Double Blue Card
At 23 I have been more than lucky to have travelled as much as I have. Of course, I worked hard to save lots of dollars to fund said crazy adventures. But the point is, travelling for ‘leisure’, or ‘adventure’, or ‘backpacking’, or whatever you want to call it, is a luxury that a minute percentage of the world can enjoy. And after having been blessed with so many eye-opening experiences, I cannot pretend that this gig hasn’t been made a whole lot easier because of two things: my blue skin, and my blue passport.
Now when I say blue, let me be clear. I mean my dad is Scottish, so I turned out so white I am practically blue, especially on cold days. And as the holder of the blue, Australian passport, my journey around the planet has gone pretty well, to say the least.
The double blue ticket has afforded me a huge amount of privilege in my life and in my travels. Yep, it’s that all-pervasive, yet supposedly elusive ‘white privilege’ you keep hearing about. Let me give you a little snapshot of what it has looked like for me over the years.
When returning from Peru to Australia and ticking ‘yes I have something to declare’ on my migration card, then explaining I had a bag full of loose coca leaves in my luggage, the customs officer did not so much as lift an eyebrow. She waved me straight through without even checking my luggage.
When returning from India, dressed in a sari and dirty hiking shoes, once again, I was waved straight through without so much as a second glance. (If your cultural appropriation buzzer is going off, don’t worry we’ll get to that later.)
At a Muslim Layenne festival in Senegal, I was given special access to meet an esteemed religious leader. I had no idea who this man was, I do not speak Wolof, and am not Muslim. Meanwhile, members of the Muslim, Senegalese family I was staying with did not have the chance to meet him. The importance of the meeting was lost on me, and those who would have appreciated this gesture, were not afforded the same treatment.
Being given favourable ‘special treatment and attention’ when I was the minority in a place or situation.
Being ushered to the front of a very long queue for a nightclub when I was the only white person.
In general, having no hassle at airports or in transit. Not having random people touch my hair.
Being referred to as an ‘expat’, not a ‘migrant’
These are just some small ways white privilege has dictated my travel life. Now, even though no one can control where they are born, everyone can check their privilege. Not sure if you even have ‘white privilege? Here are some telltale signs. The wanky, white traveller often does many or all of the following:
Takes zero responsibility for their financial or personal security, with the attitude that their privilege, passport, random standers by, and or parents money will bail them out of any situation.
Explains stuff about someone else's culture to the person who is actually from that culture.
Talks A LOT about their own travels, and listens to/notices NOTHING that is going on around them. This one includes having no cultural awareness and often no language skills apart from English.
Treating locals like they are there to serve them. This attitude goes something along the lines of, “you are lucky I am bringing my money and tourism to your country and you are now indebted to me.” This person now expects 5-star treatment, giving no understanding in return and has no concept of how damaging the tourism industry can actually be to local people and their culture.
Having a long and wanky checklist of things and places to do and see, and bragging about this relentlessly to anyone who will listen. This one sort of reeks of the whole ‘the world is to be conquered’ mentality. Not always, but there is a fine line between a bucket list, and a hugely inflated sense of entitlement to consume the world's greatest wonders. At what cost?
Expecting special treatment and attention for being white. Can also include expecting everyone to speak English, and getting rude/frustrated when they don't.
Expecting European/western standards of everything when visiting remote/ developing regions. Not having any sense of adaptability. This includes complaining about cultural norms and expectations of the country you CHOSE to visit.
That last point opens up a whole conversation on it’s own. So i’ll just leave you with this list for now. Having been born with the double blue card of white privilege, I can never claim to understand or know how it is to not have it. However, we can always check our privilege, and choose not to live from this sense of entitlement.
If you are lucky enough to wander the globe, tread lightly, listen carefully, and watch truly. As you step beyond your comfort zone in the outside world, let that sense of adventure travel inward. Discover your privilege and confront it head on.
Just because you may get through pretty much any airport without hassle, remember your best mate from Colombia is getting ‘randomly drug searched’ at every layover. Remember, where you may look at police and see protection, many others will see danger. And just because you would like to have a quirky and different cultural experience, someone else’s ancestral traditions may be jeopardised. And no, it's not a coincidence. Check your privilege with your next check in. And stay woke.