You may be unfamiliar with the name Ernest White II, but his new PBS travel series "Fly Brother," may be the escape you didn't know you needed, especially if your own travel plans were disrupted due to the coronavirus pandemic. In "Fly Brother," White takes viewers on a journey to Brazil, Canada, Georgia, Namibia, Sweden, Ethiopia, India, and Tajikistan. In each location, he meets with his real-life friends to explore their favorite local hotels, restaurants, and social spots.
A San Francisco Bay resident, White's new show received a ten episode order and premiered on PBS affiliates on the west coast this past spring. While "Fly Brother" may appear to be a show strictly about White's travels abroad, the Florida native who has lived in 5 countries and traveled to over 70, says it's actually about friendships and human connection. White is aware that he may be a bit of an enigma during his interactions with people during his travels, especially in places like Northern Europe or East Asia.
"I stand out a bit more as a foreigner and people may have a genuine curiosity and interest in befriending me, but even Northern Europe has become more and more multicultural over the 25 years or so," said White.
"I also think that I've practiced performative masculinity long enough to not necessarily be coded as gay upon first glance, unless, of course, I'm out at the club. That said, I do think there are assumptions and even stereotypes associated with my skin color in places I've traveled, but if those people had a problem with me, then we certainly didn't become friends. I don't feel like I've missed out on any real friendships, no."
White spoke with SF Gate travel writer Chris McGinnis about the origin of the show, his experiences abroad as an openly gay Black man and how he plans to address questions about George Floyd and American racism from non-Americans during his travels.
How did you get this fantastic public television gig? This should be a big step for your career…tell us how you got here and where you plan to take your career as a travel personality.
The show was first conceived when a college friend approached me and asked if I'd be willing to put together a travel series for a small startup cable network with which he was involved. They couldn't pay, but they'd support me in securing funding and we had non-exclusivity in the event the show got sold to a larger distributor. Sadly, that network ran out of money while we were filming Season One, but a friend in the travel space, Mickela Mallozzi, asked me if I had ever considered Public Television. She's done well there and she helped guide me into the fold and now here we are. I'd love to continue producing and hosting the show for a few more seasons, but I also have other stories I'd like to tell. I have an MFA in creative writing and my first love is still novel and narrative storytelling. I suppose that means scripted film and television projects may be next.
OK, let’s face it: Americans are not going to be traveling very far from home this year, or maybe not even next year. Where will you travel this year, and where do you suggest someone from the Bay Area should go to find new friends and adventure? Why?
Obviously, at the moment, we're still unsure of how to travel safely, and the social life of cities the world over has been curtailed indefinitely. Still, online connectivity is thriving, which means using apps and social media platforms to meet people in the places you're interested in visiting, eventually. In the Bay Area, try connecting with people in other parts of the region. I know it sounds silly, but how many people in San Francisco know that some of the best views of the city are from the Oakland Hills? What about the slowly returning restaurant scenes in Redwood City or Palo Alto? Discover parks and natural areas on the opposite side of the bay. Now's a great opportunity to get to know the stunning natural beauty and cultural diversity of the Bay Area, and it can be done safely.
Once we are able to get out of the U.S.A. again and travel to other countries, do you think, as a Black man, you’ll be peppered with questions about George Floyd? Why do you think people in other countries are protesting about what is happening here?
Racism, misogyny, colorism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, ageism, and even police brutality are global problems. Yes, people around the world are protesting what they see as a gross miscarriage of justice in a country that still embodies the role of enforcer, but people also realize that there is plenty of inequality in their own countries. If I am asked about George Floyd or Breonna Taylor or Chantel Moore or Neulisa Ruiz, of course, I'll talk about how they are, sadly, symptoms of a larger problem that stems from colonialism and other exploitative economic systems. It also helps that I'm a geek.
Do you have a good story about how being Black and/or gay created a problem on a trip, and how you diffused or laughed at the situation, or found a new friend? Learned something about human nature?
I'd say that living abroad as an expat, mostly in Latin America, rather than when traveling for short periods of time, allowed me to pick up on racism or homophobia in my experience. It was when a friend who recommended me for a university teaching position was told by the administrator that my resume was great, but she didn't like the photograph, or when my former partner--who had my same skin tone--and I went looking for an apartment and were given the once-over before being told, politely, that the apartment was no longer for rent. It was that my former partner had my same skin tone and obvious African heritage, but didn't consider himself Black. I've lost friends who said I was "obsessed with race," when I would describe being sent to service elevators by doormen or being subject to extra scrutiny at airports or receiving "differentiated" service by waiters who seemed bothered by my presence at the table with white colleagues. I've been gaslit by some very close friends, even, who have since apologized. I learned to have patience with people because I do want to live in a world where we're all getting along and loving each other. And I also learned to have great clarity about who I am in the world, what I represent, so that my self-esteem and self-worth are no longer damaged by people suffering from racist or homophobic beliefs. Knowing myself fully allows me to be myself fully, which gives other people permission to be themselves fully. I mean, we're all here together, after all. You might as well deal with it and just play nice.
In addition to PBS, the series will be airing nationwide on CreateTV on August 10.
Click here to check your local listings.
Watch the trailer below.