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Jamaican American (black) travelling to Southeast Asia

I am an American citizen originally from Jamaica. I am looking to visit various places in Southeast Asia (South Korea, China, Japan, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc). I wanted to know whats the reaction to blacks are there. Some say they are ok, some say they are racist and xenophobic. I know there's racism everywhere and good people everywhere so I would like to know places to stay, avoid etc.


Posted by
1056 posts

No offense meant, but you may not get much help with this question here on the Rick Steves forum, as this is a European travel helpline. Not certain where you would find a similar Asian travel helpline.

Posted by
8 posts


In the Minority Travel Forum in the Tips & Trips section of the Travel Forum, I copy pasted a link below that one of the other travelers suggested to another minority traveler's question that was similar to yours, that may have some helpful information that can answer your question. Sheila

Posted by
6788 posts


Note: I hope nobody is offended by anything I write here. I'm relating my own (limited) experiences from my own perspective. Take what I say with a grain of salt, as I am (very) white, but I may be able to offer a little insight despite my ethnic heritage, as I married an Asian woman (Thai), I have become quite close with her extended family, and have spent a bit of time there (and have traveled a fair bit around other parts of Asia). We have discussed race extensively (usually in the context of whites and Asians, but also how Asians view foreigners of African heritage - and also race as an issue in the USA) and I think they have been pretty honest with me about such things. I have been shocked, disgusted, pleasantly surprised, and occasionally charmed by various things I've heard my Asian relatives say about different ethnicities.

I think both of your characterizations are spot-on: yes, they are racist and xenophobic (sometimes shockingly so), like people anywhere can be - and sometimes its really open (I've heard things said by my Thai relatives that I can not imagine any American would say, outside of a Klan rally - they seem oblivious to the insensitivity...or maybe they just have not learned the acceptable way to discuss things). Other times they are perfectly OK and very cool, too. So you can probably expect both ends of the spectrum, and everything in between.

I think in most places you probably will not encounter overt, explicit racism and hostility. But you may get a few "looks", different expectations and, sadly, at times you may encounter a little less warm welcome than is normally extended to other foreigners. It seems that skin color is often a big deal among Asian people (a social issue there as elsewhere). If you stick to places that get a lot of tourists, you are not going to shock anyone, and I'd expect you to be treated as a valued customer (your money is the same color as everyone else's). If you get well off the tourist circuit, then you may get more unfiltered reactions.

More than being perceived as "black", I think you will simply be perceived as "foreign". After that, other distinctions may be secondary at best. Despite all our own struggles with race, at least here (in the USA) I think it's pretty common to encounter people of many ethnicities on a regular basis (at least in most places). In many places in Asia, I think things are a lot more ethnically homogenous - we "foreigners" just stand out more. In my experience, being viewed as a "foreigner" (and I think you should expect to be - I always am) has both advantages and disadvantages. Foreigners are often thought to be kind of clueless, so they will cut you a lot of slack - you will be held to a different standards (usually lower standards) for most behaviors. Visitors should still make a little effort to learn a few polite phrases and a few customs (lots of rules around respect, status, etc.). If you make even a small effort, they will probably think it cute and you will score points. Of course, the same is true whether one is going to Paris or Phnom Penh - a little politeness goes a long way. Regardless of your ethnicity, if you treat others with plenty of respect, it'll be hard for them not to return at least some of that. One can't generalize too much, but in my experience it's a very polite part of the world, what we call "politeness" is a major consideration in social interactions. Lots of amazing things to see and do, so well worth the effort.

I hope some of the above is useful and my apologies if I have stepped across any lines. Have fun!

Posted by
518 posts

"(I've heard things said by my Thai relatives that I can not imagine any American would say, outside of a Klan rally - they seem oblivious to the insensitivity..."

I'm Chinese American and you took the words right out of my mouth. Some of the things that have come out of the mouths of my relatives and others in my circle are just....sigh, words fail me. But the worst part is, it's their norm, they don't think it's wrong to think say these things. In fact, they feel it's justified. There is a hypocritical superiority that prevails throughout.

With that being said however, this is my observation of the perspective of Chinese Americans here in the U.S. And so their perspectives have all been thoroughly colored by the media and perhaps their own personal experiences here. None of my relatives in Hong Kong would ever say things that Asians here might say. I trust that your experience in Asia will be much different.

Posted by
920 posts

Hi Patricia and others who may not have stumbled across it, there is a "Beyond Europe" section of the forum. That's a place where one can post questions about non-European countries if you wish.

Posted by
2 posts

I've had the opportunity to travel to various cities in China, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia and Singapore and I must say that I didn't experience any overt racism. I'm an African American female who enjoyed every bit of my travels to Southeast Asia. I did however experience "rarism". In Asian countries, if you travel outside the major cities into the countryside you're an instant celebrity. Some people haven't encountered a person of color, so their curiosity gets the best of them. Be prepared for photo ops, and holding babies! When I travel to Asia, I'm mindful that my appearance (black and 6'0" tall) is very different from their norm. Traveling, no matter what country, is a good time to exercise your patience. I try not to generalize a population of people, but I like to deal with the world one person at a time. If I encounter a racist I ignore it and keep it moving. I love seeing the world too much to let hate and ignorance ruin a trip. Only God can change a man's heart.

Posted by
30 posts

What they lack in political correctness they make up for in genuine kindness, friendship and caring. If you are polite and humble you will have a great time. If you are loud and obnoxious you won't. It won't be because of racism.