Updated: Mar 19
DISCLAIMER: In an effort to shed light on a lens that I travel everywhere with, I decided that it was important for me to explicitly talk about My Black American Traveler Experience. I want to stress that everyone has their own experiences and biases traveling to any country. Therefore, my experience may not be your own. In specifying the Black American identity, I acknowledge while there are some commonalities in experiences as Black people, there is also privilege that comes with being an American. I am supplementing my thoughts and experience with a context on demographics as I think that it is important in order to paint the whole picture of #travelingwhileblack
My Expectations in Iceland
I expected Iceland to be super-white. I never thought about a black Icelander, so I assumed that the blacks I would see in Iceland would be tourists visiting and not natives or residents. From my Black friends who have traveled to Iceland, I did not hear about any negative experience. Therefore, I came in believing that it would be the same for me. Before coming to Iceland, I stumbled upon these two sources, which provided some interesting perspective:
Article: “Being Black In Iceland: An Interview With Jewells Chambers: about a woman originating from Brooklyn who moved to Iceland
My Reality in Iceland
I was pretty accurate in many ways and surprised in other ways about being #BlackinIceland.
Treatment & Safety: I did not feel awkward at any point -- I did not notice anyone staring at me nor were any comments made towards me. As a Black person, I felt safe, I felt comfortable.
Language: In terms of language, it was easy to get around because everyone spoke English. That is because Icelanders learn using English books through the majority of their schooling, so they are fluent.
Vibe & Culture: Black culture is non-existent. Saw no references to Black culture in music, street art, photos, etc. Icelandic culture is strong!
Visibility: Nearly non-existent. As expected, I barely came across people of color, let alone Black people, who lived in Iceland. The handful that I did see (and literally a handful) were those riding the bus. In terms of tourists, most tourists who were people of color were either Latinx or Asian. I recall being the only Black person in many tour groups. At both lagoons we visited, I spotted some Black people and people of color but they were all tourists. For example, at the Secret Lagoon, I saw about 2-3 Black French people. At the Blue Lagoon, it was less than a handful so then I paid attention to the number of people of color in general, and I noticed more Asians in terms of POCs.
Black Stats in Iceland
Trying to search for this was interesting and much harder than I anticipated! As of 2020, Iceland has an overall population of 340, 781 people with 93% being Icelandic. A very homogenous population. Interestingly, about 11% of the population in 2017 were first generation immigrants.
It is important to note that Iceland does not collect statistics based on racial makeup (which is an indicator of their racial views). Instead, it is based on country of origin. As a result, any stats regarding black Icelanders are rough estimations. Black Icelanders are typically from one of three sources: 1) those adopted by Icelanders, mostly from African countries 2) Immigrants, mostly from African countries, but also from the UK, USA, South and Central America and 3) children of mixed couples. It is estimated there are about 3-4000 black Icelanders, or about 1%.
The first link of Iceland to black people is through Hans Jonatan, a runaway slave from St. Croix (a Danish colony) who had a Danish father and a black, house slave mother. He managed to flee to Iceland and had three children. Of those three children,two of them survived and it is believed there are nearly 900 living descendants today!
Black Owned Businesses in Iceland
Check out these resources as you plan out an Iceland Black owned itinerary curated by Jewells of All Things Iceland, a Black American living in Iceland:
⭐️ The charismatic @georgleite is the owner of @kaldibarrvk (Kaldi Bar), which is conveniently located downtown. It’s such a cozy and fun place to hang out. Plus, the drinks are delicious and the staff are so friendly.
⭐️ The lovely @shibaba_pat is the owner of AfroZone (best to check out the page on FB). There you can find an assortment of fruits, veggies, and many other products for people who grew up or are descendants of tropical areas. The neighborhood of Breiðholt, where the store is located is about a 15 minute drive from downtown Reykjavík.
⭐️ The incredibly stylish Grace Achieng is originally from Kenya. She’s the owner of the elegant and sustainable clothing brand @gracelandicofficial (Gracelandic). She runs her boutique out of her home and customers can make appointments to try her clothes but her collections will also be sold in Hafnartorg, a retail area in downtown Reykjavík.
⭐️ The talented Azeb Khasai moved to Iceland from Ethiopia and owns the Ethiopian restaurant Minilik with her husband Árni Magnús. Azeb cooks up delicious and authentic Ethiopian food in her restaurant, which is located in the small town of Flúðir. I love that the restaurant is decorated with art, statues, and more from Ethiopia. If you’re planning to do the Golden Circle Route, this a great stop for dinner. The drive from Reykjavík is about 1 hour and 20 minutes.
⭐️ Basilia is an awesome hair stylist & business owner. She’s originally from Nigeria and is the owner of @djqbeauty Supply & food store in Kopavogur (DJQ Beauty Store). You can find a large variety of hair related products and other items. In the back of her store, she has a hair salon where she does varies styles of braids, weaves, re-twisting Locs and other hairstyles
⭐️ The incredibly smart Claudia Ashanie Wilson is originally from Jamaica and is the owner of the law firm @claudia_and_partners_legal (Claudia & Partners Legal Services) in Reykjavík. She provides law counsel and representation to people in various areas, such as family law, human rights law, immigration, and more.
⭐️ The multi-talented Alice Olivia Clarke is originally from Canada and is the owner of @tira_radiant_accessories and designs (Tira Radiant & Reflective Accessories) in Hafnarfjörður. One of her signature products is hand knit reflective accessories, like gloves, hats, and shawls. Along with those items, she has a myriad of things she sells in her shop, such as candles, incense, candies, and hand knit slippers.