct spelling and grammatical errors. Highlighted in red at the bottom is the takeaway of the discussion.
[Kiona: This series is to promote a safe learning environment so that no one can attack your anonymous responses. And not all people who ask have been White…Anyone can respond. I just ask that you identify yourself as White or not so we can see perspective…]
For your next white people ask I gotta question: is it racist when people say “traveling XYZ (not first world) place is dangerous?” I can’t tell you how many trips I’ve been on where I had a delightful time (Roadtrip through Namibia, South Africa, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Vietnam, Thailand, and so on) and I often enough get that reaction of horror from people! Never get the same when I go to Europe. Basically I need to know what level to call people out. Do I say “you’re just flat wrong” or do I say “that’s generalizing” or do I say “that’s racist” – thanks! Sorry I’m all riled up because someone just told me “you know you weren’t safe the whole time you were in Dubai” and I was so flabbergasted.
I’m Latina, from Guatemala. And this gets way under my skin to answer from my prefrontal cortex. So here go emotions: I RECOGNIZE WE ALL HAVE BIASES AND SOME ATTITUDES + BELIEFS THAT ARE NOT HELPFUL. seeing other countries as dangerous is equivalent in my mind as colonizers encountering native peoples and claiming them to be SAVAGE (just because they do not share in same culture, language, religion, practices, ways of living/thinking) And often times it’s out of ignorance. None of the lack of biases, unhelpful attitudes and beliefs or ignorance really excuses the racism in my mind. SO when people say those things to me after I come back from my sweet motherland, or other countries I often either A) push back with some questions like “really? That’s interesting you say that. What makes you believe these places are dangerous?” And whatever answer they give I’m like cool-probs not true and this is what I experienced! Or B) simply say “no. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s dangerous.” Mostly depends on my level of fucks I have that day.
This is stupid as hell. If you’re mad then you know it’s racist. Why you asking? White people know what racism is, y’all just want POC to back you because you can’t say it yourself? Get your life together. Next.
WOC raised in Canada. I got the same thing when I did a semester abroad in Uganda. 100% of people who said shit like that couldn’t even identify Uganda on a map. In my experience, when you try to get people to explain what they said, they start to realize that they have no idea what they’re talking about and have only been making assumptions. And I always make a point to say things about Uganda that don’t get said enough! Like how beautiful it is and how fun the city of Kampala is (also amazing restaurants!)
US Black woman here. Yes, it’s racist/biased/xenophobic, etc. Had this exact conversation with my father two weeks ago. I told him to be specific and name things he has witnesses personally or don’t talk to me about Mexico, Central or South Ameria being “dangerous.” I haven’t heard from him since. So warning – a consequence of speaking your truth is you might weed out the fake concerned types.
Romani and Polish woman here! I disagree with the Europe gets a pass. Ask a person if they wanna go to Eastern Europe and people will freak due to anti-Slavic sentiment and the face they are mainly post-communist nations. People don’t freak out if it’s Greece, but if you mention going to anywhere in old Yugoslavia, Russia, Ukraine, Poland (minus Warsaw and Krakow), etc. people are going to ask if it’s dangerous since there’s a stigma against the Eastern World. In the west, western whites just have a large degree of western supremacy and only think 1st world nations are safe. 2nd world/post communist/USSR nations are still seen as dangerous. Less of “we give Europe a pass” and more of “we give Westernized nations a pass because of western supremacy and the whole Cold War issue.” Also more Rom in Eastern Europe and we are generally seen as dangerous thieves to avoid.
Man the US b putting the same warnings against us! As a Trini seeing a public notice posted by the US embassy discouraging visitors to Trini because of high crime levels at carnival really touched a spot. I agree with person from a few snaps back that it’s all about what you’re familiar with however and anything outside of that automatically becomes unsafe. when I travelled to Thailand from same said “dangerous Trinidad” I got loads of Trini friends and fam warning me about getting human trafficked. Someone literally told me to pretend to smoke cigarettes while I’m there so they will think my lungs are bad and then they won’t want to traffick me.
