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Celebrity Travel: Go away with Issac J. Bailey

By Jae-Ha Kim, Tribune Content Agency on

Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” In his latest book “Why Didn't We Riot?: A Black Man in Trumpland” (Other Press, $21.99), journalist Issac J. Bailey thoughtfully explores race relations in the United States. Based out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, Bailey said his family’s annual travel plans include visiting South Carolina’s state parks. “There are waterfalls and spooky, abandoned train lines and incredible nature hikes, as well as resort-like cabins, if you prefer those over the more modest accommodations most of those parks offer,” he said. “One of the top destinations was Hunting Island. That’s more of a day trip as part of a larger vacation plan if you are out of state. There (are) unspoiled wooded areas, a lighthouse and white sandy beaches all in one place. Some scenes from ‘Forrest Gump’ were shot there.”

Q: Some people perceive the South as being racist. Based on your experiences and research, how would you address that perception?

A: The South definitely has its problems with race. There’s just no getting around it. Most people know about our struggles to try to even furl the Confederate flag from statehouses and the like. I’m not sure they know about how that flag prominently flies in communities throughout our area, including in one of my former neighborhoods, and even at the entrances of beachwear stores. Not only that, we’ve taken the “Gone with the Wind” vibe to a new height, coming up with fake plantation names for upper-scale housing developments, because so many have been convinced that having “plantation” in a name makes it more elegant. And, of course, we have all the other problems on a structural level that plague many other regions. The odd thing is that we have some of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. If you go to historical plantations – the real ones where the enslaved once toiled – you’d often be greeted by rows and rows of live oaks draped with Spanish moss seemingly standing guard in front of large, beautiful, white-columned homes. If you visited here, that kind of history, the mix of beauty and legacy is hard to miss.

Q: How have your travels shaped your views on institutional racism?

A: Institutional racism is so hard to see, because those not directly affected by it have no reason to believe it’s true, no reason to really look, unless they were just genuinely interested in equality. For a long time, I thought the institutional racism I experienced here in the South was unique. (The) reporting I did in parts of Myrtle Beach made it clear to me that some of the most-poverty stricken areas were essentially in my backyard and they were just blocks from where upwards of 18 million tourists a year come to play on our beaches and attractions.

Q: Where have you visited where you felt the most welcomed and safe?

A: My experience in Ghana was like nothing else. Even amid some devastating pockets of destitution, the smiles and greetings residents there had for visitors like me made it feel as though I had returned home. Ironically, the place I was told I was supposed to feel the least safe and welcome was Chicago. But my new wife and I were able to walk around very late at night there while trying to find a cab to get us to a little bed and breakfast with no trouble. I’ve never been in places where it was clear I could be in danger, likely because when you grow up Black in the Deep South, you are taught from an early age that there are places you should avoid. Maybe it’s time I stop avoiding some of those places and do a little more traveling?

Q: What is your favorite vacation destination?

A: It might be cliché, but the Grand Canyon remains my top highlight. My wife and I took our kids a few years ago as part of a plan to do some family traveling before the kids got old enough to go to college. It’s just a majestic place. I wanna go back and likely will.


Q: What was the first trip you took as a child?

A: We didn’t do much traveling when I was a kid. If truth be told, our main trips were to various prisons in South Carolina visiting my oldest brother. It may not be the most romantic notion, but having to travel so many back roads, where most of the prisons were located, allowed us to see a lot more of the state than we otherwise would have. That’s one of the unique things about South Carolina. If you decided to plan a road trip here to visit the prisons, you would run into some of the most beautiful places on earth and some of the most depressing. A lot of it overlaps the roads you’d take to get to many of our state parks. If you really wanted to learn and experience Southern history, I’d recommend it.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure when you're on the road?

A: The best thing about traveling is that you are required to eat as poorly as possible and I strictly adhere to that mandate.


(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at You may also follow “Go Away With…” on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)

© 2020 JAE-HA KIM




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