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?
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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?