Real Travel vs. Reality Travel
by Demita Usher
Picture this, five black women; an attorney, a Grammy award winning song writer, an entrepreneur, a former fashion model, and a guest take a trip to South Africa for a time of relaxation, reflection, reconnection and their adventure is filmed for television. To chronicle a trip to the motherland for television sounds pretty harmless right? Not if these five women are the Real Housewives of Atlanta. While these ladies cooled their stilettos South Africa, it did not take long to realize that along with their shoes, they packed a whole lot of drama in that designer luggage of theirs.
I recently sat down with Fleace Weaver, owner of BlackGirlTravel.com who recently returned from a South Africa tour with 41 women to get her perspective on the effect that reality show travel is having on the real life experiences of black women traveling abroad.
With the growing popularity of American reality shows abroad like the Atlanta Housewives there is the definite possibility of a very negative backlash on black women traveling because of shows like this gearing their focus on the womens negative behavior; the cattiness, the pettiness, and the bickering. From Sherees decision to exclude of some of the ladies from an event that she had an invitation for, to the heated verbal exchange she had with Margo by the stairs in their suite, Fleaces concern is that people in foreign countries will identify all American black women by this type of behavior and judge them accordingly. To date, the South Africa episode is the 2nd highest rated show of the series sending a very clear message, that more than Black people are watching what they say and what they do. A recent article from the Jewish Journal attests to this fact. Consider the following statements from the article:
"Marlo is throwing cash around, clearly in an attempt to prove to Sheree she has more money than her, so Kandi and Phaedra start picking up the money and putting it in their clothes. Phaedra is hilarious and says she needs new shoes, Pampers, and souvenirs"
"The ladies get to their safari location, Shamwari Game Reserve, which is fantastic. They meet the staff and hear about the amenities. Everyone is asking about the gym, the spa, and then Marlo wants to know about hair and makeup."
"Africa is beautiful and its sad to me that these women get a free ride to paradise when they dont seem to appreciate it at all."
After watching the show and reading this article, All I can say is wow and question, are these the kind of images that black women want to represent them all over the world? Fleace gives a resounding NO! but she also provides a realistic perspective on human nature.
"Anyone can have moments when they dont get along with others but when it is taken to the level they are taking it to on the housewives, there is a bigger problem" she says. She went on to share that when her friends from other countries watch these shows add on-line in their countries and wonder if the behavior they have seen on the shows to be the code of conduct for most American black women. Black women battle so many things not of their own making as it is without having to combat the bad PR that the behavior of these women are providing.
Fleace is very passionate about dismissing the fallacy that black women cannot have fun together without fighting, name calling, and negative attitudes, the very issues that these reality shows focus their attention on. "We are working so hard to dismiss some of the negatives about black women especially when we travel, "Fleace explains, "many people just dont believe a large group of Black women can co-exist and not have the drama. We prove them wrong on every tour. We are up close and personal when we travel always looking out for each other." Fleace has a phrase that I find sums up the importance of that unity, the phrase is "Bella Down" It is a code phrase rallying the ladies together when one of their travel companions is in distress to help her out. She says this "One for all and all for one" attitude helps the women feel safe about being more adventurous in traveling without a cruise ship involved.
As I watched the show, I kept asking myself, what was the reason for them visiting this beautiful country? Why were they there? Outside of some tourist footage, the focus of the show was on the womens poor attitudes and entitlement oriented behavior. When Fleace planned her tour to South Africa for her group, everything was planned with much care and consideration, even their departure date, which was on Martin Luther Kings birthday. Each day in South Africa was planned to provide the women with an unforgettable experience, a lifetime of memories, and an opportunity to connect with their history. The ladies went on safari, visited tribal villages and spent time getting to know the indigenous people of South Africa. There was no name-calling, arguing or bickering, just a stronger bond of sisterhood with each passing day. One of the highlights of the tour was the visit to Cape Town and the tour of Robben Island, the very place Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for his stance against the oppression of Apartheid. The tour guides of this facility are former political prisoners, who could share first-hand accounts of what it was like to live under the brutal realities of Apartheid and the heavy price they paid in the fight for their freedom. Fleace asked her guide what message he would like the women from the tour to take back to our brothers and sisters in America, after a moment of silence came a very passionate response, "Freedom is a process, not an event." Fleace says that statement sent chills through her and continues to do so every time she thinks of it. If I might add that statement also gave me pause.
Fleace knew she wanted every part of their trip to be a beautiful reminder of the freedoms that men like Martin, Nelson, the tour guides and many other paid the price for them to enjoy, which is a far cry from complaining about the lack of spas and windblown hair.
Another casualty that gets eclipsed in the haze of all the drama is that the viewers do not get to enjoy beauty of the countries. Italy, the destination of another reality show, "The Basketball Wives" has special meaning for Fleace because Italy is not only one of her favorite countries to visit, it is the first country that she introduced many black women to the beauty of traveling abroad with her Bella Italia tours. As with the Atlanta Housewives once again with all the drama and bickering between the Basketball Wives, the beauty of Italy only served as a backdrop and much was missed.
