I travel extensively for work and I am always dressed in my Sunday best when I do. My colleagues often wonder why— they sometimes refer to me as a diva who is so full of herself and as such always needs to be styled in the latest fashion.
What they don’t understand is that if I travel in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, I am sure to get stopped at so-called random security checks, at immigration, and at customs. These experiences leave me emotionally depleted and are always so embarrassing and unpleasant.
There is only so much of this that anyone can take in a given lifetime. So, to avoid all these humiliating experiences, I dress well to travel — night flight or day flight. Dressing well gives me peace of mind.
I run into my friends at the grocery store and they also ask me why I dress well to go about such a basic task. And the reason I do this is the same as for travel. When you are well dressed, the probability of the security guard following you around the store because they think you are going to steal something decreases. The probability of getting good services also increases.
I don’t especially like to wear some of my best clothes to go shopping, but here again, it is a form of prophylaxis, a vaccine against the pain and emotional trauma of racism. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.
There are many areas in my life that have been shaped by the trauma of racism. There are certain choices that I make to avoid as much racism as I can because I am not sure I have the resilience and courage within me to put up with interpersonal and systemic racism for the next 30–40 years that I may have here on earth.
So I go out of my way to avoid situations in which I know racism is rife. There are certain places in the world that I will never visit because I know that as a black person, my life will be in danger in those places (these include some of the red-leaning states in the US). I will also not visit certain neighborhoods in Berlin, Germany where skinheads run amok.
I am a citizen of the world yet somehow, because of the color of my skin, I know I am not welcome everywhere. When I was young and rebellious, I didn’t care what people thought. I traveled to Shanghai, China, and I remember at the time on a ferry trip from Pudong to Old Shanghai, I was nastily stared at and hissed at. I defiantly returned the stares and the hisses but was breaking down inside, the experience was a painful one.
And so, when I think of traveling to China, I recall the trauma and come to the conclusion that I will not be returning — at least not in this life. I am not a sadist and do not enjoy putting myself in painful situations.
I often see my white husband forget his wallet at home and make it through the day without it. That is something that I cannot do. If there is ever a police check and I don’t have my ID, I know that I’ll find myself at the nearest police station. Just the other day, my young nephew was stopped on the tram because he had omitted to purchase a ticket. Things escalated fast and he was taken to the police station and detained. He’s a minor by the way.
So here again, if need be, I will come all the way back home to get my wallet. Things rarely ever end well when one is black so it's best to not find oneself in a vulnerable situation.
So yes, as black people, we cannot relax, we are always on our guard because we never know when our lives will be endangered simply for living.
I can't imagine that George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor expected to be murdered living their lives. And this is why, when we black people live in white-dominated societies, we can never rest our guard, we are always on the alert. Take a moment and imagine what a life like that would feel like.
Thanks for reading my perspective.