|Don't do this, ever!|
All of which is fine depending on how it is done. What has always shocked me however is how ill prepared many white travellers are for traveling through predominantly black countries. This lack of preparedness leads some to make statements that are culturally inappropriate at best and downright rude at worst.
But no worries, below, I highlight some of these shocking statements and assumptions and explain why they are inappropriate and offensive so that the next time you go to Africa you will avoid saying these things.
1) "Now I know what it feels like to be a minority"
Actually, no, you don't. On the surface, this statement could be true. Being one of the only white people in "The Heart of Darkness" technically qualifies a white person as a minority. What is not true, however, is how many people mistakenly believe that because they know how it feels to be "different" means they now automatically know what it means to be racialized or marginalized. Being a minority in the American context means that historically (and presently) your racial/ethnic group was subject to systemic, legal and institutionalized marginalization. In Africa, there is no history of white people being subjected to that. In fact, it is the exact opposite, white Europeans subjected black (and Arab) Africans to imperialism, colonialism and slavery for centuries. So, though it is true that being in Africa makes a white person a minority because of your skin color, it does not automatically mean that you now know what it is like to be black, native American or any other marginalized minority group throughout the world.
2) "I don't see race here, everyone is so nice!"
Well, just because you don't see it doesn't mean that it is not there. Race in Africa takes on very different characteristics than it does in the United States, however, the privileges that come with whiteness are universally recognized and understood even in Africa. People in Africa are nice to visitors because they want you to have a great experience. Their "niceness" does not negate their blackness. Most importantly, the fact that you are saying you don't see race "here" because everyone is so nice implies that you believe that black people by nature are hostile and unfriendly. You should work on reconciling your prejudices towards black people before going to Africa. You should also work on figuring out what it is about YOU that may make some black people unfriendly to you. I remember a woman telling me this when I was in Kenya and I will never forget how disgusted I felt.
3) "Wow, you speak such good English!"
4) "Everyone is so happy here even though they have so little"
Please don't use other peoples suffering as a foundation for your spiritual awakening. Like most people around the world, Africans are generally hospitable to visitors.They are also proud of the village, town or city they grew up in or currently reside in and try to make visitors feel welcomed and embraced in their communities. Do not use their friendliness to support your "spiritual awakening" to the fact you could be happy without all your material possessions. Many poor people suffer from a great deal of economic instability that causes them incredible amount of anxiety. Asserting that they are much happier than you despite their limited possessions can be insulting and as it belittles the harsh economic difficulties they face.
5) Assuming you now know everything about Africa