c.2021, Belknap, Harvard University Press
Travelling While Black: Essays Inspired by a Life on the Move by Nanjala Nyabola
By Terri Schlichenmeyer
The Truth Contributor
You’ve always wanted to do it. You just wanted to go.
You’d hop in a car or van, no GPS or map, no real itinerary, no destination in mind. You’d point your headlights in some direction and drive until you got where you felt like you needed to be. No timetable, no worries… and no chance for your ancestors to do that very thing. So this summer, honor their wanderlust by seizing yours, and read these two similarly-titled new books…
First, the history: it had to start somewhere – but where? You can imagine how Black mobility was affected by slavery but how and why did it continue? Surely, it wasn’t arbitrary, not just “no, you can’t travel here,” so how did restrictions on Black mobility happen, how did African Americans fight the system, and why does it matter now? In Traveling Black, (Belknap, Harvard University Press, $35.00), author Mia Bay answers these questions, starting back when travel was largely of the horse-and-wagon type.
Starting with Plessy v. Ferguson, Bay explains how segregation in travel began, and how it spread along roads and rails and then spread to accommodations, and the uncertainty of what might await a traveler along the journey. Bay separates each mode of travel to examine how Jim Crow laws affected a Black traveler in different manners, and she looks at the ways in which travel was sometimes used as activism.
Now, though, you’re free to travel – not just in the U.S., but around the world, if you want. In Travelling While Black (Hurst, $19.95), author Nanjala Nyabola shares some stories of her travels, and how her skin color matters when she’s on the move.
Indeed, what’s it like to travel as a Black woman, when guidebooks are not written with a Black woman in mind? How can you draw a line from African Americans on the road in the Old Days, to travel now? And now that you can travel, what does it tell you about yourself?
These are just a few things Nyabola ponders as she takes readers from Haiti to the Far East, Mexico, Africa, Europe, and the American South. She muses about suffering, the need for literature in Black culture, identity, asylum, and the meaning of home.
This is the kind of book you’ll want to read when you want to go somewhere but you’re stuck at home for whatever reason. Nyabola goes to the popular places but she also travels to spots that are generally sought by adventurers. This gives readers a sense of travelogue with a hint of the unusual; her musings on the places she goes make this a book you won’t want to put down. Her observations will make you glad she took you along with her.
If these don’t quite fit what you’re looking for, there are lots of other books you’ll find at your local library or bookstore. As always, be sure to ask your librarian or bookseller for help; they’re pros at finding what you’re looking for. Do it today. Just go.