On a night like yesterday, tossing and turning in the dark because of a toothache from a filling ‘so close to a nerve’, I turned to online news to keep me company as I waited for dawn. I visited my yahoo page and picked headline after headline. The Trump Russia fiasco had been shoved down my throat ad nauseum, so I ignored it in favor of fresh content.
The news about Bakari Henderson caught my attention, I’ve heard about it in passing but now took time to soak it in. I momentarily forgot the painful throb that has swollen my jaw and breathed in sharp short gasps; cringing while watching footage of Henderson being set upon. I craned my neck and narrowed my eyes to make sense of the grainy black and white images. I felt gutted. A sole black man set upon with blows and kicks by a sea of white guys, in a foreign land. He couldn’t have possibly foreseen that his vacation would end this way. I can’t imagine what went through his mind in those frightening final moments. He was a student who had recently graduated; a millennial no less, with a bright future ahead of him, who had just come down to Zakynthos to party, and as any tourist would do, took a selfie with a blond female bartender, an innocent act that sealed his fate.
I’ve traveled extensively through Eastern Europe, and have sampled two Greek cities. Just a couple of days ago I was asked why? Why travel so much through Eastern Europe?
Eastern Europe has barely been considered a tourist destination, and that in itself draws me in. I’m in search of unique stories and inspiration; and Eastern Europe continually offers a tableau of delights. I am inspired by sights such as Mother of the Motherland towering statue in Kiev, by the East-meets-west Old town vibe of Sarajevo, by the Phoenix arising psyche of Warsaw, the cool feel of splashing about in the pristine waterfalls of Plitviče, by climbing the stone walls of Dubrovnik and imagining I’m in the Game of Thrones, by visiting Dracula’s Bran castle in Brasov, and enjoying Romanian cuisine at Hanul lui Manuc in Bucharest.
Eastern Europe is not only easy on the eye, but also on the pocket.
Blacks researching about some of these destinations often find themselves at my blog step, and they ply me with questions, the biggest being, “Is it safe for a black person to backpack through region a, b, or c?”
In retrospect, I admit my responses have been very personal; informed by my experiences as a black solo female traveler or otherwise as a black single mom on jaunts with her pre-pubescent daughter. I have been all about sight-seeing and less about partying. I haven’t been to any pubs late at night except for Odessa where I went to the beach with my little one and walked barefoot sinking my feet into the sand while behind me, revelers had loud parties in establishments lined side by side.
I’ve mentioned the staring. That you may get stared at because your rich melanin exterior makes you stand out; but generally people have been friendly and helpful. For sure, the blond bartender talking to Bakari and taking selfies with him was friendly; the group of Serbs watching were not. Like a pride of lions who had been alerted to someone, a black man crossing into their territory, they growled, “There are many Serbians here, why is she talking to a black man?”
Things would have remained calm if it was just a question, a complaint, a tinge of jealousy..but when Bakari was attacked because of being the wrong colour and he defended himself, that’s when everything went haywire. The sad incident begs the question, where were his friends? He wasn’t alone in the bar, but we see the mob set on him alone. Couldn’t his friends have stepped in and quell the situation before it got out of control?
Many years ago, my brother had the opportunity of studying in Russia. Russia had beautiful girls he told us. Russia had the coldest of winters. Winters that did things to your skin and hair. Russia even had the most delicious pastries. He found the architecture in Moscow colourful and eclectic, but the one thing he dreaded most about Russia’s capital were the gangs of skinheads. Skinheads who felt they were of a superior race, who espoused the Nazi ideology and would lynch any student of darker skin tones if they found them walking alone. As a result, foreign students whether Asian, African or African-American, were always alert to their surroundings, and always walked in groups.
Sadly the Russian Nazi skinhead in the clip above opines that “he would be so surprised if he heard of a ‘nigger’ poet or a ‘nigger’ scientist or a nigger philosopher; because ‘nobody told him’..that they answered him with inventions such as rap and jazz which are shit.” His words.
He’s missed out on poets and writers like Maya Angelou, on brilliant brain surgeons such as Dr Ben Carson, on lawyers and presidents like Nelson Mandela. He’s missed out on generations of great black men and women, simply because he has chosen not to pick up a book, not to climb out of his Nazi cocoon, not to use the click of the mouse to read up on vast information on blacks available to him on the internet.
Such information is astounding, it’s a revelation of the misunderstanding and mis-education of a region where blacks are rarely seen in the flesh, and mostly viewed behind TV screens in music-videos, half-naked or assumed feral, at par with primates, and placed at the bottom of the rung in an invisible hierarchy in the minds of these ones. While I’m not saying that Bakari’s Serb attackers were neo-Nazi, it is clear that as he educated and informed himself about the world and was on an upward trajectory, coming to Greece to let loose after a four-year rigorous study; the sum-total of his life or achievements meant little to the attackers who viewed him through their own racial prism; simply as a black man who was not worthy to take a selfie with a white woman, or talk to her in the presence of other white men.
Marauding youth gangs with no sense of reason should be avoided at all costs, especially at these times with the rise of nationalism in much of Eastern Europe. When prospective black travelers ask me for advice as concerns their safety, I will have to give them disclaimers. By all means travel…but if you have to party at clubs, take safety in numbers, much like how black students survived all those years in Russia.