Italy, a country known for its language of love and for its men who publicly shower overtures on women like a centuries-old art form, is often associated with romantic encounters of the kind portrayed in the movies, from “Roman Holiday” to “The Lizzie McGuire Movie.” So some black women ask, why shouldn’t it be the same for them?
Latrese Williams is one such black traveler. When Ms. Williams goes out in Chicago or pretty much anywhere else in the United States, she said, she often feels ignored by men who seem to barely register her existence. But when she walks into a room in Italy, all eyes are on her — and to her, that’s a good thing. These polar reactions occur, she said, because she is black.
“Even though I would behave in the same way at home and abroad, in Chicago I felt invisible,” Ms. Williams said in her home in the Monti neighborhood of Rome. “But in Italy I kept meeting guys.”
In November, she moved in with her Italian boyfriend, whom she met on Tinder in Rome.
In recent years, Italy has become known for widely publicized episodes of racism against African migrants or dark-skinned people perceived as migrants, and even racial abuse toward Italy’s own black soccer players. It may be surprising that there is a steady stream of black women who travel to Italy in search of amore.
Perhaps less surprising is that, amid the new crop of travel companies catering to black travelers and black women, in particular, there’s a growing group of tour providers, blogs, Instagram accounts and Facebook groups that encourage black women to travel to Italy to find love. Unlike traditional tour operators, companies like Black Girl Travel and Venus Affect provide dating advice and assistance finding a romantic partner, along with sightseeing.
Online, Pinterest, Instagram and Tumblr posts show photos of black women with Italian men or black women with white men in Italy; Facebook groups and YouTube videos contain lengthy discussions about Italian men loving black women. Many of the posts are tagged with the word “swirl,” a popular term describing a black person and a white person in a relationship.
Fleacé Weaver, the founder of Black Girl Travel, said that she felt early on that African-American women “do better in Italy,” so, in 2006, after traveling to the country several times, she moved to Rome from Los Angeles and created Black Girl Travel, which offers romantic and nonromantic tours.
At the time, she felt that she was filling an empty spot in the travel market.
“No one was servicing us doing tours that were targeted solely to African-American females,” she said. “In fact, when we started, everyone in the industry was telling us it was impossible to do. Now you look ahead 13 years and we have basically inspired a whole subculture of international travelers.”
Ms. Weaver describes Black Girl Travel as a concierge and private club rather than a travel or dating agency, but her clients consider it to be both. In more than a dozen interviews, women who have been on her tours called her “the dream weaver” and the “black woman’s Italian love guru,” thanks to her ability to connect people and help women love themselves and find romantic love. Black Girl Travel has welcomed more than a thousand black women from across the world to Italy, Ms. Weaver said.
She insists that her main goal is to encourage black women to love themselves first. In addition to the sightseeing, “I also always work in girlfriend talk time where we stop as a group and we talk about like, ‘Why do you think your life is not going in the direction you want to go in? Why do you think that you’re having problems with men?’”
Ms. Williams, 44, who felt ignored in the United States, had studied abroad in Germany during graduate school and recalls visiting Rome and hating it at the time. She went home to Illinois to establish her career and, she thought, a relationship. Twenty years later, frustrated with her job and her romantic life, she booked a Bella Italia tour with Black Girl Travel. The tour cost about $2,500, excluding airfare, and visited popular cities and landmarks. There were about 50 other black, primarily American, women on the 10-day trip, and at its end Ms. Williams was seriously considering the idea of looking for love in Italy.
Three years later, Ms. Williams went on a second tour with Ms. Weaver and each time she’d return to Rome she would see Ms. Weaver and seek advice about dating. Many women who go on the Bella Italia tour return for Ms. Weaver’s Roman Holiday tour, a more personal experience that involves staying with Ms. Weaver while she helps with all aspects of dating. (The tour is named for the 1953 Audrey Hepburn-Gregory Peck movie.) She manages her guests’ dating profiles on apps like Tinder, and “weeds out” the bad eggs. When a client goes on a coffee or dinner date, Ms. Weaver might be at a table nearby, observing, taking notes and planning to give feedback to the client afterward.