"I do not want to portray this pristine image that we dont have fun on my tours," Fleace shares, "We get into our share of mischief all in the name of fun, but never at the expense of anyone on the tour. I want the ladies to have their moment in the spotlight to shine, have fun and cut loose without reckless abandon!" In the viewing of many photos from the past tours, I noticed nothing but groups of laughing and smiling women raising their glasses in celebration. One thing is very apparent; she works very, very hard to make sure the women have a great time.
For those who are reality show fluent but newbies in travel, according to Fleace there are very distinct differences in real travel vs. reality travel to consider if you get bit by the travel bug. A few differences are as follows:
Reality Travel: Take several huge pieces of luggage with you and make sure it is Louis Vutton to show off your fabulousness.
Real Travel: Fleace says one of her biggest challenges is to get women to pack light. One carry on weighing no more than 10 pounds and 1 suitcase weighing no more than 40 pounds is needed. All you need to be fabulous for 10 days can fit in those two pieces, she says.
Reality Travel: Wear pricey expensive clothing at all times. Wear designer heels on safari!
Real Travel: There is nothing wrong with dressing beautifully, but you want to be sensitive to the country you are visiting and want to blend in. Fleace shared that she and the ladies dressed a little more upscale in Italy but toned it down in South Africa when visiting impoverished communities.
Reality Travel: This is who I am take it or leave it.
Real Travel: Remember you are an Ambassador for your country, and what you do can affect the woman that comes behind you, Fleace says.
While in South Africa, Fleace spoke of the opportunities she had to be a voice for those who could not use their own voice. When she wanted to speak with the staff at the safari grounds the ladies visited without managers present to give them an opportunity to share their thoughts about life in South Africa, the workers were in awe of her interest in hearing what they had to say and the respect she was given by management in accommodating the unusual request.
Speaking of having something to say, some of the ladies from her South Africa tour share their feelings about the differences between reality travel and real travel:
"We came to explore and appreciate South Africa they came for other reasons. It didnt matter what our professions were or our level of income. We were open to embracing South Africas history and culture which allowed us to connect to the people on a personal level."
"Black Girl Travel founder Fleace Weaver brings together black women from all walks of life that come to enjoy a drama free experience with their Sisters in a foreign land. Oversized Egos and Negative Attitudes are checked at the door and not allowed on our vacations! Our time together is truly centered around having a good time, getting to know one another and immersing ourselves into the local culture. Unfortunately shows like RHOA seek to portray Black women in a rowdy, drama filled, immature light and perhaps this is for ratings."
"While the RHOA arrived in South Africa with designer handbags, stilettos and plenty of attitude and discord among them, BGT arrived in South Africa with open hearts, open minds and a sense of sisterhood and camaraderie."
"My initial thought of the RHOA is they are a bad portrayal of African American women. I recognize that it is a reality show and ratings are a factor. However, I think it's sad that six women can't take a journey of a lifetime without drama. Blackgirltravel.com organized more than 40 women to visit the motherland. We had an emotional, educational, and bonding experience that will stay with us forever."
We as black women are indeed among the true treasures mined from the land of Africa; we are beautiful, smart, and have a lot to offer. It is unfortunate that our beauty, intelligence, and accomplishments are buried under the avalanche of the mis-representation of these realty shows. Does anybody know who the attorney is or the Grammy award-winning singer is? No because that is not as important as calling someone out his or her name is. Should not the law degree, the Grammy award winning talent, and the business savvy of these women been the gifts they brought to South Africa in honor of Martin and as a gift of gratitude to Nelson for their sacrifices to make those things possible for these women and black women everywhere? The strength they carried to accomplish what they have could have served as an inspiration for women in South Africa of what is possible but instead it was used as a weapon of crass destruction on each other.
When African-Americans travel we can provide a snapshot picture that people will carry in their minds about the people that person represents regardless if they want to be or not. If they do not understand the opportunity and privilege that has been afforded them they will serve not as cultural ambassadors, but as an embarrassment. Long after this show is off the air these images will be replayed and will become the unwanted gift that keeps on giving.
I do not believe that these ladies are deliberately trying make things difficult for other black women, they probably see it as just entertainment, but the truth is, it is not just fun and entertainment it is a message. I pray they take a long hard look at themselves (as the rest of the world already has) and see the impact of their actions. Because we all are in some way affected by it, the only way to destroy this poison is to provide the antidote, and that is by flooding the market with loving, happy, positive black women who leave their joy wherever they go. What am I saying? I am calling black women to travel more! Put your support behind BlackGirlTravel.com, support these tours and help put this character assassinating to rest. BELLA DOWN, our reputation is at stake!
Please forward this to all your fun loving friends!
"Not Your Grandmother's Tours!"