Five Issues For Brown People Travelling

March 28, 2018

Five Issues For Brown People Travelling

Five Issues For Brown People Travelling

Last week on Twitter I shared this little insight. I was wholly unsurprised at the number of brown people who chimed in with their own experiences. As with so many things, it’s both an expected and routine part of PoC life and an unfathomable, mythical issue for white people. I think it’s just universally expected amongst PoC that we will deal with 1729495 types of crap before the holiday even gets started. It’s important to talk about these things, even if just to acknowledge them.

So in that vein, I’ve rounded up a couple of universal truths amongst the brown people I know. How many of these things have happened to you?

You will get stopped for a “random” bag search

It’s clearly anything but random when you’ve gone through the indignity of having your bag emptied unceremoniously over a desk for the twentieth time. Meanwhile, your white travel companion has accidentally slipped through with nail scissors and a 120ml water bottle. What? How is this happening? I’ve actually learned not to pack anything remotely delicate in my bag; there’s still a dent on my glasses case from one airport guy literally chucking my stuff out on a metal table during one of these oh so “random” bag searches.

Extra security checks in general

Other things you’ll encounter at the airport will include: extra questioning at the passport desk, nearly always including “who gave you this passport?” or “where does this passport come from?”. Don’t forget the sly “where’s that name from then?”. I’ve also been asked about how I got my British passport and what other passports I hold. In extreme cases, you might even find yourself in a cage, an interrogation suite, or held in the detention room. All part of the fun!

-You will also get stopped for a “so where’s that from then?”

You Lose Sight Of Your White

This one is a massive problem because as we all know, a white person can save anything. If you lose sight of, or (God forbid) get separated from your white person, then good bloody luck making it to your plane on time. I’m going to follow this one with a personal anecdote: the time I had airline-approved plastic, round-ended kids scissors in my bag. The guy had dragged me away from the main queue to take me for questioning when Ryan turned up (aka a White Male), asked what the fuck was going on and the guy went, “oh, she’s with you?”, then claimed a “misunderstanding” and gave me my stuff back.

In fact, the only downside of taking along a Safety White with you is that whenever you arrive in your destination, people will know your tourists a mile off. A tragedy. Au revoir, local discounts.

You Become A Global “Race Analysis” Ambassador

I expect this one goes for all Poc. So, I don’t think I’ve been anywhere in the last five-six years without being quizzed endlessly on the level of racism in my home country of the UK. Especially since Brexit, people are really keen to know exactly how bad tensions are at home. We’ve got a reputation for being a bit of a grubby island now, and similar to America, people want native testimony.

It’s a problem and it can be confusing to discuss, especially if you’re the only UK person in the conversation. Leaving out your emotions and personal history is an aquired art when talking about a problem that affects you daily. Trying to give a non-biased answer, to somebody who may or may not have anymore conversations with a British person? I have so many disclaimers “I live in London” and “our news is fucked” and “I’m actually pretty light-skinned as things go and colorism is a massive problem in the UK” can make for a meandering, difficult conversation.

You’re All In It Together

Finally, a good issue! Whatever happens, we’ve all got each other. There’s always that one other guy the security room who gives you a brief, resigned nod. Or the Dad of a Muslim family who you hear using the same extremely calm, overly patient voice as you when they’re trying to explain you actually did apply for this passport and receive it from HMPO. One time I was travelling to Morocco on a package, and from the entire plane, the only people stopped for security was myself and a group of five Muslim guys travelling together. One of them smiled at me and went “eh, we’re all in it together, right? See you on the way back!”. Sure enough, one week later, on the flight home, which six people do you think got stopped again for extra security checks?

Anyway, I hope I’ve been able to shed some light. What kind of problems do you face travelling?


5 comments so far.

5 responses to “Five Issues For Brown People Travelling”

  1. Pardon? says:

    I’ve never particularly liked the process of flying anyway-such a dehumanising grind before you even get on the plane- but as a PoC it gets worse. You realise that your passport colour is largely irrelevant compared to the enormous superpower of having a certain kind of surname or particular skin tone.
    Its a shit superpower, like being able to read minds, which I can’t turn off- just knowing that I’ll be asked “where’s that then?” when the passport guy reads the place I was born, or that I’ll have to go through some extra random security protocol.
    Or just knowing, if I fly alone, that there will be a burly bloke wearing a loose jacket in a seat near me who’ll catch my eye with a dead eyed stare when i go for a walk up and own the airplane aisle. And having to pull my particular emotionless face with airport security to appear obedient and not too cocky and like a normal person, but not like a normal white person…..God please I don’t wanna be guantanamoed.
    Still I will forever cherish the memory of spending 15hours in a room in Houston with a hundred hispanic men awaiting questioning by Homeland Security and trying not to laugh or cry as eventually the fat uniformed man with USMC tattoos pulled Finnegan’s Wake out of my bag “Wait…. you Irish?”

  2. Jane says:

    I have been thinking a lot about how being an East Asian woman affects my travel lately. I must admit I don’t have those kinds of experiences at airports but know how bad it can get – one of my friends was questioned for so long just transiting through New York (not even entering the US) that he missed his flight. My issues are more when I get to the destination – I get more stares/harassment/sexual and racial comments than white people even in places which are not predominantly white. Although I haven’t done much travel in Asia yet, might be better for me there.

  3. Audrey says:

    For me, I remember there was this one time I was walking down a long hallway of the airport, and there was a conveyer belt along one wall, and this dude working at the airport was telling people to put their suitcases on the belt (I think it was just for convenience bc the hallway was so long, not for security, but I don’t really remember, but it’s not that important haha). And I thought woahh this is so cool I’ve never seen this before. So I walk over to put my suitcase on the belt because he’s telling us to. But then he starts saying it more aggressively (to me?), and then I start getting really confused. I’m just like, what’s the big deal?? I’m gonna go put it on the belt!! And then he comes right up to me and over-enunciates every syllable telling me to put the suitcase on the belt. And then I realise he thinks that I don’t understand him because I don’t know English because I look Asian. Then in my head I was just like, can you calm tf down?? But to him, I just said yeah I got it thanks -_-” -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

  4. I got singled out at security on my last Dubai trip, I think because the chip in my passport was damaged, and it was terrifying – getting hauled into a room with three officials and not being able to speak the language. I couldn’t imagine that as my reality every time I wanted to take a trip.

    So, thank you for once again sharing a perspective that I need to be reminded of.


  5. Denise says:

    Laila, for different reasons people are stopped and I agree with you about PoC, like you wrote. But just for the record, don’t have any criminal record, never done anything remotely illegal and I am white. I don’t want to say why, because I tend to have my stories very private, but when traveling I just know I will be stopped and my bag will be open, and bingo! It happens 70% of the time. 🙁 So I can say I am very sorry for what we have to go through, for different reasons. All unfair! Hope you have a nice weekend!

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