A Fly Brother Talks Travel
Single-Minded: Travel-obsessed blogger Ernest White tells Helena Andrews why black folks should venture abroad.
"Morena. Mooooreeena." With my nonexistent Portuguese and dormant Spanish, it took a minute to realize the man selling bracelets on the beach was calling my name. "Morena" meant me, "black girl." Now, in the States, strangers don't try to grab your attention by singing to you about your skin color -- at least not the ones trying to sell you stuff. But in Brazil, a country where nearly 40 percent of the population identifies as "mulatto or mixed raced," being called "morena" to my face meant nothing and everything.
In São Paulo, three of us were checking out the skyline from Paulista Avenue when an Asian woman with glassy eyes stopped us to ask where she could find "the black man. You know? The South African president." Apparently she was supposed to meet him at the Museum of Art and he was late. Seriously. "You mean Nelson Mandela?" my friend Johnica tried to clarify. Ernest White, our unofficial tour guide, knew what she really meant.
"I've been confused for a rentboy -- that's male prostitute in Brazil -- a drug dealer or a random social climber," explained White, creator and editor of the travel blog Fly-brother.com. In the case of the Asian woman outside the São Paulo Museum of Art, "drug dealer" was the stereotype du jour. But that doesn't keep White from loving South America, where he's lived for more than five years, first teaching English and now as an editor of Time Out São Paulo.
I chatted with White recently to get his take on what it's like not just to travel while black but also to live in a place larger than the contiguous United States as an expat who speaks perfect Portuguese.