#BlackGirlMagic: Oneika the Traveller on the influencer complex

2018-03-23 13:30
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AP / Crystal Martin

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.

Travelling as a black woman

Raymond hashtags some of her posts #blackgirlmagic. She also acknowledges that black travellers 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 travellers 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."

I'm not "sassy". I just speak my mind. I'm not "mean". I'm just firm in my beliefs. And I'm not "angry" when I express dissent or call you out on your BS. My voice has always been direct, unwavering, and imbued with bass, you see. To all my ladies out there who have been called "bitchy", "headstrong" or worse: I hear, see, and feel you. I occupy that space daily. To all the women who have been labelled as "difficult" because they speak up and out, we're fluent in the same tongue. Continue to use your voice with confidence and without fear. I saw a quote from author Chimimanda Adichie that resonated with me strongly. In a recent interview, she told women “It’s not your job to be likable. It’s your job to be yourself". Wise words. My own advice is similar. Stay convicted and bold. Challenge the status quo. Own your unpopularity and use it to make an impact. Be the one who stands up when others can't or won't. And above all, always remember to honour yourself. ***** I wrote these words last year and they are just as true today as they were back then. At @womenstravelfest last weekend we discussed sexism in the travel industry and it made me reflect on my experiences over the years both as a travel journalist and in my past life as a teacher. I've been vilified, dismissed, discredited, and gaslighted by male colleagues because of my gender (as well as skin colour, penchant for being outspoken, age, appearance) and you know what? Time's up! Keep on being unapologetically you, ladies, fearlessly fierce, timelessly graceful and gorgeous. I support you. We support each other. We push forward. #womenshistorymonth . . . . . . ?? @iamjamesanthony . . . . #sheisnotlost #wearetravelgirls #femmetravel #ladiesgoneglobal #meettheworld #girlaroundtheworld #loveantiguabarbuda #blackgirlmagic #iamtb #dametraveler #traveloffpath #sidewalkerdaily #travelnoire  #blackgirlstraveltoo #wegotoo #blacktravelfeed #girlsborntotravel #essencetravels #caribbeans #blackslayingit #dametraveler #worldnomads #beforeidie #soulsociety

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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 travellers 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 traveller going to a developing country and showing images of people from that developing country without necessarily having their consent. ... As privileged Western travellers, 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."

SEE: #CulturedAF: How to be culturally sensitive when travelling

Staying Safe

As a woman who's travelled 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."

Transparency

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."

CHECK OUT: Travel abominations according to Anthony Bourdain

What's next?

Where's Raymond headed next? In April, she'll be taking her "Big City, Little Budget" show to Texas.