Black Privlidge

We always talk about white privilege, but what about Black privilege? I don’t experience it often, but I sure did this evening-about 15 minutes ago. It’s a special kind of Black privilege: airport privilege. I’m currently sitting at the airport in Accra, waiting to head out to London before returning to Babylon. The security here is moderate by American standards. They’re a little more physical with you, but that’s just because they don’t have the technology to see if your carrying anything dangerous, so they just check the old fashioned way-by copping a feel. But back to privilege.. as an American African, I don’t often consider my own privilege but today I was forced to. I was standing in line waiting to get my passport inspected for the um-teenth time. I had already been through customs, security, all that, and this was the last line of defense: British Airways personnel. I was standing behind two African brothers whose passports were scrutinized over for over 15 minutes each. The British Airways clerk (an African brother of about 30) was going crazy, asking for all kinds of extra ID, taking licences out of their jackets, sticking them under a blue light, asking all types of personal questions, “what are you doing in London,” “you don’t have any business in Europe,” demanding to see credit cards, things of that nature-and completely incriminating these brothers in the process. Especially the elder African right in front of me, of whom he all but demanded an autobiography and anal cavity search. 30 minutes later it was my turn, and just as I was reeling at the fact that my passport had a cancelled Visa (complications on the way over here), he looked at my passport, stamped it, and told me to keep it moving.

It was probably several things: my skin tone, no doubt, my accent, the “United States” emblem on my passport, perhaps my youthful charm and demeanor (ha). Whatever the combination of circumstances or attributes that contribute to it – my privilege was absolutely glaring and nauseating. The brother who was standing in front of me seemed irritated and humiliated that a young man, a third his age could so easily slip by with barely a glance from the interrogator who made his life a living hell for the previous 15 minutes. What injustice. I felt like saying something to my elder, but what do you say in a situation like that? To him, we have nothing in common. I am a man of privilege here in Africa, an “Obruni” (the Twi name for foreigner, usually used to describe whites). As far as he can see, I am an extension of the western imperialist regime that keeps him in check, as our British Airways attendant made crystally clear. How do we relate on any level? Personally, I empathized with the brother. I can definitely relate to being profiled, harassed, humiliated and scrutinized-I, too, am African, I just happen to live in the United States of America. But here in Ghana, I am privileged by the same system that oppresses me at home. How does one go about effectively challenging racism under these circumstances? Do I report to the British Airways management with a complaint? Boycott? Do I attempt to speak with the elder who was harassed and try to establish some form of solidarity… HA! I just had a funny thought – of a white dude, coming up to me after I’d been profiled, like “I know how it feels, brotha.” I’d probably look him up and down, then tell him to get the hell out my face. So where does that leave me? Here, typing on my expensive laptop trying to negotiate my own privilege with dignity. What an interesting ending to my first trip to the motherland. What was otherwise an extremely productive and spiritually rejuvenating trip ended with the rude awakening that I was about to re-enter a world where racism is the standard, and the tone of your skin relegates the amount of respect that you get. Home, sweet home.

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Published on July 17, 2007 at 6:01 am. 19 Comments.
Filed under Africa,racial rhetoric.