Rick Steves just started a blog/Facebook discussion with this topic. If you'd like to join in that discussion, you can do so here:
Thank you Andrew. That's quite a learning-experience testimony on the blog. I hope other minority travelers add their experiences. There's more to learn.
It may differ from country to country. Sentiments vary across the continent.
Although I don't have a direct experience since I am not black, however my wife is. She hasn't had problems in our many trips, whether she was alone or with me, however I know and I have noticed that attitudes change greatly if they perceive you to be a black American as opposed to an African.
If people perceive you to be an American, you will be treated like any American. But if they perceive you to be an African migrant, it might be a different story. So be sure to show your "Americanness", whether by wearing American clothes, or talking with an American accent. And be sure to have "documentary proof" of your American citizenship.
Europe is a place where the color of your passport counts more than the color of your skin.
You hit it right on the nose Roberto.
My 70 year old uncle who lived through segregation remarked on his first trip out of the country through passport control in Stockholm and Paris: "that he felt more like an equal American (no bad vibes no racial tension) than he actually does living daily in his native land the USA.."
Does your uncle speak French? If he did on his first trip to Paris, he would fit right in. I have been to French social events in SF where there were black French women ( from the West Indies) speaking fluent French, totally at ease, fitting right in, socially, linguistically, culturally. The main fact is not skin color but that they are French period. .
Wow, thanks very much for posing this question! I started traveling to Europe, particularly Schleswig Holstein Germany, back in the 1990s, and I honestly wish that I could have asked someone this question back then! I had a lot of trepidation back then; black American guy in his 20's, traveling with his white German wife to little towns in Northern Germany. How would I be received? Should I be concerned about racist violence? I was so wound up that I sort of went there with my "finger on the trigger" (so to speak!) looking for any indication of racism. I soon learned that, yes people did stare at me and whisper amongst themselves when I entered a room, however I was quickly reminded by my wife that "you're a 6 foot tall, 200lb black guy with a body builder's physique and a shaved head. People stare at you at home too!". Once I calmed down and realized that people were simply curious and meant me no harm, I realized that the German people that I came across were extremely welcoming and open. I have since traveled all across Germany several times in the past 20 years, from the Northern-most border with Denmark, all the way to the Swiss border, and I can tell you Germany is very safe for African Americans. I've only experienced one minor incident, when a group of young men at a bar in Buxtehude commented to each other that "foreigners are taking away German women". We overheard the comment, it wasn't hurled at us. The group of young men had obviously been drinking, so we simply moved on to another bar to avoid any confrontation.
I've also traveled extensively in Tuscany and the Amalfi coast in Italy on 5 different trips. Not a single incident that I would have considered even remotely racist. I've also been to Denmark once and Switzerland a few times. The Swiss border agents are always very unfriendly and yes, I have felt like they scrutinize me more because of skin color. However, once I whip out my American passport, their attitudes quickly change. This makes me wonder what it must be like for black travelers from other parts of the world. I would imagine that many are seen as potential immigrants by locals, and might be made to feel less welcome. I can definitely imagine that happening now, given the current flood of immigrants from North Africa. I do certainly promote my American-ness much more when I'm in Europe (how I dress and how I carry myself) because I feel it tells the locals wherever I am "I'm not here to stay, and I'm spending money in your country". I know its sad to admit that, but I do feel that it keeps me out of trouble. My advice to any young black man would be to dress well when you travel, be polite and greet everyone with a big smile!
I hope my little contribution here helps the next 20-something African American having second thoughts about traveling to Europe. Just go, and stick to the beaten path. I think that's a good tip for any traveler, regardless of race.
My brother-in-law, who's also black like my wife (his sister) although even darker, lived in Barcelona until a few years ago.
He also felt less discriminated there than in America, however he will also emphasize the importance of making sure that locals immediately perceive you as an American, not as an African.
Africans get a bad rap these days in Europe, due to the ongoing migrant crisis, so if you are darker make sure you offset your skin color by wearing a nice stars and stripe tshirt with an american baseball hat. Once people know you are an American, you immediately turn white to their eyes.