Black female travel influencers work overtime: explaining blackness to others, facing racism and related physical dangers, and convincing brands to work with them in the first place. It's a rare influencer who does all of that while promoting awareness of cultural appropriation.
Influencers are seen as having a lot of clout in the travel industry these days. Their ranks include Oneika Raymond, known as Oneika the Traveller, who’s been to more than 100 countries. She blogs and Instagrams about travel and hosts two Travel Channel shows on Facebook: “Big City, Little Budget” and “One Bag and You’re Out.”
But Raymond also broaches complex issues that aren’t always covered by mainstream travel media, including what it’s like to travel as a black woman and how, as an influencer, she tries to balance transparency while promoting the destination she’s hired to represent. Raymond shared tips and thoughts in the latest episode of AP Travel’s weekly “Get Outta Here!” podcast. Here are some excerpts, edited for brevity and clarity.
TRAVELING AS A BLACK WOMAN
Raymond hashtags some of her posts #blackgirlmagic. She also acknowledges that black travelers may face some unique challenges.
“If I travel to places where they don’t have a large black population, I get a lot of stares,” she said. “I get people trying to touch my hair and touch my skin and take pictures in a way that many white travelers may not have experienced. In TV, in film, people all over the world are bombarded with images of white people. But that’s not necessarily so when it comes to someone who looks like me. So I get a lot of attention in places like China or India, where local people have not had as much contact with black people.”
How does she respond to that attention?
“I am so used to it that I actually enjoy engaging with people,” she said. “We travel because we want to discover. That is what fuels me every time I go on the road. When I encounter these situations where people are very interested or attracted to me because of the way I look, or because of the differences in the way I look, I am really happy to have that dialogue and to engage with them. … We are both learning. I am learning about their culture and they’re learning about me and by proxy my culture.”
LET THE LOCALS TELL THEIR OWN STORIES
Raymond takes issue with the all-too-familiar photos of white travelers posing with local children on voluntourism trips. “When we go somewhere, we are visitors in someone else’s home and we need to be respectful of that,” she said. “I’m very sensitive to the optics of a Western traveler going to a developing country and showing images of people from that developing country without necessarily having their consent. … As privileged Western travelers, we fall into the trap of framing the narrative instead of letting the people in the place we’re in share their own stories of their own culture and frame their own narrative.”
As a woman who’s traveled solo to places like the Middle East, Mexico and India, Raymond knows the importance of safety. “If somebody is beckoning to me on the street and I feel uncomfortable, it’s perfectly fine for me to not engage and just to keep it moving,” she said. “I also recommend women to not compromise their safety to save a dollar or to prove a point. I tend not to explore when it’s dark outside. I stick to very well-lit, highly populated areas.”
Raymond is the rare influencer who describes the challenges of being transparent about being hired to promote destinations. “When I write about places that I’ve been to and have paid for on my own dime, you can expect 100 percent that I am giving my complete unbiased opinion,” she said. “However, if I am being paid to market or promote a tourism destination, then I am operating in a paid capacity and I’m a spokesperson for that brand. While you will get as honest an opinion as I can give, you have to realize that I have a very specific function and that function will be disclosed to you because it’s important to be honest. … People contact me every day saying they want me to come to their destination but I don’t accept jobs or freebies I feel will not align with my brand.”
Photo credit: This undated image provided by Travel Channel shows Oneika Raymond in Knoxville, Tennessee. Raymond is a travel influencer and a figure in the black travel movement. Crystal Martin / Travel Channel via Associated Press