Congratulations! YOU have been “randomly selected” for a security search – the modern brown paper bag test h

#PredestinedForRandomSelection

I was 8 years old, pretty happy kid back then, quite unaware of what was going on around me. To be honest if it wasn’t how you fill the Pokedex I wasn’t particularly bothered. But I remember this day, all tanned and filled with post-holiday depression on my way back to London from time spent in Jamaica where I was Miss Anna’s ‘lightskin’ grandson. Proudly wearing my “A Bugs Life” rucksack (shout out Flick for teaching me them Marxist theories) and in it, chilling amongst the plethora of Game Boy Colour games, was none other than a mango. Now may be a good time to divert. I’m a big fan of mangos, pineapples not so much, a bit too “Taste sticks to the sides of your mouth” for my liking. But mangos? Bring it. And this mango was one hand given to me by Miss Anna herself. Proud. So, back to the point. On my way through security at New Yorks JFK airport, A man of colour holds his hand up in front of me , because apparently that’s how Americans do manners, and says “excuse me Sir I’m going to have to ask you to stop”. Sir? I swear that’s my dad’s name! So 8 year old me stops, beyond confuse, and near terrified begin to follow the procedures that would become standard for all future visits to America. I do as I’m told and hand over my bag (voluntarily and momentarily robbed) and watch humiliated as this man siphons past Pokemon red, blue AND yellow (I was a boss back then, definitely caught them all) and then, THEN this man has the cheek and he removes my mango! Whilst simultaneously asking me to remove my shoes I might add! Looking around for parental support, I notice the gaze of the 99.9% white people who are strolling through security the same way I would stroll through the playground in the park near my house, smiles on their faces, problems? None. No smiles here though, tears begin to form as I hand him my shoes, wondering why Miss Anna’s mango got taken away.

That was the first random selection. Conveniently I’ve been searched every time I’ve tried to enter or exit America since. Entry and exit (What are the odds?!…) . Now I’m all up for keeping us safe , sure, I plan to survive this (writing on route) and all current flights I take . But, maybe, just maybe there’s something slightly wrong in telling me this search is entirely at random? Nowadays I come prepared, nothing in my pockets save my iPhone and my headphones, nothing in my hand luggage except a spare shirt (to this day I have never needed a spare shirt , but who knows one day I might spill some rum down this one) and shoes that I can take off without even bending down – skills. However, I shouldn’t have to. I shouldn’t have to walk through anywhere being prepared to have myself searched on the basis of what? A name? Sorry lets go back to 13.10.91 , the day I was predestined for this, and rename me Jack Jones. A complexion? Sorry lets pretend the universe (or high school romance…) didn’t bring Mr. and Mrs. Khan together. Or a random process by which I just happen to find the hot seat on all these planes by which I am selected. If only the lottery worked like this.

Way back when, when racism was an integral part of society (so yesterday? .) Such an intra-discriminatory practice existed as the brown paper bag test. The one where if your skin wasn’t light enough you were immediately denied entry or access to certain privileges offered to those of lighter complexions and whiter skin. Now there’s something about just looking around at the people being searched and those doing the searching that makes you wonder if this test ever stopped existing or if it just got incorporated into society’s rhetoric and re-branded “passport control” “security checks” etc., take your pick.

Now is it nameism? Is it colourism ? Racism ? Well as of yet I have no facts but I have stories. All I’m saying is, give me back my mango. My tears. My dignity. The right to fly like everyone else. In any case, I’ve randomly selected you to share this post and get some open discussion about race in 2015.

@Tweetsbybilal

“Where are you REALLY from?”

#ImREALLYfromLondon

“Where are you from?”

“Neasden, it’s like North West London – near Wembley?”

“No, where are you REALLY from?”

Annoyance ? Anger? Frustration? Pride? In this split second that I am asked this question for the millionth time since I was first born without white skin, I really don’t know which one of these words best describes how I feel. Was my top class geographical referencing and casual name dropping of a place no-one other than avid football fans really care about not good enough as an answer? Can I not be REALLY from London given that it’s the only place I’ve ever truly known and called home? Does it mean that every time I’ve been asked this question that I’ve had to give thought to my heritage, to the cultures outside of London, those far away from home that supposedly define where I’m quintessentially from? Yes. It does. And I settle on the last of the four feelings, I am proud.

“Oh well my parents are from a lot of places, my mums Jamaican but she’s mixed Oriental and Black and my Dad’s from Kenya but his family originally came from Kashmir, now in Pakistan – you?” (Try writing that on a form instead of London).

This is the answer I’ve come to perfect over the years, from being a kid in primary school where almost everyone claimed to have multiple origins, it became a necessary answer to memorise. And learning fractions definitely helped too, you know, them ones where you’re describing yourself in 8ths, 16ths and will even stretch it to 32ths so you can win the “who’s more mixed than who” competition. There was always the Nigerian kid who would try and convince you that being half Yoruba and half Igbo made them also racially mixed – interesting idea when you think about 15 years later, I mean, what even is at the essence of that big social-construct we call RACE? At the time though, just a great way for fractions to mean anything in the real world, and trust me, I got good at that quick-fire mathematics.

But genuinely, what do people mean when they ask the question? If it’s not the geographical location (I’m convinced it’s so they can stalk your house on Google Earth) people are after, then how can we rephrase to get to the core of what it is we want to know? I’m quite happy to call myself a Londoner, but that’s not quite interesting or adequate enough as an answer. When I am cornered by the follow up question of where I’m really from and I decide to either give my well-rehearsed answer or be a bitch and make them guess (c’mon we’ve all tried it, the game can go on for ages), I’m more often than not greeted with a “WOW that’s so cool”. Cool isit? So now being mixed is cool? Make of that what you will. There are some of you, I hope, getting angry that mixed-raceness is somewhat fetishised. That currently we are ‘trending’, we only have to take a couple of uneducated turns on a wander through social media to see how many misguided young people want cool designer mixed-race babies. There are others of you, I also hope, who share in my pride that yes, IT IS cool. That retaliating with a barrage of ethnicities that make up your heritage is definitely a thing to be proud of and also a great way to introduce yourself, the conversation starter, “meet Bilal, he’s from basically everywhere” (most definitely NOT what I said, but anyway “Hi”).

So clearly it isn’t a question of where I geographically call home, or where I’m ‘actually’ from. Rather it’s something much deeper, more a question about my heritage, of the cultures that make me, well, ‘me’. Then why do we all via some default setting phrase the question as such? Why do we unintentionally alienate people almost right away from their own feeling of being a, or even of being British? I’ll let you figure out your own answer to that one, but perhaps it’s time we think about the intentions behind our questions, about the language we use when framing such questions and the effect that our language can have on individuals own perceptions of their identity. Maybe it’s time to find a new way to phrase the question, because where am I really from? Well, I’m from London mate.

#ImREALLYfromLondon

@TweetsbyBilal