Updated: Sep 30, 2020
Traveling is always interesting as a brown person. Even as a 5ft, two baby faced woman in my boyfriend's sweats - I've been stopped for "random" checks more times than I can count. On top of that, having a middle eastern residency visa in my passport has made getting through immigration a challenge... even as an American citizen. For example, a couple of years ago, I had an immigration officer stop me upon looking at my passport to ask if my family was part of the 1%- "You must have Ferraris and butlers, right? Or did your daddy only buy you a BMW?" he scoffed. In awe at his candor, I gritted my teeth, awkwardly smiled, and as nicely as I could, responded with a "no, that's not how I was raised," whilst reaching out to pick up my passport he was intently perusing. Instead of simply passing it back to me, he proceeded to shoo me to the side of the line, all the while calling me a "bratty Dubai kid," and telling me that I "can wait." As countless fellow Americans nonchalantly walked over that thick yellow line that officially declares that you are in the USA, I was made to feel like an outsider. Humiliated, I stood right beside the officer, trying to control my temper in fear of further upsetting his 'sensibilities'. This may seem cowardly to you but, in all honestly, I had just been on a 20-something hour journey where I was delayed tremendously, squished in a tiny seat, while a baby shrieked next to me, and although my patience was wearing thin I knew that making a scene would only give him the satisfaction he oh so desired and arguing would simply delay me from a shower and bed further. Luckily for me, it wasn't too long a wait, and about 15 minutes later, another officer noticed me looking like an angry Popeye in the corner and asked the officer why he wasn't letting me through. As he couldn't give a valid reason, I watched him mutter something under his breath, turn around, hand me my passport, and glare as he watched my little brown ass walk away.
I had done absolutely nothing wrong, and yet I was made to feel like a criminal and less than all the other passengers who like me were just trying to get back home. Sadly this wasn't a new feeling.
Yet a week ago I had to travel again and little did I know this time it was going to be different- because this time I was traveling during corona.
Let's preface this by saying that I was flying domestically with my boyfriend to see a newborn baby- so we may have gone a little overboard when it came to essentially creating a bubble of cleanliness around our bodies. Dressed in a white hazmat suit, gloves, face shield, and mask, we strolled into the airport, hand sanitizer at the ready, looking like we were underqualified Ghostbusters and went to check-in and it was like the world had transformed. You see, in the corona free getup, you couldn't tell whether I was an alien, let alone that I was brown. No one hassled me at all; security was a breeze, my bags weren't double-checked. Nothing. We still were looked at funny, and people did yank their children away from us, but that was to be expected and honestly kind of what I wanted. Now, this new attitude may have been because we were slightly terrifying-looking or potentially because of new corona protocols of wanting to get people in and out of the airport as quickly as possible, but for me, it was incredible. Those who did come near me complimented my commitment to keeping everyone safe, and the rest simply stayed away.
So what does this mean? It means that the suit, although a pain the ass to pee in gave me a level of respect that often isn't granted to brown people traveling. It gave me the ability to no longer be judged by my race because no one could see what my race was- and in turn, it made for a much better-kinder experience. As a disclaimer, I'm not saying this attitude is a reflection of all because I have met some incredibly kind airport staff, including the immigration officer that questioned the man keeping me from getting through the line. Yet it does mean that we still have a lot of work to do as a population when it comes to race.
Just FYI, my boyfriend and I made it safely to see the cutest little girl and we are corona free! Although very odd, we will forever laugh at the memories associated with traveling looking like Michelin men. From the struggles of eating Mcdonalds greasy (but oh so good) hashbrowns breakfast through face shields to being stopped and asked if we were part of a lab making a vaccine, it was definitely 7 hours we will never forget.