The Unbearable Whiteness Of Tourism

Tourism is colonialism with tips

Indi Samarajiva
Jan 7 · 3 min read
By accident of birth, I have both of these passports. They lead to two different worlds

They call tourism the hospitality industry, but it’s hardly hospitable. Hospitality is a welcome that goes both ways. You are welcome to my home, and I am welcome to yours. Tourism is hardly that. White people are welcome to the world. Brown people have to show receipts.

Try being a brown person and getting a visa. Are you from Iran or Pakistan or Somalia? Fuck off. Are you from a slightly more respectable country? You had better not be a stinking poor, bring bank statements. We have to sit in embassies and outsourced processing stations like humble mendicants, proving that we will not despoil your land with our terrible darkness or poverty. Our passports are an embarrassment, each escape an exception the the rule. We wear stamps on our foreheads. They read: ‘Return To Sender. Soon’.

Meanwhile, at home, the beaches are white. Each cove is wrapped from corner to corner with sunburnt bodies, colonial descendants returning to enjoy their former lands. They don’t own us anymore, they have to pay us a small toll, indulge us as we unroll bundles of cloth and shells, offer to massage their feet.

If they want a hotel or nice meal, of course, it’s best to go someplace white-owned. The best properties are managed by foreigners or, as they referred to, ‘expats’. Not immigrants or migrants, those words are for the browns. And if an ‘expat’ decides to stay and work they’re not an illegal immigrant, they’re just ‘overstaying their visa’. That term is for the poors.

While colonialism has ostensibly ended, our borders and — by extension — our minds remain colonized. Through language, through lines, through injustices that we ourselves enforce. We reject our own people at our own borders, they don’t even need to get to white man land. Our rich get their visas and shrug at the rejection of our middle class and poor. Our leaders get diplomatic passports and have us pay for their jaunts overseas.

Brown countries welcome tourism — for the money — and never question why we are not welcome in return. To visit Europe we need to definitively prove that we will leave. Hardly hospitable. To visit China we have to go with an official tour group or get a special letter inviting us in. Sri Lankans (where I live) can access only 22% of the world without a visa. Canadians (for example) can access 95%. This isn’t fair.

Some of us are tourists. The rest of us are the zoo.

Hence while I’m happy to welcome people home, I also find it troubling. Because it’s not hospitality if it only goes one way. I’m quite happy if our beaches are white, but let the Louvre then be brown. Brown and Muslim even, the horror. And if people overstay their visas, fuck off, your colonial ancestors overstayed theirs for hundreds of years. Do away with the idea entirely and let us free.

Let us live, travel and move about the world, even if we’re brown, even if we’re poor because fuck you, we are all born helpless and we are all born free. We all deserve a chance to see the world, to fall in love, to earn a living and to just stretch our feet and walk about the cabin.

I write this in an AirBnB owned by a white person, coming back from a white beach, being a brown person. It’s not fair. This isn’t tourism, it’s just colonialism with tips. And I don’t want just the tip. The world is mine, the world is ours, and a fair world is visa-free for all.


Indi Samarajiva

Written by

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

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade