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African American Traveling to Italy next month

I will be traveling to italy next month by myself. I will be visiting Rome, Venice, & Milan. I am interested in the experiences other african americans have had in Italy. I have read that they like black woman but black men not so much. I am a black male traveling alone so i would just like to have a heads up on what to expect or what to avoid.

Thanks in advance.

Posted by
11957 posts

I am Italian and not African American, but my wife is 100% Afro-Puerto Rican (or Afro-Latin American), therefore black, so I have some "indirect" experience traveling in Italy with her for at least 25 times.

Some might look at you with suspicion if they think you are an African immigrant and possibly (God forbid!) from a Muslim country (Italians don't like Muslims, and that sentiment goes back centuries). That is true also with law enforcement. But as soon as they find out you are an American, you will be immediately be treated like any 'White American' and any suspicion will dissipate.

Carry your US passport with you and wear stuff that will make you look unmistakably from the USA (being loud in the streets will achieve that goal too. Americans are very loud compared to Europeans). Therefore if you are an African American who likes to wear African attire, I suggest you leave that at home and wear something that makes you look like an American basketball player or, if you are not that young anymore, wear conservative business casual clothes. If you look like Kobe Bryant you will treated as a hero in most of Italy and people will stop you for autographs (Kobe grew up in Italy and people love him. He's often a guest on Italian TV where he speaks Italian fluently).

My brother in law, who's even darker than my wife and a male, has lived in Spain for several years. He said that in Europe he was never treated with the same level of suspicion he was treated in the US and never had any problems. Whenever he was pulled over by the police on his motorbike, the minute they found out he was an American, they wouldn't even bother to check his driver's license or his immigration documents. They would wave him good bye without further question. If he had been from Africa he would not have enjoyed the same treatment. Moral of the story, in Europe the color of your passport cover counts more than the color of your skin.

Posted by
4 posts

This is great to know. This seems to be the consistent response regarding how Italians view blacks. I will be sure to dress american and carry my passport at all times.

Thanks again.

Posted by
12040 posts

I knew some African-American families stationed with the US army when I lived in Germany, and they never mentioned any problems. In most of Europe, your clothes and demeanour will instantly identify you as a tourist, which means that you will be a quickly-forgotten blip in most people's eyes. Racism in Europe is almost never directed against tourists, moreso towards immigrants, and mainly against Arabs rather than black Africans, who are present in much smaller numbers and generally better integrated. Italy may be different from northern Europe, however.

Posted by
216 posts

Have a fabulous time!

The impression people get will be based on how you speak (accent) and what you're doing.

If you are going to tourist sites and acting like a tourist and not hustling tourists - selling fake Prada bags, etc. you shouldn't get hassled for being black. You may get hassled by the newspaper-selling, pocket-picking Roma child gangs who will spot you as an American tourist.

How interesting that advice to you is to act like an American tourist but the usual RS mantra is to "be a temporary European." Plus ça change . . .

Posted by
4 posts

Thanks for the advice!

I am excited about my trip in a few weeks. I will update this thread when i get back to let everyone know my experience.

Posted by
45 posts

A gentleman who responded prior described it pretty well (his name may have been Roberto). Growing up in Italy and the US as I have, I've seen a lot of changes in both places in my life, and I must say Italians on the whole are a bit less xenophobic than say, in 1987. That being said, they've Always, been an extremely friendly people when it comes to travelers and tourists from the US, especially in the major cities you'll be visiting. The unfortunate racism towards black people is mainly directed at African-Africans, due to Italy being inundated with refugees from Africa as well as many other places. It's really a tiny country and some of the older people aren't fans of the crowding or changes (and it really is older people more often than not). The color of your passport really DOES save you and matter here; as an African American tourist they will treat you the same as a white American tourist. It is true that the more stereotypically "American" you look the more likely you'll be treated as one before they assume you're African, but I'm sure your accent will convince the doubtful the minute you open your mouth :) The only drawback to looking more like an "American" than an "African" is that it may make you more of a target for pickpockets (they'll just assume you have more money); but it's a decent trade off, and Anywhere you go you should always watch your valuables of course. Honestly, with the times being what they are right now, you may get better treatment in Italy than in many parts of the US (which is just sad, but true, and Italian cops are NOT the trigger-happy cowboys we tend to breed in the US) so I'm sure people will be really nice, you'll be safe, and you'll have a great time :) Oh, by the way, I'm American by birth but my face is racially confusing and I've experienced....well, a lot, lol! I grew up in the US & Italy though and travel between the 2 frequently with family and friends of all colors.....I hope this was helpful and assuaged some fears :)

Posted by
9 posts

This is so helpful! My family is traveling to a few countries in Europe later this week and I was concerned that my family would not be treated the same as described in the Rick Steve's book. I was thrilled when I saw the section in his 2015 book dedicated to minorities. My three children are African American but my husband and I are from Trinidad and Tobago(Afro-Caribbean) but we live in the USA so we are 'American tourists'. As one commenter advised - and this was my concern- we shouldn't be trying act less like an American tourist but rather, it would be in our best interest to actually 'stand out' as an American tourist (not too much though)! It is hard as a mother introducing my 16, 12 and 10 year old children to the way the world is but I guess that's just the way the world is. In any event , I am grateful to RS for identifiying that it is indeed different for a traveler of color and creating this forum.

Posted by
4 posts

Overall the trip was AMAZING. Out of the three cities Rome was the one i enjoyed the most...the Architecture, history, food, people, etc... was really cool to me. I left Rome and went to venice and that was cool because it was really laid back and i was exhausted from Rome so i need the down time to relax. Milan was pretty cool but felt really americanized (is that a word? :)). In regards to the reception i received i definitely felt bad vibes in Rome from some people but never felt unsafe. People were much more friendly in Venice and Milan.