Archives – June, 2009

Michael Jackson’s lasting gift to black ‘citizens of the world’

As has everyone I know, I’ve been obsessively tuning into print, TV and Internet coverage of the horribly tragic, sad and untimely death of pop icon Michael Jackson. Back in the day, I was a huge Michael fan (before he morphed into someone unrecognizable). I still love his songs, and have found myself mindlessly humming and singing along with “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” “The Lady in My Life,” and the telling “Black or White.”

But being a journalist who’s always searching for the sociological meaning and truth behind current events—and goodness knows this is the biggest global one since Barack Obama was elected president of the United States—I see Michael far beyond the off-the-charts performances, fantastically creative music and videos, and even the eccentricities that defined his later years.

Over the past few days, I’ve heard it stated by everyone from the Rev. Al Sharpton to former “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather that Michael Jackson’s most lasting legacy to the world just might be the fact that he was the first African-American artist to achieve true global superstardom without constantly reminding folks he was black. These social critics—and I concur—changed the world by paving the way for global audiences to embrace and accept Chicago Bulls basketball phenom Michael Jordan, multimedia mogul Oprah Winfrey, golf genius Tiger Woods, and President Obama, who has ignited the world’s imagination in a way unlike any politician in my 40-year-old lifetime.

Now you say, what does this have to do with international travel? I say it has EVERYTHING to do with it ….

Continue 2 Comments June 28, 2009

Would the world be different if more of us had traveled to Iran?

You know what struck me watching the post-election events unfold in Iran this week? How something as seemingly simple as the act of traveling can make SUCH a difference when it comes to intercultural understanding. Thank goodness we in the United States finally have a president who’s thoughtful and respectful of other folks in the world… but there are still some – and largely on the conservative end of the spectrum – who still see the world as “us” versus “them.” I just wonder what our country’s – and the world’s – relationships would be like if more of us traveled to “their” nation, saw how “they” lived, understood how “they” thought.

And that reminded me of a thought-provoking and in hindsight, truly prescient new book I just picked up from acclaimed travel writer (and of course, PBS television star) Rick Steves. In Travel as a Political Act, Steves explains that there’s far more travel than “good-value hotels, great art and tasty cuisine.” While he writes about travels throughout Europe (his travel business’s main focus), El Salvador, and Morocco, it’s his “Mission: Understand Iran” chapter that speaks most to me now….

Continue 4 Comments June 19, 2009

Does ‘traveling while black’ (or brown) help in the nonwhite world?

I’ve had this theory for a long time: While we African-Americans sometimes feel our color can be a pseudo-“liability” here in the States, it certainly can be an asset once we leave our native shores and travel abroad. I was reminded of this last week when President Barack Obama gave his potentially game-changing speech in Egypt.

It was a striking sight to see TV cameras pan across the crowd gathered inside Cairo University to hear him. Most of the faces were some shade of brown, from café au lait to cinnamon to chocolate. From just looking at them, any of ‘em could have been a cousin, aunt or uncle of Obama’s. And while few mainstream news outlets have called it as such, one HUGE reason for our president’s broad worldwide appeal is the fact that he looks like so much of the world….

Continue 4 Comments June 12, 2009

(Young) Americans in Paris and London: The Obama girls take Europe by storm

I was thrilled to read last week that adorable young Malia and Sasha Obama would be joining President Barack and First Lady Michelle (and of course, First Granny Marian) in Paris and later London for their first European trip. It did my heart a world of good to know that these charming mesdemoiselles would be serving as America’s junior ambassadors to a continent obsessed with their glamorous parents—and one thrilled to see our formerly “you’re-either-with-us-or-against-us” nation back in the global mix.

But politics aside, I was thrilled for these two African-American girls, ages 8 and 10, both getting a chance to experience what life is like outside the prism of the United States. Granted, these are kids of privilege. Even if their dad wasn’t the leader of the free world, they’re the children of extremely well-educated and worldly parents and had a chance to travel to Africa back in 2006. But as I’ve found over the years, there is NOTHING like foreign travel to open your eyes to the realities of your own country. I just wish I’d had the chance to discover this way earlier in life rather than starting in my 20s. I’ve certainly tried to make up for lost time, visiting nearly 30 countries since then!

Just imagine how different we Americans would be if we started engaging the world as kids the Obamas’ age….

Continue 7 Comments June 10, 2009


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