‘Rona Was What They Called Her: Travel, Ignorance, and Privilege in Trying Times
It has taken me a while to get back to blogging amisdt #COVID19 breaking out in New York City, #socialdistancing, changes at work, and life things all simultaneously swarming. As a world traveler, I have a lot of feelings seeing travel in general, but in particular throughout the Western Hemisphere come to a screeching halt. Simultaenously watching social media influencers, “leaders,” and commentators handle this thing in particular has been another inducer of feelings.
Although at the writing of this post, my follower count on IG is at a mere 378 followers, I try my best to be tapped into those who are well beyond that in their media presence. I do this because it’s important in any field to be tuned into your industry. I also do it because I see a LOT of the same things, and use it as confirmation of my own differentiation in a market that I truly believe needs more.
As someone who has traveled for over a decade to distant places (before social media) I can say that pandemics in the world are NOT foreign to me. I’ve seen SARS, Swine Flu, and Ebola concerns gently intersect with my own travel plans...but my privilege as an American in these cases protected me in a lot of ways, that most of the people managing these accounts aren’t even aware of. While the metrics on IG and FB have changed significantly from the early days, require monetary investment (which is a bit disingenuous IMO-but I won’t digress), and pander to a certain shallowness—what is most annoying about seeing people with droves of followers, and commentators is how they handled a PANDEMIC.
I can be vulnerable and say that sometimes—especially in times like this, I wish my following was larger and more engaged. While I may not have reached “IG Influencer Status” YET, I’m not even quite sure I want that. Really I just wish I could get the “Swipe Up” feature for the ease of directly linking people to my (and some other) quality travel content. On a deeper level, I wish I had a larger and more engaged following at times like this, because IGNORANCE.
I wholeheartedly believe that knowledge and sense SHOULD go with influence, because they still count—for something—in real life. Personally, my character and integrity mean (and have meant) that I am still an influencer by the way that I have actually LIVED this travel life. The thing about being OF the real world and being secure in that, is that you know people see you. It can take months and sometimes years before you KNOW people have seen you though. Since social media has a large voyeuristic component where people watch a whole LOT, and leave little in return by way of commentary—impact is hard to gage. So, while I didn’t “brand” my travels until now, it wasn’t like my adventures didn’t influence others when I used FB to keep my family aware that I was safe before WhatsApp came out and IG was live.
While people try to sell “authenticity” and “travel” from carefully crafted, planned out photoshoots, with videos compiled after hours using an editing room—you’re still left with no REAL knowledge of the place that looks pretty in the shot, no idea of the people or their history, the name of their currency, or how to GET to where the person filmed the clip amongst other things. So, I am of the old school mindset that when people are looking at you, and/or following you there should at least be some VALUE that you serve that is more than just “trending topics.”
Observations of Ignorance
When the ‘Rona hit and flight deals were dropping onto IG feeds left and right I was paying very close attention to many of these accounts (as I always do). The way some of these accounts were
sharing the deals,
asking people where they’re going for under $100,
amping people up, and
how people (my people smh) were so HYPE—
despite the REAL implications of this pandemic, annoyed the shit out of me. Because it was “early” people thought somehow that the risk of something this big was worth it.
Now I’m not coming for the people who were joking—although I found it distasteful, I know that a large part of Black culture is making light of grave situations for a multitude of reasons. However, I am of the belief that there should be some responsibility or at least respect to those who know better by people who have a flock of sheep engaging in the nonsense I saw. As a travel expert, I could tell these people weren’t reading or paying close attention to how a major developed nation like Italy was on the brink (at the time). No one was really following the implications and the serious vibe that the ‘Rona was nothing to mess with.
I also still don’t understand WHY, travel has to be DIRT CHEAP for people to consider it as plausible and viable…Newsflash, I fly affordably REGULARLY because I PLAN for it. I don’t have to RISK spreading a disease, to go anywhere I damn want to! If the people managing these accounts had some modicum of sense and logic they would TEACH how to do the same.
Another reason these posts and promotions irked me, was that NOW, we are seeing in places like my beloved Brooklyn, how the ‘Rona is ravaging the Black community way more than anyone else’s. I also believe that as often as Black people have and continue to face injustice—travel is an arena where we are blind to our privilege.
The Dangers of Travel Privilege
The insensitivty I witnessed at the onset of COVID-19 also irked me in a few ways. Many of the places that travelers were visiting or booking flight deals to were Caribbean and Central American countries. I witnessed in the ealrly days of these social media (in my Love & Hip Hop Joselyn voice) shenanigans. Many Black people co-opting an attitude that was REAL imperialist.
While tropical destinations often serve as quick-getaways, escapes from realities, and paradise vacations where folks can stunt for the gram—they are not nearly as equipped as our spoiled mindsets have us believe. They were also fine, until people tried to run, escape, and ride the wave on vacay to places that were fine before our entitled selves showed up, even though most of the world was supposed to STAY PUT especially from seeing this panedmic play out in China and then Europe.
