On one occasion, I was accosted by a passport official while I was in transit, travelling through the USA on my way to South America. This operative decided that my documents needed to be scrutinised in fine detail, so he asked me some questions. The interrogation seemed to be aimed at proving there was something inauthentic about me, looking the way I look, sounding the way I sound and having the name I bear, which was clearly written in the passport.
I’m sure this is something that many folks of African descent might have experienced at some point in the past. This particular situation was unusual or odd, in my opinion, because the person interrogating me was unmistakeably of South East Asian heritage, replete with an accent that made it clear that he hadn’t been brought up in the USA.
The official asked me to “poindex”. I had no idea what he was talking about. After a while it dawned on me that I was being asked to point my index finger, to get a finger print for the records. This was not a difficult thing to do, but he seemed to think that his inability to communicate in clear English for me to understand was a reflection on my bogus identity. Eventually we managed to clear the matter up and I was left alone to continue on my journey – out of the USA!
How does anyone determine who should be regarded as “foreign” or “exotic” nowadays?
I met a class of children for a Black History month project last week in Eats London. We were all going to learn a Yoruba song. Looking at the demographics of the class, it was clear to me that most of the children were at least bilingual. Three or four of them were of European heritage, whilst the majority were either Asian, Somali or from another part of Africa. One of the White children mentioned something about her mother tongue, so I asked what it was. “Armenian”, she said. They looked like a normal class of Londoners to me.