by Comrade Black
Yesterday I crossed the colonial imaginary line which divides the stolen territory claimed by one colonial nation state from the territory of another. My experiences crossing the border haven’t been too extreme, but they are interesting in the context of class,and how it intersects with race and gender.
A few months ago while on tour with Layla AbdelRahim, as I went through customs the guard asked how long I would be in the country, then proceeded to ask “what kind of job do you have that lets you take an entire work week off?” I replied that I am on disability, at which point he looked away, gesturing dismissively with his hand to move along. A bit surprised I asked unsure “were you still going to search my bag?” (which was open beside me). Again, continuing to not even look at me he waved his hand in a manner suggesting to “get away from me.” I didn’t argue and proceeded to Seattle. Layla later joked that he must have been afraid he would catch my disability if he continued to interact with me.
Last night as I crossed through from Victoria again on way to Seattle to see Rod Coronado speak. This time I had a bit more trouble at immigration than the time before. I was one of the first
still dates in: Saturday Feb 1st Portland OR at PSU Student Union Room 238 7pm Sunday Feb 2nd Eugene OR at UO, room McKenzie 221 7pm Saturday March 1st Philly at Wooden Shoe Books and Records 7pm
in line in case there was any issues since I had heard horror stories from friends who had been interrogated for 6-9 hours when they tried to cross, so I wanted to be there early just in case.
The immigration officer this time was a woman of colour. She began with generic questions, and went to scan my passport, when her computer began having problems – so her supervisor – a white male- came to help. He was actually the same Immigration cop who processed me when I went through in October. As he was trying to help her with the computer, he asked why I was crossing; and as I said I was going to see Iron Lung and Despise You, he began talking to me about how much he liked metal, and the documentary Metal: A Headbangers Journey by Sam Dunn (a Victoria based metal head and film maker). He asked a bit about the bands I said I was going to see, and told me he once processed Lemmy crossing through on a flight at a San Diego border crossing. “He was an interesting guy” the cop told me enthusiastically.
Everything was going ok until the woman who was the original border guard asked what I did for work. I replied I was on disability. Suddenly she seemed to become hostile, and began asking how much money I had, if I had been asked for proof of Ties and Equities last time I went through, and so on. “So you don’t have much money for hotels, are you just planning to stay on the streets?” I told her 2 or 3 more times I had a friend putting me up. She continued asking if I had been arrested ever, to which I replied I hadn’t (even though I was a bit unsure if a few things would come up or not from when the Integrated Security Unit for the 2010 Olympics game was harassing me and following me, or when I was volunteering with SHAC Canada in 2006). to my relief nothing did and I continued to act as casual as possible. At this point she asked if I was ever arrested for drugs, to which I replied “no, I am actually what is called straightedge, I haven’t even smoked in 10 years.” Surprisingly to me, she didn’t drop the subject and persisted “have you ever received any treatment for your addictions?” and so on the questions continued.
The supervise was still near by, and came back over towards her, she told him she was concerned I didn’t have much money with me. “I don’t think there is any reason to deny him entry” he told her. So instead she gave me a controlled entry, which involved finger printing me, photographing, and telling me I had to return by the 4rth or else (what else I am not sure exactly).
How much did class, gender and race play into the outcome of this experience? I have to wonder if I hadn’t been a white male, if the supervise wasn’t also a white male, would I have been denied entry? On the other hand, if I hadn’t looked poor with my black patched cloths, tattoos and locked hair, and more so if told her I was on disability; would I have had so much trouble? Borders are an inherently racist construct; if I had told the guards I was coming over to see a Indigenous man speak about defending wildlife rather than to see some bands in a scene where one could safely assume they are likely white males – would I have been allowed to enter?
A year ago I was on welfare waiting for my disability application to be approved (and hoping it wouldn’t be denied). Until then, traveling wasn’t even a possibility I considered real. On $610 a month, I couldn’t even afford to put in the passport application, never mind ferry costs, bus, or food. The only travel I oculd afford was my thumb. The interplay of class, race, and gender – of privilege and oppression under capitalism; within a colonial civilization is complex and anything but just. My experiences were mild in comparison to what many racialized people and those who present in a way that is visually queer often experience, yet they served me as an interesting examination of power and privilege.
In the end I am reminded of a line by Crass “
Are we really so dumb, so cowered into submission
That not only are we prepared to eat shit
We’re also prepared to say thanks for the privilege?”