Have you ever traveled and felt that ‘white’ travellers have more privileges or courtesies than black travellers? My friend, Nonso, a network engineer shares his recent encounter with us in this guest blog, “(Mis)adventures of Travelling While Black.”
The white lady behind the wooden counter bust my bubble.
I had always thought that my Belgian passport exempted me from the routine humiliation meted out to other people of my roots. That not having to use the green passport was some kind of immunity against my Nigerianness.
I was wrong. I was guilty of another subtle offense. I was traveling while black.
The rude awakening capped what had been an amazing seven-day holiday in France. I had joined the family of my Belgian girlfriend on the trip to Nice. And we had a fun time together.
It was the unforeseen drama at the point of departure that fouled everything for me.
The French customs officials were attending to the predominantly white travelers on the queue with courtesy and speed. The officials smiled at the visitors when they got to the desk, looked over their documents, and let them go.
No extra second wasted.
Then, my turn. I had the same documents other white Brussels-bound passengers had. I was as Belgian as some of them. I expected the selfsame service of politeness and professionalism.
I didn’t reckon that the charming white lady that was civil to others might have a strange reason to treat me differently.
My blackness contrasted sharply with the overwhelming whiteness the environment. In retrospect, I now think she may have held me guilty of threatening to contaminate the sterile whiteness of her world.
She asked me for my boarding pass. I fetched my phone and showed her the document in PDF format. Then, for no reason, she asked me to step out of the queue.
Then, she completely ignored me and continued to attend to other passengers. She smiled at them, made small talk with them, and let them go. A good number of them were as Belgian as I was on paper.
I felt diminished. I was reduced to an exceptional case. I was looked upon as a curiosity. The black man. A potential threat to peace-loving humanity.
I stood there quiet, bemused for a few minutes… until my anger boiled over.
I lashed out at the lady.
‘’What problem do you have with me?’’
‘’ What is your problem with who I am?’’
My angry, loud and bold challenge shocked, shamed and shriveled her, in turns.
She was shocked that I crusaded against the disrespect. She was ashamed because she couldn’t defend her racist attitude. She shriveled because I turned the table and made a spectacle of her.
The burst of my outrage redeemed my dignity and left her as embarrassed as she had made me.
The drama gave me another epiphany.
The family of my girlfriend did not intervene. They showed no concern that I had been somewhat detained. They didn’t care that a member of their company wasn’t having it as easy.
My girlfriend would later try to rationalize my experience. She said, ‘’Maybe they were looking for someone.’’
It occurred to me that she couldn’t understand. She was white. She was inclined to view the humiliating drama through the lens of her identity.
But it was clear to me that this was racial profiling. There was no reason why I should have been treated differently when I had.
(Mis)adventures of Travelling While Black.
#ItStopsWithMe – Trackxin.