Where is Ernest White II of 'FLY BROTHER' Headed Next?

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday July 21, 2021

Ernest White II
Ernest White II  (Source:FLY BROTHER)

Are you looking for travel inspiration or just want to sit back and live vicariously through someone else's adventures? Writer, producer and host Ernest White II took the world by storm for his first season of "FLY BROTHER," a ten-episode series that swept Ernest around the globe to visit destinations both familiar and afar.

EDGE editor Matthew Wexler welcomed White for a special travel edition of "On the EDGE," a live conversation that welcomes prominent LGBTQ leaders, entertainers, and allies. White had plenty to share about his early interest in travel, his experiences in unexpected locales, and what's in store for Season Two, filmed during the height of the pandemic.

Watch the full 'On the EDGE' interview with Ernest White II.

Here's an excerpt* from their conversation:

EDGE: In Season One you went to interesting places that might not be on the typical American traveler's bucket list. How did the series come about?

Ernest: I was completely against the idea from the very beginning. I was going to write literature my entire life. I got my MFA in creative writing. I moved abroad after graduate school actually, in 2005. I moved to Columbia, and I lived there for four years as a teacher while I was waiting for that big book break.

In the meantime, I was keeping a blog at the time, which mid- to late-2000s was pre- Instagram. I was writing about my experiences living in Colombia as a Black gay American, and I eventually kind of shifted over from my personal experiences into talking about how to travel better, how to travel more, and also what ex-pat life was like for me, which are two different things.

It's one thing to be based in the States or in another country and then to go travel for a little bit; it's something else to pick up and move. So I was writing about all of these things, and a buddy of mine came up with the name "FLY BROTHER." I just kind of figured it was a cool name for a blog.

Eventually a buddy of mine from college was like, "Man, listen, I'm co-owner of a small startup cable network, and I think you're a great writer, you tell great stories, you've got a good look and voice, and all of these things. We'd love to help develop a travel show for you. We can't pay you, but it'll be non-exclusive and we'll help you learn how to bring in advertising and all that."

But I still was like, "No TV. I'm not going on TV. That's not what I'm here for. I'm going to write, and I'm going to be a novelist." But every other door in my life closed, and at that point I had been a travel journalist for a good 10 or 15 years to able to leverage my connections in the industry to pull together an interesting slate of destinations. Stockholm was probably one of the biggest destinations on that first goal list. But then other places that were just very interesting to me, that I felt connected to because of having gone, having really experienced that human connection that I felt was important. When I did consider a town that's another big touristy place, I thought about what I could do that would be interesting. I love architecture; that's not really a mainstream interesting topic for a lot of people. I'm not a foodie. I used to be 360 pounds so, you know, I was a fatty. I do enjoy food, but it just wouldn't be authentic to me.

So I was thinking, what would be authentic, that would still engage the audience from a thematic perspective? And I thought, well you know, I've been to all these places. What is the constant? The constant thing is that I've been able to meet and engage with phenomenal people all over the world, and now we've got the technology that lets us stay in contact with each other. You meet somebody at an airport. You have a great experience. You exchange information. You're on your phones, you're on all the social medias. You can really build out a global village that way.

Ernest White II in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Ernest White II in Tbilisi, Georgia.  (Source: FLY BROTHER)

EDGE: In Season One you travel to Cape Town and Namibia. There's also an episode that was filmed in Tbilisi, Georgia, which has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons because of the murder of a cameraman who was covering a right wing protest against an LGBTQ March that didn't even happen. Both from your personal perspective and professionally, what your thoughts are about traveling to destinations that aren't always welcoming to LGBTQ populations, or lack human rights laws?

Ernest: It's an important question. We live in a world where there are plenty of spaces where we are not welcome. I'm visibly Black or of color, first and foremost — before I'm visibly gay, actually. And that is a form of privilege, in the sense that I'm able to move about in spaces without it being assumed that I am gay, and then not having to deal with whatever repercussions come from that, so I recognize that privilege.

That said, there are places all over the world, including in the U.S., where outward representations of queerness are being attacked. On one hand, I do believe that we ought to recognize that there are places where laws are on the books and it's not safe for people to be themselves fully in many countries around the world.

At the same time, I am a believer in having conversations and dialogue. And I don't mean that that's possible when someone's coming at your head with a brick. However, there are always gray areas. That is an extreme, and it's an unfortunate extreme that we do, again, have to recognize that we It is our duty to fight against. I feel like my duty is to be as open and engaging as I can be, and have conversations with people like I did with one of my hosts and Tajikistan.

So what I would do is caution people, if they feel that they would rather not have to be at the forefront of that kind of engagement, you know, then you do have to consider where you go. In my case, I don't feel like I have a choice, almost. It's like I'm here, and I belong everywhere. We all belong everywhere. I recognize that there is a risk in that, and I can do nothing but show up.

Ernest White II
Ernest White II  (Source: FLY BROTHER)

EDGE: We're not protected in this cute little U.S. bubble either, but this country is also an amazing land of opportunity and diversity. I'm assuming, perhaps because of the pandemic, you leaned into the U.S. for the second season?

Ernest: Yes, because of COVID we decided that it would be easier for us to focus on U.S. destinations, and we were able to film this in two and a half months, between the end of April and early July, 2021. We wanted to explore the depth and breadth of the United States. which is this nation of nations. It's a place where most of us are from some other place when you go back a couple of generations. It's important for us to remember and recognize that we all belong here. That we all have a place, and that we should mainly just kind of get along with each other. For Season Two, I really leaned into the joy of it and how I could have the most fun possible and help the crew and the people who we were filming have the most fun possible.

EDGE: Season Two has familiar destinations like San Francisco and Hawaii... and then you went to Newark, which I only know of the airport. What was your takeaway form Newark?

Ernest: Oh, wow, Newark has amazing architecture, wonderful green spaces. I think most of its parts were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead who did Central Park. Also, an amazing food scene. We go to a phenomenal, healthy, soulful place where they use organic items and even have some vegan options. We go to a phenomenal Portuguese restaurant in the Ironbound district.

We are able to really able to kind of get under the hood a little bit, and to say it's wonderful for a day trip from New York City or even a weekend away. And there's a great kind of burgeoning art scene with a lot of young people. There's this really kind of vibrant energy. It's a city on the forefront of transformation. It's had an interesting and tragic history in some ways, but in other ways it's always had, as [my guest] Evita Robinson in the episode says, "good bones."

EDGE: Natchez, Mississippi, was another destination that caught my eye where I thought, 'Why go there?'

Ernest: So, I had gone to Natchez on a press trip a few years before. I wouldn't say I went with no expectations — I mean, you know the songs that are sung about Mississippi, but I'm also from a Southern city as well. I'm from Jacksonville, Florida, named after Andrew Jackson, who was not known for his best human rights record with regard to Native Americans, or African Americans. I think, on one hand, Mississippi gets the brunt of the kind of rancor that people have when it comes to race relations and class marking, and all that kind of stuff. That said, it's a place where you have people who are so invested in connecting across that historical divide, who are really interested in telling deeper stories.

Interview edited for clarity.

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at www.wexlerwrites.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.

On the EDGE

This story is part of our special report titled On the EDGE. Want to read more? Here's the full list.