The Racism Behind Digital Nomads

White people can move, brown people are trapped

Indi Samarajiva
Feb 10 · 4 min read

I see them at beach cafes, updating the website of some other cafe. The elusive digital nomad. Their natural habitat ranges from Bali to Goa, depending on avocado prices and currency fluctuations. They’re migrant workers, but don’t call them that, because racism.

The digital nomad orders a coffee. The brown man serves it. Neither can see it, but the waiter is serving coffee through the bars of a cage. The brown man is chained to the land. He has the passport of a shithole country and is universally acknowledged as scum. He himself acknowledges this. As it was in colonial days, the white man remains his superior.

A white passport gets you visa-free access to over 95% of the world. A brown passport lets you access maybe 20%. It’s God’s green Earth, but man has drawn thick black lines across it. If you have the right passport, these borders are invisible. For the rest of us, these borders are a cage.

A white person (or a person with a white passport) can go anywhere and be a digital nomad. You have no idea what a joke that is to someone black, brown or poor. Go anywhere? Without standing in line? Without proving that you're rich? Without having a return ticket? Without being rejected? Hahahahaha. Digital nomad my ass, we’re real nomads and best left to drown at sea.

The white man can come here on a tourist visa, rent a cheap place and make the most of his labor. He gets paid to update a restaurant website that charges $50 a meal and pays $5 here. It’s a good bit of labor arbitrage. He can go to Bali next, or Chile, or Zanzibar. He is contributing wherever he goes. He’s welcome. He’s a tourist. Countries advertise to attract him.

The brown man, however, is in chains. He can’t see it, but he is chained to the place where he was born. He cannot move. He cannot visit the white man’s land, not without proving that he has money and that he has ‘skills’ the white man wants. He can’t bounce from country to country, that’s a joke. Each country wants to know exactly when and how he’ll leave. By the time you fly to Paris on a whim, he’s still applying for the visa. Wherever he goes, he is unwelcome. He’s an illegal immigrant, he’s subhuman. Countries advertise that he’s welcome to drown at sea.

So who am I, silently harshing the buzz at some beachside cafe? Some grumpy asshole also ordering coffee, also part of the same hypocrisy? Well, yes I am, but I have opened my eyes and now I cannot unsee. Once you see the invisible borders of the world you cannot ignore them. You can see how they cut people, how they divide them, how they kill and destroy families. And also the casual injustice of a white man ordering coffee from a brown man who will never be so free.

I know this because I have both brown and white passports, and a border runs right down the middle of my family. Between my children. I can see clearly because I was born into both privilege and bondage. I can cross sides as easily as turning a page. I am a tourist to the land of injustice. I am part of the same hypocrisy, but I never thought it would apply to my family.

My son, that little fellow wandering shirtless through your cafe, has a brown passport. If we do nothing he will remain a slave to this land, begging and groveling for any freedom to move. My daughter, the one currently stuffing her face, has a white passport. She can be a digital nomad. She can set up a nice AirBnB, use local produce and give back to the community of slaves. The world is her oyster. To him, it’s just a shell.

This is just a glitch in the Matrix, the border between my children. It will pass in a few months when we apply for the boy, but I can’t unsee it now. I took the red pill and I can’t go back. They made fucking batteries out of us! They keep us trapped by visas and force us to make them coffee!

This is why all the rage, directed at a random white guy noodling with Wordpress on his laptop. I don’t care about this dude, I hope he enjoys his coffee, I hope he gets paid. But I am enraged that my brown dudes and dudettes do not have the same freedom. Let us come to your countries. After colonialism, you at least owe us the WiFi password.

Let our dumbass sons and daughters peacefully eat smoothie bowls on your shores, as yours do on ours. And don’t tell me you have a process, or to apply with all of our certificates and degrees. Fuck your process, and fuck your visas, and fuck your immigration queues. And especially fuck your concentration camps, your drones, your militarized borders, and your hate speech. We are free and we don’t have to do anything or be anyone to deserve that freedom. There should be no application and there should be no decision. We are just free.

I’m sick of digital nomads, I’m sick of tourism and I’m sick of skilled migration. It’s all a very complicated dance around a simple injustice. Some people are free and other people are in chains. So fuck this shit, and fuck your digital nomads. Let all my people go.


Indi Samarajiva

Written by

Colombo liberal. Writer, father. Founder of YAMU and Kottu. Contact: indi@indi.ca

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