I’m late, but mexican-american here, and I wanted to also point out there’s a lot of this attitude from POC people too! Specifically, Mexican family telling me places like Guatemala are dangerous – then I have to push back and ask why they think that – because it definitely stems from the Mexican nationalism and racism against Central/south America and/or indigenous communities…lot of that “they’re less developed than us” mentality.
I’m from Trinidad and Tobago, and my country is on the receiving end of these travel advisories. Every year, we have thousands of visitors who have a great time. During our Carnival season, we have our highest influx of foreign visitors who are safe and are treated well. Meanwhile, Europe and North American countries get ignored despite how many muggings, rapes, murders, open racism and hate crimes, and even terrorist attacks are perpetrated in those countries. We have been put on a terrorist watch list despite only ever having one terrorist attack that I can recall in my 38 years of life while there is a mass shooting or bomb going off in the U.S. almost every week, it seems. Calling places dangerous to travel to is DEFINITELY prejudiced and based on a false narrative pushed by the media on developing and newly developed nations…it would be greatly appreciated if people call each other out on this bullshit….
I was thinking about how as a visibly identifiable native woman in Canada, I can’t think too much about safety because when I do, I think of the 1200+ murdered and missing Indigenous women. And how uncomfortable I feel in spaces where it’s just white people, particularly in a room of just white men. And this isn’t in some foreign country, this is right in my own country. Sometimes multiple times a day. I’ve known women to go missing and be murdered, and there’s no public outcry from settlers, so you can imagine walking through your own traditional territories terrified you could be next. And wondering if there’d be enough people concerned that maybe you’d be found or maybe people would care enough to look for you. And the messed up thing is the safest I’ve felt was when I traveled to other countries, where I felt like I wasn’t automatically thought of a native woman.
I’m mixed race (not really white, not really brown) and I live in a developing country. I’ve lived in one of the most dangerous cities in Brasil (yes, Rio de Janeiro) and that kind of idea is biased and based in wrongful visions. Yes, you have to be more careful and pay attention about some things, but it doesn’t mean you can’t travel to those places! On this topic, I think where you live and your social status matter (and I know your social status can be skin-color-related) because wealthiest people, even here in Brasil, will only travel to richer countries. Middle class is more likely to go to other developing countries.
Omg…the worst. As someone who has lived in many countries, it REALLY grinds my gears and can be absolutely racist or ignorant. I have lived many years in ‘unsafe’ (by white/united states ppl’s standards) place, and the ‘worst’ things that have happened to me (aka the only time i was robbed) have ironically happened to me in northern Europe…never while traveling through Latin America or parts of northern, western, or southern Africa…bad things can happen anywhere, i think the problem is so many (especially white) people are just awful at traveling smart and understanding cultural relativity…people can be very unreflexive…just because something makes you feel mildly uncomfortable (with no other signs of ‘danger’) doesn’t mean you’re not safe…[half white/latina from US]
It annoys me. I also get it bc I’m lgbt and often people think I’m crazy for going to places with laws on the books that can put me in jail. It has parallels and it gets old. I’ve had rewarding experiences in these places and refuse to buy in to the fear. And I live my life and show that I came back just fine.
White gal here. That’s over generalising for sure. I think I’d tell people that! I mean, bad stuff happens everywhere. New Zealand springs right to mind at the moment with the latest terror attack and the British girls that got raped/murdered. I mean, exercise a level of precaution, sure. But I’ve had that reaction too from people, especially as I travel alone as a female and I just brush it off.
I’m white. IMO it’s absolutely racist, based on misguided prejudices people have about “developing” countries (aka overly exploited countries). I’m not sure what the correct response is, may something along the lines of asking if they’ve ever been to the country in question, then when they say no, asking why they would assume that. I think that points out the racism in a logical enough way.
