Blogger’s note: I have received some good feedback and pushback from this article – always good when you write a piece like this. Based on the feedback, I realize that it’s is not necessarily the simple black and white issue I have made it to be. I still hold to my original premise, that many, if not most of us, do benefit from the privilege of skin and perhaps passport color, but I welcome your feedback. It is important to note that this is in no way designed to be a political piece. It is an observation while traveling.
I arrive in Auckland, New Zealand at six in the morning, bleary-eyed with little sweaters on my teeth. It’s been a long flight from San Francisco.
I am tired but excited as I go through passport control. Exiting the desk, where uniformed women and men look down through glass windows from places of power, I see a family pulled aside. The family looks tired, exhausted really, travel weary and ready to settle.
Four kids of different ages and stages sit, stand, and lie across chairs. A man with passport control has their passports and is talking on the phone. I don’t recognize the color of their passports, but from the color of their skin I know they could be from any of a number of countries. The father is clearly worried, the mom looks resigned– resigned to wait, to be patient, to accept whatever will come.
In these brief moments, as I take in all that I see, I realize all over again what I’ve known all along: traveling while white is a privilege. This family is traveling while brown, while I travel while white.
In all my years of travel to over 30 countries, I have never been detained at an airport. I have never been subject to extensive searches. I have never been suspected or considered suspicious. I carry stamps in my passport from countries that are on the State Departments “no fly” list, I have been to places considered dangerous– yet I have never had any sort of difficulty going anywhere.
Because I travel while white. I have done nothing to deserve good treatment, but I do receive it. It is not my birthright to be able to walk out of and into countries freely, but I get to anyway.
I travel while white. I am part of the privileged minority of the white.
I can deny it all I want, but it is still the truth. Traveling while white is a privilege that I’ve done nothing to deserve.
This is part of what it means to be aware of one’s own privilege. I need to own that privilege and realize that it is not like this for everyone.
Traveling while white means:
1. I’m never detained
2. I am welcomed to almost everywhere I go
3. I am considered safe, not a threat
4. I am treated with respect
5. I can express anger without getting in trouble.
6. I can make a fuss and not be reprimanded.
7. I can treat others poorly and not be confronted.
8. I receive smiles and nods, rarely stares and auspicious glances.
9. I usually get my own way.
10. I receive apologies when things don’t go my way.
I sigh as I look back at the family, wishing I could help. But I’m a stranger to Aukland, I don’t really know what is going on. All I know, is that I’m white and I’m really tired.