Ella Paradis, The Black Explorer
Ella Paradis launched The Black Explorer in 2020 partly in response to her experience as a black woman working in the travel industry, and partly to help her cope with the isolation brought about by the Covid lockdown.
She has now published two print editions and relunched the accompanying website. As she starts preparing the third issue, she discusses her working process, the origins of her magazine and the racism she faced as a Black tourist.
What are you up to this Monday morning?
Mondays are admin day. My editorial assistant Victoria and I meet up at our co-working space at Somerset House, The Black Explorer has been part of the Black Business Incubator, where we go over the plan for the week. At the moment, we are taking submissions for our next issue titled ‘Africa is not a country’ and going through the commissioning process for that.
We will spend most of the day going over the new submissions received over the weekend, sorting through them and deciding which ones to commission or not. That’s about as much structure as one can expect in any given day. As a neurodivergent with ADHD, I’ve stopped trying to force myself into overly rigid structures that I never end up sticking to.
The rest of the day we’ll spend going over various admin tasks, including trying to and more often than not failing at processing my inbox, working on the website, trying to fundraise and get investment, etc.
Oh and somewhere between all of that, I am also interviewing potential candidates to join the team as social media and community manager.
Describe your desk and your work space.
I have a hybrid work environment, three days per week I am in Somerset House (above) and the rest of the week I work from home.
At home, my desk corner is hidden behind my giant monstera, it’s very much a makeshift place that I like to transform at regular intervals to fit how I work in the moment. Before this setup, I had diy-ed a standing desk set-up that I drilled myself into the walls and you still see the remnants of the holes in the wall.
The monstera helps to separate the space from the rest of my living room to give me that, ‘going to work’ vibe. Otherwise you’ll find me stretched out on the couch with my laptop on my thighs dosing off in between meetings.
Which magazine do you first remember?
One of the first magazines I remember buying religiously as a teen growing up in Belgium is called Joepie which is a teen girl magazine in the same line as Teen Vogue.
Every Wednesday after school I’d run to the kiosk by the train station to get the latest copy, read all the celeb gossip, collect the poster in the middle and off course answer the quiz of the week to find out which colour streak I should add to my hair. I absolutely loved it and that’s where my addiction to collecting magazines started.
Soon my collection came to include travel magazines I’d pick up at the airport whenever my parents would send me off on solo trips to relatives all around Europe. Little did I know then that it would lead me to running my own travel magazine.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
One of my favourite magazines at the moment is Azeema which gives a voice to women and non-binary folk within the WANA+SA regions and their diaspora.
Describe Black Explorer in three words.
Black, adventurous and bold
How have you dealt with the lack of travel over the last two years?
Starting a travel magazine at a time where travel has been most difficult and down right impossible sounds like the worst possible thing anyone could ever do, which it might still be to be honest. But as an avid explorer myself and an ex travel professional, this became a form of therapy and a way to keep connected with the world at large while the possibilities to cross borders were limited.
So to answer your question, I’ve dealt with the lack of travel by starting a travel publication to avoid the isolation that came with the pandemic.
Was there a particular experience/s that led you to launch Black Explorer?
I used to work in travel and I travelled a lot before the pandemic, and over the years the lack of representation both industry and consumer facing became more and more jarring.
The initial idea to create something that speaks to and for Black travellers came to me after my trip to India where I had the worst of times because of how completely unprepared I was for the colourism I would face. All the guidebooks and blogs I read warned of general safety issues, steps to take as a woman travelling solo etc... but none of them mentioned was how the dark skinned people in India are often treated like the scum of the earth.
As a dark skinned Black woman I came to experience this first hand, and my status as a tourist didn’t seem to make a difference whatsoever.
Then 2020 came around and like many in the travel industry I lost my job, George Floyd was murdered and for days I was crippled by despair over the never ending darkness that seemed to prevail and keep my people shrouded in pain and suffering. So instead of sinking into a depression, I figured I could create something in my own little world that would have a positive impact on those around and hopefully by way of the butterfly effect, would lead to bigger and bigger waves of positivity.
I don’t know, I’m deeply pessimistic about the world but everyday I wake up wanting to prove to myself that I am wrong, so I come up with the most insane and romantic ideas to make the world a better place, in big part to help myself get through it. Very existential for a travel magazine, haha.
As Black traveller Tiana Attride wrote, in travel, people of colour appear as the ‘backdrop to white stories. ... As spectacles of diversity, but never as travellers themselves.’ Is this something that’s changing?
For mainstream publications, I’m not entirely sure. More and more spaces are being built for us by us to reclaim our narrative as full fledged actors in our own stories, but the mainstream hasn’t quite caught up yet.
This can also still be seen and felt in how a lot of White tourists still treat the places they visit in the global south. I was back home in Togo back at the start of 2021 and the state of tourism on site is still very much one at the service of the White travellers.
As a Black woman travelling solo my motivation to move around and explore was very much questioned and this isn’t something we Black women are supposed to be doing. But we do, and seeing that represented and seeing it become mainstream is the only way we’ll be able to change the narrative, even in our own countries of origin.
Please share one piece of advice for somebody wanting to launch their own publication.
I’m about to echo another piece of advice that was given to me when I first started. There will be many more reasons not to do it than there will be reasons for it. But you need to be very naïve and almost blind to all of the ways it could fail as that is the only you will be able to keep going past the doubts and fears.
I’m not saying it’s an easy thing to do, not at all, but if it feels like you don’t have a choice, then maybe you don’t have a choice and you just have to do all it takes to make it work. I’m not sure that this is the best advice to give, but it’s the one I have been hanging onto. Something that helps is definitely to surround yourself with peers and dreamers from early on.
One of the first things I did when I decided to go at this and give it my all was take part in The Flatplan in 2020 and meet other dreamers like me. Seeing and connecting other people who have succeeded and others who like me were just starting their journeys in the same space definitely made an impact which I hope to pay forward as I continue my own journey.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
Hopefully I will have a new team member by the end of the week who will be able to take the social media management of the business off my hands, because I am extremely averse to social media in general and it causes me so much anxiety to just be on there, but we need it to be able to grow. So yeah, very much looking forward to that.
Ella will be sharing more about her experience launching her own magazine at our Flatplan magazine masterclass, 5&6 March.
Full details here