White person here. I think as a community of privilege white people have a responsibility to call people on this bullshit. It is 1000% racist, no one gasps when you say you are going to New York, Paris, London, etc. but are always quick to say how dangerous Mexico, Nicaragua, Hong Kong are. The only difference between those two groups is the number of brown locals. Sadly, the best way I’ve seen to change people’s mind about these places is to talk about your own experience. When I talk about how safe I felt when I, a blonde white girl, felt in Nicaragua people are open to listening. It’s horse shit that people would listen to me (I have no expertise on these countries) over a local but, the more we use our voices to call racism and encourage people to listen to locals and look for opinions outside of the white community, the better.
In my experience talking to other white ppl, everyone gets defensive when they hear the word racist so it’s more productive to go through the steps. It’s time consuming ho so I totally understand POC’s who don’t want to bother! It’s absolutely not their responsibility to educate anyone.
White girl here. You can talk about safety without being racist but examine your biases. Feeling unsafe is so personal and often comes from things being different. For example, while I was living in Oakland people freaked out about me going to Panama. Panama is way, way safer than Oakland, just more latino and more brown. whatever seems familiar to us often seems safe, but realistically I’ve experienced way more harassment and crap in euro countries no one warned me about than in “dangerous” places. Think about why you think someplace is unsafe and what safety means to you. Think about how you “knew” it was unsafe and where your feelings are drawn from. And encourage others to examine their perceptions/gut calls as well!
[Undisclosed reply to this response: agh…noooot this either lol why try to compare “dangerousness?” That just adds to the beliefs and attitudes of the ignorant person bc it opens doors to convos like “right, after immigrants arrive to those European countries…”etc. CLOSE THE DAMN DOOR TO SEEING A GROUP OF PEOPLE OF COLOR (OR NONWHITES) AS DANGEROUS.]
White woman here. I just think about the travel advisories other countries put on the United States. We might feel safe here, but the level of gun violence is unprecedented. Any place can be safe or unsafe, depending on lots of factors. In short, people are racist if they say that mess.
I’m white and I think it’s a generalization. It’s wrong to assume that a country that isn’t as developed as our own economically, structurally, etc, is full of people who are just waiting around to scam or harm tourists. They are developed in their own ways – in ways we might never reach. We don’t get to decide how safe a place is based on what we see in OUR news. Our news wants to portray our country as being the best, safest of places. I believe parts of the US are more dangerous than most [undeveloped] countries.
(I’m a white woman) I literally just had a huge discussion about this in a travel FB group I admin – I asked people not to ask “is XYZ safe?” Because you cannot generalise about an entire country – it’s often rooted in racism & xenophobia. I asked to rephrase the rhetoric around it to “how was your experience in XYZ as a (insert your personal or specific questions)” this is obviously different for BIPOC & members of the LGBTQI community because there are real risks at play. Also “is it safe” often turns into oh it isn’t safe for women which perpetuates sexist stereotypes that women are weaker and more fragile & shouldn’t travel.
Definitely racism. In the US we seem more outrages about one missing white woman in Aruba than hundreds of thousands of brown and black humans lost here every year.
I’m white. This response by people drives me nuts. I had some recently say to me that a certain area I live in they had heard was “sketchy” and said in response “is it really? Or is it just that there’s less white people there?” I am so tired of prejudice based on different skin color…and the geographies associated with that. The only thing that would be “more dangerous” is if a person was quite literally putting themselves in a compromising situation. The best example I have of that is that a few years ago a friend wanted me to travel to Israel with her. She had dual citizenship, but I did not. I did my research and found that due to the current political climate and unrest, that persons without citizenship were being turned away from even entering the country. So in that case, it would have been stupid for me to go because I may have essentially wasted a whole trip. I mean.
I respond by sharing my own experiences (aka feeling totally safe in xyz “developing” country). But I also try to couch my experience in terms of a) white privilege and b) some perspective on “safety” in a different country. For example, just because I could travel to Myanmar safely doesn’t mean it’s safe for many ethnic minorities living there, the same way as a white woman living in suburbia in the US, my experience (and level of safety) is much different from those of POC living in under resources inner city areas.
