If You Ask Why I've Never Been to a Place You Assumed I've Been to Before, the Answer Is Probably 'Because I Was Broke'

Illustration for article titled If You Ask Why I've Never Been to a Place You Assumed I've Been to Before, the Answer Is Probably 'Because I Was Broke'
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I get it.

I am a person who is a) black; b) makes a living where I often write about things specifically related to blackness; c) calls himself a “professional black person”; and d) has an upcoming book titled What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker (which, if you weren’t aware, is available for pre-order.) There are a few cities in America generally known to be epicenters of blackness. Atlanta is one of them. (Also, kind of but not really related, Atlanta is currently my favorite TV show.)


Context considered, it’s not wrong to presume that I’ve been to Atlanta before, and I am not surprised when people are surprised to learn that I haven’t. The answers I give when they follow up with “Why?” or “How?” have varied. (I remember, once in 2009, telling someone I had a phobia of peach trees.)

But the truth has always been the same. Traveling to places that are far costs money. And until the last five or so years, I’ve never really had any.

And yes, I’ve heard every possible retort to this. That “traveling is less about money than state of mind.” Or that if I would have saved the money I spent on a month of pancakes and bacon, I would have had enough to go. Or that story about that time you and your homies packed eight deep into a Ford Focus and road tripped to ATL and had the LITTEST WEEKEND EVER despite only having $17 between you. And these are great things to say. I’m glad so many people have so many great things to say. And, to be fair, brokeness isn’t the only reason I haven’t been. But the broke-related reasons and the me-related reasons are so intertwined that I can’t quite distinguish which is what.

These are the facts: My parents were also broke and we didn’t travel much. Our family vacations were trips to New Castle, Pa. The farthest I think I’d ever traveled with all three of us together is Detroit, which is a four-hour drive from Pittsburgh. With many of the places in the country that I have been to—a list that includes New York City, Chicago, Phoenix, and Miami—my first visit there was due to basketball. Either AAU tournaments in high school or away games in college. I’d been on dozens of planes in my teens and early 20s, but the first time I was on a plane and it had nothing to do with basketball came after I graduated college. Also, I have been to Italy (because basketball) and Toronto (because Caribana and also because it’s 90 minutes from Buffalo—which is where my college is located).

Also, I am—let’s just say that I am a person who takes a while to get comfortable with new surroundings. I am also a person who doesn’t require much external stimulation or “newness” to feel alive. “Just chillin” is perhaps my favorite state of being. Combined, this context explains why I just haven’t been to a lot of places that people presume I’ve been to before.

There’s Atlanta (and, well, the entire state of Georgia). I haven’t been to Detroit since I was 7. I’ve also never been to Dallas, Oakland, anywhere in the Northwest, most states in the South, and, oddly (considering how many times I’ve been to New York City) Brooklyn. This year also marked my first time in New Orleans, my second time in Chicago (the first was 20 years ago), and my first time in Baltimore since college. Oh, and until speaking at Morgan State earlier this year, I’d never even been on the campus of an HBCU.


Again, being broke for most of my life doesn’t explain all of this. I’m also a homebody who hates people. But I think that living with certain financial limitations impacted parts of my personality already susceptible to introversion. I’m already naturally not the type to need to wander, and not being financially able to wander just exacerbated that.

And while writing/VSB has enabled me to do quite a bit of traveling recently — and also, when this book is released, I’ll probably be touring and talking for months—my mindset hasn’t changed much. I’ll go anywhere if I have a purpose of being there. An event, a talk, a party, etc—you name it, I’ll come. But if I’m not specifically invited to be at a place then, well, I probably won’t be at that place. (Which is why, btw, I’ve never been to NABJ. You’d think that by now they’d put a nigga on a panel or something, but naaaaaaaah.)


I guess my new circumstances do call for a slight adjustment to the broke answer. So the next time someone asks why I haven’t been to Atlanta, I’ll just tell them the new truth: “Because no one bought me a ticket!”

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



... YEAH, this response to white dude asking Earn why he’d never been to Africa is but one of a dozen reasons to love “Juneteenth.”