Traveling While Black & American: Iceland Edition
Updated: May 15
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!