Ask them why they think that! Because 99% of the time it’s a racist reason. They’re never asking because they’d heard about the high number of motor bike accidents or idk the natural disasters that may have happened recently. It’s almost always because of a racist notion that the people who live in those countries are more violent or less safe to be around. (I’m white)
White person here. I think it’s always racist. Headed to China today and so many people get super concerned about the “level 2” security threat but if I was going to France no one would say shit. [Kiona: Does France have a level 2 security threat?] Yeah since 2018. And possibly before that but right now it’s listed because of the yellow vest protests.
White woman here – definitely agree this is racist generalising. It is always said with the same tone of voice people use when they express concern that you have gone to a part of town (in my case, London) which is seen as “dodgy” – often it will boil down to there being fewer white people there. I think you can be genuinely concerned for somebody’s safety – especially if they’re travelling solo and I think distance has a lot to do with it too (feels less safe the further away from home you get) but since this kind of question never seems to come up when people travel to areas where there are more white people it has to come from a place of prejudice. It certainly needs calling out – I would be asking what exactly they feel is dangerous about it and going from there.
White woman here. I’ve been to many places some people are terrified of. I do call them out and my statement depends on where or what they’re saying specifically. Often times this comes up about Africa being dangerous. I mention the time I was in a shopping mall in Maputo, Mozambique while reading the news back home in Denver when the Aurora movie theater shooting happened. I ask them how safe are you at home? Just an example of what I may say. The older I get the less fucks I give so you’ll hear from me why and what is better to say. also wrote a few research papers on adventure tourism/travel/assumptions and perceptions of place especially Nepal and ways to change media/discourse/actions and so on…thanks for all you do.
I’m a white person, and this shows the level of ignorance of the people who have this reaction. They may want to google what has happened in Paris, London, VEGAS, and Germany, as they should be wipes of their “safe” list too. You can live in fear of something happening, everywhere is dangerous, but white people delude themselves into thinking their countries are 100% safe, disregarding all evidence.
Wyte female here. I don’t know if it’s racist but it definitely shows what information they have. I think in N America and the whole northern hemisphere, we are told ideas and fed media that tell us what is safe and isn’t, whether or not it is actually true. So many traveling sources are written by white people and not locals, giving people looking a perspective that isn’t totally true. I’d call them out on their sources and try to get the questioner to question why they believe that.
White girl from Argentina here. It is racist. I think traveling can be dangerous no matter where you are going (as in it is more normal for tourists to be robbed than locals), here wherever you travel you always have people telling you to be careful, to not carry many valuables and to keep your phone and money in places people can’t easily reach, whether you are going to India or France. Thinking a place is more dangerous simply because it’s in Asia or the Middle East is definitely racist. I’ve travelled around Latin America and Europe and tbh I’ve felt safer in Latin America, big cities full tourists tend o be more dangerous no matter where they are; thinking that a place is unsafe because there are more POC there is racist, no doubt about that.
White girl here. Yes it is rooted in racism and a warped worldview. Tangentially related, when I lived in Queens, NY I lived in a predominately Muslim neighborhood, literally next door to a mosque, and it was a great place to live. Then I moved to the Midwest and my (islamaphobic, racist) grandma was constantly all “ooh I worry about you out in the Midwest there, they have shariah law in Deerborn” nevermind that Deerborn, MI is almost as far a drive as NJ, my home state is, and I LITERALLY USED TO LIVE NEXTDOOR TO A MOSQUE but it just infuriated me. She based her world view on Fox News which is 99.9% inaccurate, which just makes her hold totally untrue views about places! And to be fair, where I lived in Queens was “safer” than where I live in Illinois but still. Also the Islamaphobia really gets to me because she does it on purpose (I think) to be a bitch to my mom and I because my mom’s dad was Muslim.
White person here. It is ignorance at best, often racist or influenced by racist media, and it drives me mad. Although, sometimes I have gone too far the other way and without thinking downplayed genuine risks about places to people which I’ve then regretted because I’d been looking at a destination through my experiences with rose-tinted glasses on.