As news spread, I watched islands like Barbados, Jamaica and others confirm their first cases of the ‘Rona “imported by travelers” by those who were in the US or Britain looking to get away. Same goes for many African countries. In fact, most of this virus spread due to travelers from Europe. So I find this neo-colonialism under the guise of YOLO quite disgusting to observe.
I watched as selfish people tried to claim “opportunities” for self in order to travel on the cheap. I observed influencers acting like medical professionals and touting ignorance to people. With those in comments having to explain how the ‘Rona works time and again for those who didn’t want to read. For the life of me it feels like being educated and well-versed in life is the fastest route to insanity in the U.S.
To put it simply: I just never understood (and can’t forgive the thought of) how:
> the risk of carrying a deadly global virus >> currently spreading (potentially through airports and on planes) >>> without knowing whether or not (you or I) could have it >>>> JUST to get a cheap flight and profit off of a crazy time >>>>> MADE SENSE...like looking at ALL these points, HOW?! My new saying is make it make sense: because that challenge is harder than any other Don’t Rush challenges you see being remixed for the millionth time...
Even if you skip a few of these points, these were the thoughts people were hedging their bets on because of a: flight deal?! Y’all definitely missed me with some of the clout these pages have lol...like I never thought stupid was cool. And I never thought a lack of standards at ANY level of business was acceptable in travel or otherwise.
While I don’t expect many people to view themselves as part of a larger web, being a world traveler taught me how much we are actually connected. Sadly, for Americans of all races, our bubble is JUST bursting as a result of the ‘Rona. When other nations dealt with pandemics and had preparation we couldn’t ever fathom (just search for yourself on what Swine Flu, SARS, and Ebola did to international communities, or how South Korea is handling testing currently) they had experience and respect of science to rely on.
And we have, well...in the face of how other “shithole” countries doing better than us, with governments that can actually mobilize their citizens to LISTEN to reason and STAY HOME...I don’t know what we HAVE here that is of value honestly besides an insiduous amount of IGNORANCE, and love for stupidity, lies, lack of respect, and poor leadership…
People wanted to Spring Break because, freedom. People wanted to “catch flights, not feelings” because the price was right. Meanwhile, in the “richest country in the world,” in the “greatest country in the world” medical workers, volunteers, and essential workers are DYING because WE don’t have VENTILATORS, and essential workers don’t have protective gear in certain places….
Capitalism conditioned most of us to be fucked up. Having traveled to places where that wasn’t the norm, I knew we were screwed and will be long after this because of the long legacy of what Americans love by virtue of how and what they consume and communicate. The ‘Rona fully gathered so many people’s asses to show out, and that’s what the ridiculous early travel conversations made me think of, as this thing NOW has crippled our very existence on a real day to day level.
But capitalism continues, and so, because there is a shortage of face masks, people are selling masks...never mind that nurses STILL don’t have them though. While I have definitely done some free webinars and courses to keep myself good for my own brand and development (as I did before the pandemic hit)—I find it hard for example, to even entertain a travel sales funnel, paying $hundreds or even spending much coin on ANY courses when I am on a very limited income, with reduced work, trying to stay positive, educate, and reach more people about travel, which is something I’ve genuinely loved for a long time. So, pardon me if looking at another ass, bikini, or body/glam shot just isn’t cutting it for my wanderlust vibes right now...
I’m sure some of these accounts have or will archive those posts that were good for buzz, but terrible for the realities of what we are facing now. I can say that I wasn’t prioritizing a few dollars over my health and that of others. I’ve done some risky things with regards to travel, but I wasn’t messing with the ‘Rona. Overall, while I witnessed these things, of course there were the responsible ones, but I hope more of us get greater space in the travel game. We need to make knowledge, value, and substance cool again, since we see how America aint so great after all if we take those red, white, and blue shaded lenses off.
I know travel will return at some point—but it will be different. What I sincerely hope will be different on the other side of this is that we respect cultures and the people of the nations we frequent more, we learn more about where we are traveling to before we get there, and we respect mother earth (and its animals) more because it’s RIGHT (and NOT because Tiger King has a lot more people up in arms about exotic animal photo and video opps people continue to use to push some weird “man conquers nature” complex we have as tourists).
I would love for more of us to get a little deeper (just a little?) about travel as a community here in America. Travel and the impact it can and does have on all of us is what I would love to hear and see more of. Not because you HAVE to quit your job to do it, or become an influencer to get paid for it. But because travel works on you, if you give it more meaningful attention both on social media and off.
I am definitely here to help that and hope you take a visit to my IG page, where I’ve gotten you ready with some free game of what to know before you go so you can learn how to connect a little more. If you stay ready, you don’t have to get ready! While I’m not sure how many people have learned or are paying attention, I’ll be here to continue educating, and sharing views from what I’ve seen in the world— hope you continue to join me rants and all!