A Canadian border official sees my Persian tattoo (which is often mistaken for Arabic outside the Middle East) at the crossing in Michigan/Ontario this week.
He stares intently. Then he goes all 20 Questions on me, often interrupting me before I can finish.
“Where are you going?”
“Toronto, to see a friend.”
“How did you meet?”
I laugh nervously. He doesn’t.
“How long are you staying?”
“Just a day.”
“Then why do you have so much luggage?”
“Oh, I’ve been traveling for a while.”
“Umm, lots of places.”
I start to get flustered. But I have absolutely nothing to hide. I have all the privilege. I have a passport from the U.S.A., the single most powerful piece of identification in the world. And yet I start not answering questions very well. I fumble. I seem suspicious.
He keeps staring at the tattoo. Then back to my passport. Then he finally, hesitatingly, lets me cross.
Imagine if I wasn’t a white, straight, cisgender, American man who speaks English fluently? It made me think of all those who cross borders – those who are immediately perceived, even subconsciously, as a danger. As different.
Imagine the questions then. Imagine the outcome then.