I have recently returned from the first short break I have taken in England as an adult. This is despite England being the place I call home, the place of my birth and the only home I have ever known. For me a holiday has almost always involved going somewhere else – specifically, a destination where I could easily blend in among the people. This meant either locations with a superdiverse demographic or a place populated by people also of African origin.
Bluntly speaking, this is due to the fact that as a person racialized as black, a carefully chosen trip abroad can offer a much needed, but temporary escape that is much mental as physical. An escape from being treated as a second-class citizen, from being made to feel ‘other’, an anomaly. This allows for a period of mental peace, during which the stream of what African American sociologist W.E.B Du Bois (1994:2) called second consciousness – ‘always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others’ – vanishes. For me one key aspect of second consciousness involves being hyper-aware of whether one could be perceived as justifying any of a long list of racial stereotypes and further stigmatizing yourself and many other others. This awareness is taxing but almost as automatic as a survival mechanism. Opting for a holiday in an English county, I was concerned I would be letting myself in for more of the same discomfort instead of being able to disconnect.
However, while a couple of microagressions did occur – including being studied with suspicion by a resident as we ran down a street for a soon due bus – our British staycation was a pleasant surprise overall. Locals were accustomed to tourists, friendly and helpful. Though initially chosen due to budget constraints, taking this trip has proved a revelation as it has forced to challenge the spatial boundaries I had imagined, my beliefs about where my son and I, as Black people, should go and where we should not. I have concluded that my son and I should venture more widely on this English land – it is our liberty. We are equally entitled.