White woman here. As a western European, I can confirm that this is very true. While I don’t see so much of this with Americans, whenever I ask my family about eastern Europe, they act the same way about it that many white people do towards POC countries. Many non-europeans don’t know this, but in the UK and probably other places in Western Europe, eastern Europeans are seen in a similar way to how latinxs and other POC are seen in North American. (Lazy immigrants stealing jobs). In fact, the main reason that people voted for Brexit was because they didn’t want eastern Europeans being able to move to their country through the EU because they believed that they were ‘stealing their jobs.’ Even though the iron curtain is technically gone, there is still a big divide in Europe that exists in politics and people’s minds.
It is absolutely racist. I am white but was born and raised in SE Asia. I now live in europe. I felt much safer back in Asia than I do here. People have fear of the unknown and the media portrays such a negative image of BIPOC that they don’t even stop to think about what they’re saying. And I reckon it’s up to us white folks that have a more realistic view of the world to break down these racist stereotypes in other white people.
White mexican here! I get asked that all the time for my own country, but it really is unsafe in some places. I see no reason to be annoyed if that is all the info these ppl see on the news, and as frequent solo female traveller I’d rather pick a “safe” destination myself; I wouldn’t travel my country alone bc girls get regularly killed for travelling solo all the time 🙁 i might sound obnoxious but people stare at me a lot here cos i look different, i’d rather not expose myself too much. However, i do think you are right in saying safety is an illusion, as every country has potential hazards.
White woman here. People often think of places as vacation spots, and ask this questions regarding if they can just show up, not understanding the language or culture, and feel safe. How can you feel safe when you don’t have the slightest idea of what is going on around you? That is something we don’t offer any cultures coming to the US. We expect visitors to understand English, and have researched our customs before arriving.
I am a white Latina and frequently here these types of comments. I work at school where we say our key focuses are global community engagement and diversity and inclusion. I work as a spanish teacher and run trips to Latin America every year, however, when I do parent meetings I get the same questions every year and this is not an exaggeration. I get questions like “Are there hospitals?” “Will my child be beheaded/kidnapped/raped?” This year unfortunately also received this type of response from my administration about a trip I ran to a small town in Argentina. It is incredibly frustrating to have to explain every year how there is danger everywhere and although there are regions in Latin America that are dangerous, 1) I’m not taking students there. 2) The US consistently has mass shootings all over the country making it not as safe as many other places.
I don’t think it’s racist but I’m often told I don’t understand racism bc I’m white. I think bad things can happen anywhere and a lot of people base their opinion on the news which present an important and scary realization that the news can be wrong or biased. It’s why I love travel groups on the internet though bc you can often connect with people from these countries who can tell you what’s up, straight from the source.
I’m white. I feel pretty strongly about this because I live in Detroit and get asked all the time if I “feel safe”. I usually call it out for the dog whistle racism that it is. I also like to remind people who say stuff like this that women are more likely to be killed by a romantic partner than anyone else so our homes are pretty dangerous too.
White woman here. Mark Dufield has written some interesting stuff about this. From his (2014) Global Governance book he explicitly states “the re-problematisation of underdevelopment as dangerous is a historic and political construct” (p. 28). Which is suggests is essentially neo-colonialism, and an expression of the power of the West to silence the inequalities perpetuated by the West.
White woman living in Haiti, I get this question all the time from people in the US and Canada. I think there’s definitely a layer of racism, coupled with the unfamiliar or unknown being scary -> unsafe. I usually respond with some version of “why do you say that” and then talk about the overwhelmingly negative messages the media covers about Haiti, glossing over the good, and the motivation for the US government and NGOs to perpetuate the cycle of aid and poverty so they can exert power and control over a Black country. I then draw parallels to what happens in the US all the time to what they perceive as unsafe in Haiti to break down conceptions of “other.”
I’m white. I travelled 2mos to Jordan/Egypt with my 2yo and husband in 2010. Our whole family was terrified for us. We told them we were aware and cautious, but that North American media sensationalized the instability. We knew to stay away from certain areas on certain days to avoid the big protests. We met some of the most hospitable, kind, and generous people while we were there. Plus they loved our little one and offer her sweets everywhere we went. We felt welcome and safe and tried to make that clear to all who tried to tell us how dangerous it was.
