I fell in love with an article written about Ernest White II in the December issue of Ebony Magazine. The article is entitled, “Passport to the World” and is found on page 65. White has lived in South America for more than five years, first teaching English and now as an editor of Time Out São Paulo. He has traveled to more than 30 countries. He encourages black men and women to travel abroad for this very reason, “ We can no longer afford not to travel if we want to stay relevant.”
Here are some excerpts from an interview with Helena Andrews and Ernest White II. Miss Andrews is an author and a contributor to The Root, a daily online magazine that provides thought-provoking commentary on today’s news from a variety of black perspectives. The full article can be read at http://www.theroot.com/views/fly-brother-talks-travel?page=0,0.
I chatted with White recently to get his take on what it’s like not just to travel while black but also to live in a place larger than the contiguous United States as an expat who speaks perfect Portuguese.
The Root: Is it really a different experience to be a black man traveling?
Ernest White: One of my favorite quotes from Passing Strange is, “We’re all freaks, depending on the backdrop.” The number of places where I’ve blended in with the locals has actually been surprising: Western Europe, Egypt, India and, of course, Brazil and the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. In Bolivia and Korea, not so much.
TR: You spent a few years in Colombia before “settling” in Brazil. Why São Paulo?
EW: While New York is chaotically ordered, São Paulo is ordered chaos. Streets and even buildings curve and rise and fall with the landscape. São Paulo is organic; it’s tropical and sensual and intense. It’s messy and it can crush you. As a foreigner, especially, you have to want to live here, or you won’t last. I love this place, nastiness and all. When that energy’s flowing just right, this place is like a cosmic orgasm.
TR: Yeah, “cosmic orgasm” is my new thing. So when did this travel love affair start?
EW: I’ve always been a geography nerd and used to collect travel posters and airline timetables as a kid — I was born with the travel bug. My first overseas trip was a six-week summer exchange to Sweden just before my senior year of high school. I was way in the north, near the Arctic Circle, the only non white person in town except for this Indian girl who’d been adopted by Swedish parents. I actually had a good time: People were nice, spoke English and even jammed to Toni Braxton.
TR: You’ve got trips to South Africa, Angola, Australia, Malaysia and Argentina in the pipeline. What is it about traveling that you love so much?
EW: The sense of adventure, of meeting new people, of experiencing new sensations. The excitement of punching down a runway, then flying through the air. The elation of seeing a place on a map and thinking, “I’ve been there,” or “I’m going there.” It’s a drug. Seriously. Addictive.
TR: Is that why you started Fly Brother? To get the rest of us addicted?
EW: I started Fly Brother as a creative outlet and a way of encouraging people — specifically black people — to travel abroad. There is no better experience on earth than communing with people in different countries, in different languages, and reveling in the similarities and differences. If I kept my experiences to myself, I’d feel like they were wasted.
TR: What advice do you have for future black travelers? Tips? Things to do? Things to avoid?
EW: Get a passport. Use it. There’s no form of racism you’ll encounter abroad worse than what we’ve already gone through, so that shouldn’t be a deterrent. Yes, you might need a foreign-language dictionary, but so what? As long as you know how to say “food,” “bathroom” and “hotel,” you’re good to go. Be open. Meet people. Ask questions. Listen. Ladies, keep a Taser in your bag; knuckleheads exist everywhere. “Now, voyager … go forth to seek and find.”
I encourage YOU to travel the world and create a better YOU. I will be getting my passport in the new year, so get yours too so we can travel together!!!
I consider this world to be like a school and our lives to be the classrooms.