AROUND THE WORLD IN BLACK AND WHITE: The unsavory truth about racial profiling at airports worldwide
My husband and I are self-proclaimed adventurers, a spirited Canadian couple with an insatiable desire to live life to the fullest. As such, we embarked on an epic yearlong travel quest around the world with our newborn son and ten-year-old daughter. I thought we were prepared for whatever might come our way. We were not.
We armed ourselves with passports, visas, emergency contacts, heavily researched itineraries, and pre-booked flights and accommodations. We knew there would be amazing, frustrating, funny, and thrilling moments as we took parental leave on the road and in the air. We accepted and embraced all that came with spending A LOT of time together away from the comforts of home while parenting.
Despite the known challenges (or opportunities for growth) of travel and parenting, we mostly expected to be living out a charming family love story. It would be filled with thrilling adventures, breathtaking sceneries, unforgettable monuments, and culinary bliss. And… it was. We feasted our five senses on the beauty of the world from the temples of Southeast Asia to the pyramids of Egypt, the rolling hills of Tuscany, and the African plains. However, we also experienced prejudice and racism on a scale I never would have expected.
One of the glaring ways in which this presented itself was in airports. In 2018, we took fifty-six plane rides around the world and I can now say, without a shadow of a doubt, that we are racially profiled and treated differently based solely on the colors of our skin. As a white woman, I, not once, was randomly selected for extra security screening. Roland, my Black husband, was, consistently.
Roland was targeted so often that we tried different scenarios to see if it would change the results. He held the baby or walked with our ten-year-old daughter (who is white, from a previous marriage) to see if being a parent would result in better treatment. He went solo without the kids and bags, or I walked beside him and gave him the stroller while I carried our son, so it was clear we were all together. Sometimes he had collared button-up shirts, other times athletic wear, and others jeans and t-shirt. None of it mattered.
The only times we were able to dodge an extra layer of security screening were when I led the group. After security let me through, I would indicate to them that we were family. Then, usually, they would wave us all through.
The first time Roland travelled alone that year to meet his sister for a long weekend, he called me agitated and recounted his experience at the small airport in Greece.
“I was at the security line, and they pulled me out of it. The only other group that got pulled over was a South Asian family of four. Security brought me to the counter and two officers came to see me.” He said.
“They were flipping through each page of my passport over and over again. Meanwhile, a constant flow of white people walked through the line with their passports barely being glanced at.”
I could hear the mix of anger, frustration, and sadness in his voice. The officers kept asking him the same questions over and over: When did you arrive in Europe? How long are you staying in Europe? Where have you been so far? Where are you going now? He answered each question politely and consistently. Roland asked what the officer’s concern was, in hopes to try and help so he wouldn’t miss his flight. They ignored him. After the first two officers left, two different officers came and asked the same series of questions.
They finally let him go with no explanation. He sprinted to the gate, only making it because his flight was delayed.
Often, I get asked which countries were the worst offenders. Although some destinations were more frequent than others, the sad reality is, it happened on a global scale as we travelled across Asia, North America, Africa and Europe. This includes Canada, our own backyard.
It broke my heart. I could no longer be ignorant or brush off the incidents as one-offs. Whenever we walk into a room, the world will view us and treat us differently. The anger and hurt boiled inside me as I realized the way I get to experience the world in my personal, professional, and even in my adventures are laced with a privilege my husband and (some of) my children will not have. They are not made to feel welcomed to travel, explore and adventure the way I am.
It was this broken, angry, sad heart that fuelled the writing of Around the World in Black and White: Traveling with a Biracial Blended Family. It is a tale of self-discovery, racial awakening, resilience, and deeper understanding. This bold and heartfelt memoir will have you rethinking how you travel, how you see the world, and how the world sees you.
Alana Best is the author of “Around the World In Black and White.” She grew up with her parents, two younger sisters, and older brother on the traditional lands of the Treaty 4 Territory, the original lands of the Cree, Saulteaux, Dakota, Nakota, Lakota, and the homeland of the Métis, also known as Regina, Saskatchewan. As a travel enthusiast, Alana is passionate about being a global citizen, encouraging wanderlust, and living a full life. She believes travel helps create tolerance, understanding, and empathy. She and her husband, Roland, have the pleasure of working and living on the traditional, unceded territory of the lək̓ʷəŋən peoples, with their three incredible children. She and her family love their home in Victoria, British Columbia, and will never stop exploring.
First published at Travel Industry Today