In a few days time I’ll be flying from England to Spain with a group of friends to attend Benicàssim, a music festival in the South-East of the country. Top of my list of things to do before I left was to shave. Far from an aesthetic decision, I shaved to make my life immeasurably easier. Truth be told, if I was white, the thought would probably never have crossed my mind.
I am, as you’ve probably guessed from my name, a brown man. However, given my age, the current climate surrounding air travel and a wonderful concoction of both ignorance and institutional fear, I fit a certain ‘profile’ that means I have to take certain precautions when travelling abroad. The fact I’m an atheist, carrier of a British passport, was born in Huddersfield and sound like an extra from Emmerdale genuinely counts for nothing.
You see, some of it might be my fault. Maybe I shouldn't pander to such limitations and stride confidently through airport security sporting a large, unkept beard, shouldering a backpack and ignoring any metal I may be carrying on me that might set off the detectors. Maybe that would help make the situation that bit more normal.
But, as you full well know, I don’t. I don’t have the strength of my convictions to be so brash. But why? Perhaps it’s largely down to the fact I have zero ambition of being lead behind a curtain and having a rubber gloved man probe my cavities without even having bought me dinner first, or maybe I just want a quiet life, and to go on holiday with minimal fuss.
Just to remove all doubt: all brown people aren’t terrorists. That much shouldn’t come as a shock to you, I hope. But, given that recently in the news we’ve had lads similarly aged to me flying abroad and soon after appearing in militant videos expressing extremist views their families weren’t even aware of, I can somewhat empathise with the fear. Funnily enough, I’m just as scared of being blown up on a plane as anyone else is. I don’t think they’ll stop when they see me and say “he’s one of ours”. Mainly because I’m not.
In truth, it goes beyond just having to shave before a flight, that much really doesn’t bother me, I’ve done it so many times now that any sadness has turned in to acceptance. Little things, such as knowing there’s no point in putting a padlock on my luggage because it’ll inevitably come back to me broken and searched, apparently ‘randomly’, is also somewhat depressing.
When time comes to get ready for the airport, I’ll be wearing nothing that contains anything that’s remotely close to being metal. I’ll take my shoes and glasses off and put them through the machine without being prompted. Again, the fact that the most radical view I hold is that I don’t much like The Beatles will be ignored, and I’ll remain just another man who fits a pre-determined profile.
There’s a scene in the stoner film ‘Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay’ that see’s them mock the situation I’m discussing. Sat on a flight, Kal Penn - who plays Kumar - looks over his shoulder and catches the eye of an elderly Caucasian lady. He smiles, but in a cutaway scene, we see the elderly woman look back at him horrified, picturing him in comical terrorist attire, miming a crashing plane. It’s funny because sadly, it’s true.
Using the beard as a reference point again - which genuinely, absurd as it sounds, is a real trigger for some people - I’ve used public transport both with and without having grown one. Usually a barometer of when I have to shave is when older people stop sitting near me, or actively move away from me, when they see me sat down. I have genuinely seen the same person happily sit next to me and smile while clean shaven. It’s somewhat amusing.
When I fly in a few days time, I won’t be on holiday until I’ve passed security in Spain, and am safely on my way in the country. It’s sad that it has to be like that, but it won’t change. All we can really do to help it stop is to start treating everyone equally as default, but that’s been so long in coming that it might not ever really happen. Just please bare in mind, 99.99% of brown people you see aren’t terrorists, and are just as scared of them as you are - no matter what The Daily Mail, the EDL or the BNP might tell you otherwise.