Reading Progress:

Travelling while black in this disoriented world

by Nyasha Oliver

How does travel intersect with topics like migration, identity, and the freedom to move? This is an insightful read for anyone who wants a broader perspective on what it’s like to travel in a world that privileges some, but restricts many others.

As Nanjala Nyabola says, Travelling While Black: Essays Inspired by a Life on the Move is not a travel memoir: it is an exploration that opens our eyes to the privileges of those who can travel freely and how Black people cannot. Our passports are either seen as threats or opportunities. Our identities are always questioned, and we often have no choice but to comply with power to avoid being made out to be ‘the bad guy’.

As a Black woman who frequently travels to countries in Asia and elsewhere, I am always eager to learn about the experiences of Black people who live and travel there, and whether these might shed light on what others can expect. Nyabola writes that “fear is a powerful and paralysing impulse”: anyone who has stepped outside of their comfort zone and travelled to places that are not predominantly populated by their race will know this to be true.

An insightful read on what it’s like to travel in a world that privileges some, but restricts many others.

Throughout Travelling While Black, Nyabola sheds light on the reality of other people’s lives across countries and walks of life. Nyabola goes everywhere, from giving a voice to victims of domestic and sexual abuse in Haiti, to exploring academia’s fascination with romanticising trauma rather than studying the complex cultural systems of her hometown of Nairobi, Kenya.

Travelling While Black forces us to reflect on weightier topics that we not do not often consider when we think of ‘travel’, such as security and freedom. For instance, forms of identification such as visas and ID cards are essential to travel, but can also become a means of controlling a person’s movement. This book asks: Is fair to place responsibility on civilians for the choices made by states? Why do we, the Black and Brown populations of the world, get to have tribes, while Europe gets nations?

Guidebooks should always be taken with a grain of salt. They do not cater to us, but rather are written by white men, for white men. There are, fortunately, many forms of media ripe for research—such as YouTube, blogs, and word of mouth—from which you can gain an idea of what someone who looks like you has experienced before you take the plunge.

Guidebooks do not cater to us, but rather are written by white men, for white men.

From places such as Gorom-Gorom and New York to Haiti and Nepal, Nyabola is obviously well travelled. However, countries within Africa, Oceania and the Americas have incredibly rich cultures and foods. Many are eager to discover (or re-discover) them, and a sequel exploring these continents in more depth could be the next step for her.

Again, this book is not a memoir about a Black woman’s travels: Travelling While Black reveals who has the resources to navigate a disoriented world. It is an insightful read on what it’s like to travel in a world that privileges some, but restricts many others.

By Nyasha Oliver

NYASHA OLIVER is a writer based in London. She founded Nyam with Ny in 2020 to introduce more people to spicy dishes and recipes from around the world. Alongside writing about food, she is passionate about inspiring Black women to live in Asia through her stories and personal experiences. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

NANJALA NYABOLA is an independent writer and researcher based in Nairobi, Kenya. She holds an M.Sc. in African Studies and an M.Sc. in forced migration studies, both from the University of Oxford, as well as a J.D. from Harvard Law School. She has held numerous research associate positions, including with the Overseas Development Institute and the Oxford Internet Institute, and has worked as a research lead for several projects on human rights, broadly, and digital rights, specifically, around the world. She is the author of Digital Democracy, Analogue Politics: How the Internet Era is Transforming Politics in Kenya (Zed Books, 2018) and Travelling While Black: Essays Inspired by a Life on the Move (Hurst Books, 2020). Find her on Twitter and on her website.

Travelling while black in this disoriented worldTravelling While Black: Essays Inspired by Life on the Move by Nanjala Nyabola
Published by Hurst on 19 November 2020
Genres: Memoir, Travel
Pages: 264
four-stars

Thoughtful, original reflections on migration and identity from an African woman abroad. What does it feel like to move through a world designed to limit and exclude you? What are the joys and pains of holidays for people of colour, when guidebooks are never written with them in mind? How are Black lives today impacted by the othering legacy of colonial cultures and policies? Why has the world order become hostile to human mobility, as old as humanity itself, when more people are on the move than ever? Nanjala Nyabola is constantly exploring the world, working with migrants and confronting complex realities challenging common assumptions—both hers and others'.

RELATED

MORE LIKE THIS