It is often said that people truly cannot understand the United States of America until they have thoroughly traveled the nation.
I’d like to challenge that reasoning somewhat—expanding it to argue that one really cannot understand our nation until they have obtained a passport and traveled outside its borders.
I would add that this is particularly true for Black Americans who are often trapped in inner cities and regularly surrounded with seemingly inescapable crime, violence, discrimination and poverty. For these people, foreign travel can provide a unique experience.
One of the greatest privileges one has as an American citizen is the ability to obtain a passport and travel the world. It is amazing how many countries there are in the world for which American citizens are not required to have visas in order to visit.
It is because of this that I highly recommend—irrespective of any immediate plans—that people go to their local post office, pick up a passport application, complete it and submit it to obtain a passport.
From serving as an official government issued-ID that can be used at a polling place to traveling to the farthest reaches of the world, opportunities become almost limitless with a passport in hand.
For instance, and most obviously, one can use a passport for tourism. If someone thinks they are through with America, they can also use the privilege of foreign travel to look for someplace else where they might find employment and the dignity they believe they lack at home.
On that note, foreign travel provides perspective. Black Americans will find that racial discrimination exists in distant lands as well, although it may manifest itself differently.
What else might one find while traveling the world? Structurally, much of the world is evolving to look like the United States. Observant travelers will notice how the United States and its culture is influencing the political, military, or cultural of the rest of the world. Much of this is due to large amounts of assistance the U.S. government gives to foreign peoples, governments and regions. As a taxpayer, you have every right to know (and see) how your tax dollars are being spent outside of the United States.
What may be most amazing about traveling abroad is the recognition that the U.S. government has facilitated the dramatic expansion of American businesses abroad. It raises the question of why our government aids firms in relocating so many jobs overseas.
When and if discrimination is encountered while traveling, it may be found that it is because of the negative images of Black Americans that the American media has broadcast to the rest of the world. On the other hand, it may also be found that—especially if someone is large in stature or possesses a certain flair—that they are treated well because they resemble famous Black American athletes or entertainers.
Whatever experience one has while traveling abroad, it will undoubtedly enhance an understanding of how our nation operates. Moreover, it provides an opportunity to develop new perspectives because it allows one to look at our nation from the outside.
It is with these two important perspectives of America—one derived from both domestic and international experiences—that one really understands the nation in which they live. And it is only by understanding the nation that one can understand completely what it means to be an American.
This process of understanding starts by applying for the little blue passport book that opens so many doors to discovery.
(B.B. Robinson, Ph.D., is a member of the national advisory council of the black leadership network Project 21. Visit his website at www.blackeconomics.org. Comments may be sent to Project21@nationalcenter.org.)