White girl here. All this is on the assumption that you live in a “safe” country right now, so yeah it’s ABSOLUTELY fucking racist because the only difference is that they’re categorizing your home country as “white/safe” and the other country as “non-white/not safe.” Let’s say your home country where you’re having these convos is America. If they think it’s the beacon of safety and that’s their starting point for judgment of other countries (that they likely haven’t even been to nor could find on a map, then the conversation is less about your safety and more about their fear, prejudice, racism, and ignorance.
White person here. I think it’s incredibly misinformed but for people who don’t travel they have no idea. Americans are taught that this is the greatest country on earth and the idea of American exceptionalism. I think that in turn breeds a kind of fear of other places and a lack of curiosity. I can see how people think it’s racist but honestly American people live in a bubble. Instead of calling people racist or degrading them for an uninformed opinion/question I’d rather take the opportunity to dispel the myth and share my experiences in those countries while encouraging them to speak to and interact with locals when they do travel to get a better idea of what it’s really like there.
White person here. In 2016 I traveled to Haiti for a week with a group right after the hurricane and then 3 days after we returned to the “safety” of the US I was hit head on by a distracted driver on my way home from work and literally did almost die, as this response mentions. 6 months out of work, all of it. Safety is relative.
Lol yes. People are quick to say a place is “dangerous” if it’s majority PoC. Europe gets such a pass despite how so many people get mugged, take precautions with their valuables, etc., while traveling. It’s misinformation fueled by stereotypes, an intrinsic fear of differences/being the only white people, and generalizations of “envy/desperation” of the locals of a developing country.
Honestly, we can’t even go to the fucking movie theater or school or church in our own community without the risk of some white man shooting up the place so it always seems absurd to me when people talk about other countries being “dangerous”. I think always being aware of your surroundings and knowing which areas of a city are more or less safe (especially at night) – this is something I’d do with any city I’m in including my own.
Too bad I missed out on this. I have had students I tutor from around the world (Brazil, Turkey, Saudi Arabia) ask the same question (Why do I live in Mexico? Isn’t Mexico dangerous) because they see stuff in the news about Mexico watch Narcos or something like that. Idk if it’s necessarily a race thing but more the crap that’s fed to them on cable news etc.
Yeah, I think our privilege is also important to acknowledge in these conversations around safety. I felt so super safe and taken care of in India when I was traveling solo there, but it’s also been made clear to me by many women that that is not their own experience in their own country. And for some people, they don’t like having to see these questions/convos because a foreigners experience of the “safety” of a place is sometimes more reflective of them being catered to as a white person as opposed to being reflective of actual safety concerns. And they feel foreigners can speak openly about their safety in X country while a national may not feel they have the same freedom to have a conversation around what is “safe.”
I think it’s rooted in racism, but most people will have a hard time identifying why. If you’re a white woman, you’ve been taught your whole life to fear men of colour (in the long process is unlearning this myself) and the people around you likely have that fear too. Therefore they are concerned for your safety for no other reason than fear rooted in racism. IMO
It annoys me so much. I always tell people to not believe everything the media tell them. I have been to Iran twice and people seriously thought there was a war going on there when it’s actually one of the safest countries I can think of. When I decided to go on a trip around the world on my own at the age of 19 people told me I will get raped. As if there was a 100% chance. And when I decided to live in India for 7 months I was told the same thing. Yes, I do think it’s racist. And I am convinced it’s mostly the media’s fault for telling only the negative stories when there are a lot more positive stories to tell. Also especially in the case of India, rape and gender inequality is a huge problem but what people in the western world don’t understand is that Indian girls are much more at risk than foreigners who visit India.
Asking questions as to why they think that an entire country is dangerous can lead to addressing their racism/bias/prejudice/ignorance/xenophobia.
But be aware of nuances such as LGBTQ laws, ethnic cleansing, etc.
But just my personal response…
Safety is an illusion.
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