I’m an Australian and have been so for as long as I can remember. I’ve always considered myself “Aussie”, and proudly so — with the obvious caveats around our treatment of First Nations people, asylum-seekers, performance at the World Cup, etc. But no matter how Aussie I feel, how broad my ocker accent, or how blasé I am around poisonous creatures, customs lines at airports see me a little differently. There I’m less “Aussie”, more “Muslim”. Less “larrikan”, more “African”. Less “life of the party”, more “danger to national security”.
Standing in the UK customs line — or any customs line in Europe, for that matter — reduces me from being a real person with hopes, dreams and an Instagram page begging for holiday snaps to someone who (apparently) poses a threat to a nation’s social fabric.
The US poses even more challenges: dual citizens of Iran, Iraq or Syria, or Sudan in my case, or anyone who has travelled to these countries since March 2011 can no longer sail through on the visa waiver programme like other Brits or Australians: we are now asked to go through extra vetting. It is an additional process most fellow citizens don’t even realise exists.
The irony is that I’m doing nothing wrong by wanting to travel, but I’m worried that the folk at the border will think otherwise. I start to get anxious that they won’t believe me. I stress that they’ll see “Khartoum, Sudan” as my place of birth and decide it’s enough to warrant suspicion, to raise the alarm, to take me aside for further interrogation.
Am I being paranoid? Possibly, because most of the time I’m fine (Alhamdulillah). But it wouldn’t be the first time I had been turned away at a country’s border, humiliatingly told to “go back to where I came from”.
Travel is meant to be exciting, not remind you of structural inequality and your place in the world’s geopolitical hierarchy. Alas! Sometimes, all I want is a tan.
I just got back from my first group holiday. We were a group of five; one white man and four brown and black women. As we joked about the length of time it took us to get through security, the white guy chuckled self-consciously. “Me and my white mates do get through a lot quicker,” he said, a little surprised. “I’d heard it was like that, but wow!”
We laughed, but after it took me an hour to get through the non-EU queue, the laughter was a little more subdued. Will this be us next year, thought the British members of my group.
“It wouldn’t be the first time I’d been turned away at the border, told to ‘go back to where I came from'”
Of course, I know I’ve got it pretty darn good. Having an Australian passport is a ticket to a type of freedom my Sudanese born-and-bred cousins don’t have — they weren’t even allowed to visit me in Australia as tourists. I’m lucky, and I’m grateful.
But unfortunately it’s not enough. We still live in a world where my faith and birthplace speak louder than my paperwork, and where the freedom of travel is something to earn rather than be entitled to. It kind of kills that summer holiday vibe, you know?
Get the popcorn out for a crazy romcom
I remember picking up the book Crazy Rich Asians when it was published almost five years ago. Reading it was a revelation: so much about the collectivist Asian society was familiar but so much of the story was new and exciting: it was a hilarious insight into a world I knew nothing about but couldn’t get enough of. The bestseller has been turned into a film, out this week. I have not been this excited since, well, maybe Black Panther. I’ve already set up a WhatsApp group to co-ordinate a screening.
Constance Wu (Getty Images )
Everyone loves a good romcom, and Crazy Rich Asians is that and more. The last time a Hollywood film had a majority Asian cast was in 1993. Such a film reflects a push for different stories, diverse casts, better representation.
Constance Wu stars as Rachel Chu, in a modern twist on a classic plotline: girl dates boy, goes to meet the family, he’s actually a prince. In this take, girl dates boy, meets his family and finds out they are part of the filthily wealthy Singaporean elite. There’s a wild wedding, a protective mother and a dynasty’s worth of drama. What’s not to love?