I was having a phone conversation with my mother last year and we were discussing my upcoming 2-week trip to Bangkok, Thailand. Toward the end of this conversation, she informed me of an instance when one of her friends asked her if my abundance of abroad experiences was the result of my membership in the United States army.
As a 21 year-old male who has never had an interest or desire to enlist, I found this a little disturbing. But unfortunately, the reality is that many young African-American men only have the opportunity to travel the world by committing to fight for a country that hasn't always had a history of fighting for them.
The lack of African-American men traveling abroad can partly be attributed to this demographic's low representation in institutions of higher learning. According to Dr. Keith Hollingsworth, chair of Morehouse College's Department of Business Administration, the percentage is even smaller for the number of African-American men participating in study abroad programs.
"Some of the research I've done recently shows that of all [American] students that study abroad, less than 1.5 percent are black men," Hollingsworth said in a recent documentary entitled The Experience: Bangkok, Thailand.
The documentary chronicled the progression of one Morehouse student and the effects that the 2-week experience in Bangkok had on him. In addition to showing these effects, the documentary showed viewers the importance of abroad experiences.
Ernest White is an avid traveler and graduate of Florida A&M University. He began traveling during his time at FAMU, and has been employed abroad for the past seven years.
He is also the author of fly-brother.com and uses the blog to encourage and inspire African-Americans to travel abroad.
"Traveling abroad has functioned as a continuing education program of sorts for me," he said. "I've learned a lot about myself...but the biggest lesson I've learned has been that I will never stop learning."
White attributes the low percentage of African-American men traveling abroad to a culture that doesn't necessarily promote and reward it.
"The prevailing attitude is that it (traveling) is either frivolous, dangerous, or 'something white folks do," he said. "That attitude is changing, but there are still too many of our brothers and sisters who think that travel is something they can't do."
"The low number of black men traveling abroad, I think, reflects the same disparity that we see among the population of black college students - in some circles, a young black man can be ridiculed for his intelligence and desire to experience new things," he continued.
As someone who has traveled extensively and been able to see the effects of abroad experiences firsthand, I can say that it is imperative that we promote them; not only for the sake of African-American men, but for the sake of the world. Many natives of the countries I have traveled to have never met or seen an African-American man in person; and their perceptions of this demographic come solely from the news channels they watch, the music they listen to, and the sporting events they see on television. It is always very interesting to see some natives' reactions to seeing my friends and I walk into hotels and roam the streets in a foreign country. While some are curious and open to meet us and learn more, some are even more ignorant than those in the United States. More international experiences for African-American men means the broadening of their minds along with the minds of the natives they come in contact with.
"I think we have to make sure our young brothers are made aware of the opportunities available to them," White said. "We have to talk and encourage our brothers, cousins, nephews, uncles, fathers, grandfathers [and] next door neighbors to get a passport and buy a plane ticket instead of the newest Jordans. An increase in the number of black men traveling abroad would be key in convincing our people that the acquisition of knowledge and experience trumps the acquisition of material things, and hopefully show the world that we are indeed more than the sum of our stereotypes," he said.
The Experience Bangkok, Thailand (documentary referenced above) can be viewed here: http://www.vimeo.com/40798680
Ernest White's blog can be seen here: http://www.fly-brother.com