Losing out on cultural interaction abroad could also mean losing out on job prospects and other benefits. And these missed opportunities don’t just harm individuals—they also rob society of social capital. If traveling abroad breeds cosmopolitanism even in the broadest sense, then everyone's better off if blacks contribute to this shared aim, too.
The grim reality of this 5-percent problem is that it also excludes blacks from gaining some important perspectives, according to Zim Ugochukwu, the 26-year-old creator of Travel Noire, a digital publishing platform that "creates tools and resources for the unconventional traveler." Ugochukwu is a young entrepreneur and the daughter of two Nigerian immigrants to America. She has said that she was inspired to start the platform after meeting people of color who were dubious about the practicality of traveling abroad and worried about what an experience beyond America’s borders might entail for a different sort of globetrotter.
Ugochukwu founded Travel Noire in 2013, and she’s at the vanguard of what’s coming to be known as the black-travel movement. This burgeoning movement might be just what’s needed to spark a different mindset among black Americans, because, in Ugochukwu's words, "when you see somebody who looks like you doing something you never thought you could do, then that thing becomes possible."
Plus, there’s what some might call the mental freedom of traveling, whereby it’s possible to experience being "black" without paying the heavy mental tax that race demands in America. "As a black traveler, I seek liberation through exploration and find myself seeming freer, at least in mind and heart, on the road than at home," Farai Chideya recently wrote for The New York Times. Traveling while black, to put it plainly, shows everyone that skin color shouldn’t be so divisive. This shouldn’t imply that race is only an issue for black Americans at home. But abroad, away from rooted defensiveness, racial differences often play out in such a way that they create empathy, not alienation.
All of this is to say that it isn’t hard to see how racial disparities are problems for individuals. But less clear-cut is that when disparities spill over, they’re also problems for our entire society—not least because they potentially deny it some of the best ideas, skills, and talents.
So, how might the country move closer to extinguishing this disparity?
One obstacle to tackle is accessibility. Going abroad is typically seen as belonging only to those who have the financial means to do so, and to an extent, this is true. Plane tickets and hostels alone can add up to pretty hefty price tags. Fortunately, there are many programs that try to surmount financial hurdles for minorities, including the Public Policy and International Affairs Fellowship and the Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Program, the latter of which is run in collaboration with Howard University, a historically black college. Programs like these are key, but throwing money at blacks in colleges won’t vanquish another fundamental problem.