THE BAHAMAS’ UNINTENDED MESSAGE TO THE US TRAVEL COMMUNITY

Recently, the Bahamas issued a travel warning for their citizens visiting the United States.    It was later followed by three other countries, two from the Middle East.  While the warnings are directed to their own citizens, they also carry an unintended but clear message to me and other US travelers returning home from around the globe: take action.

Let’s start by acknowledging, warnings about travel to United States are unusual.    Partly it’s due to circumstance: the USA is one of the most stable countries in the world.  And partly to diplomacy: such warnings create negative publicity and discourage travel.

The Bahama’s warning to its citizens was the first to come after a turbulent week of racially charged incidents in Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas cities.  It alerts “all Bahamians traveling to the US but especially to the affected cities to exercise appropriate caution generally.”   It particularly asks young Bahamian males “to exercise extreme caution in affected cities in their interactions with police.  Do not be confrontational and cooperate.”   Significantly about 90% of the Bahamian population is black.

So in some ways, the Bahamas’ travel warning is quite typical.  It advises citizens about a concerning situation in another country.    But in addressing males and a primarily black audience while visiting the United States, it carries a broader, poignant message about American society and each of our roles in it.

As a country, we have some troubling racial and cultural divisions which remain to be bridged.   And to address them, millions of us will need to step forward with a new-found confidence, open-mindedness and courage to defeat intolerance.

That’s where a key segment of the US travel community needs to take note and step up.

As travelers, many of us automatically adopt a stereotype-busting mindset while overseas.  It’s all about the confidence that allows us to venture out of our comfort zones as we discover new places; the open mindedness that prompts us to engage others irrespective of dialect or appearance; and the courage to respect and value others’ cultures as they are.

Our country needs more of that now.    It’s time to bring it home.

Speaking for myself, I need to ratchet up my own mindset without the prompt of a passport or a foreign language dictionary.  I need to do a better job recognizing and valuing differences among residents, neighborhoods and customs within my wider local community, just as I do with the people, places and cultures I meet overseas.

These are challenging times – but there is reason for hope.  The US community of travelers seems instinctively equipped to advance tolerance and understanding.    As individuals, it will depend on us  more actively using that engaging mindset here at home.

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