I always knew my parents were quite blind to certain inequalities and societal issues. In general, they weren’t super overtly racist in public but I always wondered why my mom had certain habits. For example, whenever we went to an area that was more urban, she would always lock her doors at red lights. My mom would say that it is because she grew up in a city so I never really thought it was a racist action, but now that I am older, I realize that feeling unsafe in an area is largely in part due to implicit racism. Much of the underlying reasons to feel uncomfortable in a city are based on systematic racism and the way in which neighborhoods are constructed based on income.
Consequently, the simple discussions surrounding study abroad can really serve to promote race talks. By showing interest in another culture, you inherently open the door to criticizing your own culture. In this sense, talking about race is almost always unavoidable when engaging in discussions about studying abroad. Moving to a different city with a whole new culture and possibly another language is a huge change and depending on the type of parents you have, deciding where to go can be a very difficult conversation.
While it is natural for parents to feel protective over their children, the mannerisms and reasons that underlie some of their thoughts are inherently racist. Parents may not let their child study in a certain area based on how ‘safe’ they perceive it to be. This can encompass a wide variety of traits like the demographic composition of a place, the economic standings and the physical location.
In my case, my parents would not let me go to a country where I would be the only white person. Though they did not directly say those exact words, they hid it under the facade of the fact that they didn’t want me to ‘stand out’ and be a target of various crimes. The assumption that there would be significantly more crime based on the fact that I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country is problematic. I was forced to choose between educating my parents on why their thinking was racist and risking their permission to study abroad or letting it slide and caving in to their illusion because they have the power in this situation.
My parents, like many, wanted me to go to somewhere in Europe. Somewhere familiar. Somewhere ‘safe’. Somewhere White. They asked questions like “what is the crime rate?” and “will you be staying in a ‘good neighborhood?’”. These questions, and many more were tinged with racism. In the end, though I am extremely pleased and excited to get to go abroad, the aspect that sold my parents on studying abroad is that I will be going to one of the whitest places in Latin America. Even though they did not explicitly say that this was the selling point, it all relates to how ‘safe’ they believe I will be and regardless of whether or not they are aware of it, safety has a whole lot to do with sameness.
Therefore, how do we address the safety of studying abroad without perpetuating racial stereotypes?