Jamie Biesiada
Jamie Biesiada

There is a quote from Showtime's "The L Word" that has stuck with me for a long time.

The show, which premiered in 2004, followed a fictional group of queer women in Los Angeles. It was pretty groundbreaking at the time, even though it handled many issues problematically, most especially its treatment of transgender characters.

The quote in question is delivered in the series pilot. Longtime partners Tina, who is white, and Bette, who is biracial, want to have a baby that Tina plans to carry. Bette found a sperm donor but didn't mention he was Black, and Tina didn't feel qualified to parent a biracial child.

"Don't you think, on top of everything else, to also have two moms -- that is a lot of otherness to put on one child?" Tina asked.

Whether or not Tina was right, it's that idea of otherness that has stayed with me, and it's something I've been thinking a lot about lately.

I know something of otherness. I'm a gay woman. But unless I'm walking down the street hand in hand with my wife, most people assume I'm just like them, whatever they happen to be.

There is another kind of otherness I have no experience with: being BIPOC -- Black, Indigenous and people of color -- in America in 2020.

Fueled by the atrocious killing of Black people by police, protesters have taken to the streets fighting a fight that should have ended long ago. White America is finally waking up and taking notice of something no person of color has ever been able to ignore.

The travel industry needs to step up, too. First, it's just the right thing to do. It's also a large, important market: A 2018 Mandala Research study found that African American travelers contributed $63 billion to the U.S. travel and tourism economy, up from $48 billion in 2010.

A new group, the Black Travel Alliance, recently launched with the mission of working toward meaningful representation of Black voices in travel. Its Black Travel Scorecard to evaluate travel brands and destination marketing organizations on their Black representation in key areas will be an important tool for the industry.

I recently spoke with Betty Jones, the president of Travel Professionals of Color (TPOC) and owner of C.B. Jones Travel and Events in Savannah, Ga. Jones founded the TPOC nearly 20 years ago. She said representation of BIPOC in the industry hasn't much improved since then.

"You're hearing everybody saying diversity and inclusion and stuff like that, but do they really mean it?" Jones said. "At this time, I don't feel like they do. Maybe things will change now."

First up in importance, Jones said, is addressing the dearth of BIPOC leadership in travel and giving them a seat at decision-making tables.

"I think that's where it needs to start, and it needs to be more than just one," she said.

Jones also pointed to advertising. Suppliers should be advertising in publications aimed at BIPOC, like Black Meetings and Tourism and Pathfinders Travel Magazine.

"And of course, use people of color in those ads," she said. "It's like they want us, they want our money, and we do like to travel. The data shows that we do travel and we do spend money. So I'm not sure why [we're absent]."

With a concerted effort and support for groups like the TPOC and the Black Travel Alliance, the industry could finally make meaningful change. Let's make it happen.


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