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Facing Prejudice While Traveling

Some of you are uncomfortable right now. Some of you are thinking “shut up and stick to writing about gift cards and airline miles.” While those are super important subjects that far trump everything else, bigotry does affect some of us in this community, so let’s address it. After all, what is the point of having a privilege like freedom of speech if we’re going to clam up when it comes to discussing subjects that actually matter? Let’s take a moment to address a topic that affects some members of this community before going back to obsessing  about the Marriott – Starwood merger.

travelers at an airport gate area looking over a plane

What brought this topic to my attention was a series of tweets Brian@CTravlr posted after the election. They highlighted his experience of traveling and participating in this hobby as a minority. I can identify with some of his sentiments, even though I haven’t personally been profiled at the airport or experienced racism while traveling in a premium cabin. But I think the point he makes about how not all of us get treated the same is worth considering. 

I take great pride in how diverse our community is. Go to any points and miles conference and you’ll see people of all backgrounds gathered in the hallways, talking about their passion for this hobby. I’ve developed friendships with all types of people that I may not have come across had it not been for this hobby: People from various backgrounds, ethnic and religious groups, and even age brackets. I love that all of those things melt away as we excitedly discuss our hobby and share tips and stories.

However, as Brian reminds us, some people in our community don’t get the same treatment when traveling in first class. Some get looked at more suspiciously than others when buying $10,000 worth of money orders. And others have concerns about traveling to countries that openly discriminate against people based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. 

Experiencing Racism While Traveling

A while back, someone left a comment on one of my trip reports that got me thinking about my personal experiencing with racism while traveling. I had described the crew on a Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong as very scatterbrained and jumpy, pointing to an instance when one of them dropped a hot towel on my lap and then took off. The commenter interpreted this act as racist and suggested I was oblivious to it because as “an outsider” I had “hang-ups about being non-white.” While I initially brushed it off as absurd, I eventually had to acknowledge that I do have hang-ups about pulling the race card, because I don’t like to label myself (or be seen as) a victim.

That being said, I find that for the most part I’m treated the same as everyone else while traveling. I’m courteous and mostly get the same treatment in return – particularly from hospitality professionals. I’ve never received extra attention at the airport or had any trouble at immigration when returning from a trip abroad…except that time I got profiled as a drug mule, but that was a gender/age thing. 

The only overt racism I’ve encountered while traveling was the jerk at the Hyatt Regency Maui who made a vile comment about my sister when he thought she was cutting in front of him at Swan Court. My sister told me about it afterwards, but had I heard him refer to her as being from an “animalistic culture,” I would have said some things to the Rush Limbaugh look-alike that would have destroyed his self esteem. In my experience, it’s always the bottom feeders of society that consider themselves superior to other people, so I try to remember this irony while choosing not to dwell on bigotry or take it personally.

When our room assignment kept getting delayed that first night at the Grand Hyatt Singapore because the staff had decided to extend a 10 PM check-out to the previous occupants, I did wonder – would they pull something like that with any guest? On a night when the hotel was sold out, the idea that a room’s previous occupant would receive a 10 PM checkout time while the newly arrived guest didn’t have a bed to sleep in, was absurd.

Maybe it’s my naivety at play but I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt and blame it on incompetence rather than any kind of discriminatory behavior. Because treating every slight as racially motivated makes you paranoid and pessimistic about the world. And I for one want to maintain some optimism in the face of uncertainty. Or maybe I’m in denial – I don’t know. That’s not to say I won’t speak out against bad behavior, but I don’t go from zero to racist unless I have concrete proof.

After attending a seminar about unconscious biases a few years back, I realized we’re all a little bit prejudiced, even if we’re not aware of it. As open, compassionate, and unprejudiced as I like to consider myself, I know I’m not exempt from this. We’re human and thus biologically wired to form prejudices – but as we’ve evolved into civilized beings, we have to fight this instinct to get along in a diverse world. To me, it’s important to be aware that prejudice is very real, that we’re flawed beings with a natural disposition towards it, but that we should’t let it ruin any experience. 

There are many people in this community who have at some point expressed concern about being discriminated against while traveling: Muslims from the UK and elsewhere who are concerned about traveling to the U.S., Members of the LGBT community who are concerned about traveling to countries that aren’t LGBT friendly, women who are concerned about traveling to the Middle East on their own, lower to middle class individuals who are worried about how they’ll be treated in first class. It’s easy to discount people’s fears and experiences, but these are legitimate concerns for some people and I, for one, would like to know if and how they impact all of you.

Do you feel ethnicity, religious affiliation, socioeconomic status, gender, or sexual orientation affect the way you’re treated while traveling? You have the advantage of being anonymous, so fire away.

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Ariana Arghandewal

25 Comments

  1. Thank you for tackling an uncomfortable subject. Another form of travel prejudice is how my young adult daughters get hassled more than I do by telephone customer service agents and hotel clerks when checking in alone. Assertiveness doesn’t come natural to them but they are learning.

    • That’s true in general for women – people generally don’t like women who are assertive, so a lot of women repress that. I think age is a big factor in the type of service that’s provided.

  2. “In my experience, it’s always the bottom feeders of society that consider themselves superior to other people, so I try to remember this irony while choosing not to dwell on bigotry or take it personally.”

    This is so true.

    • I tend to believe that most bottom feeders don’t think they’re superior to others, but rather are just lashing out mostly after leading continuous desperate lives competing for scarce resources whether it’s with job opportunities, money, finding a spouse, not having the financial resources to deal with life’s setbacks, etc. It’s easy to be generous and kind when someone has enough resources and not constantly have to worry how they’ll support themselves.

      The people who truly feel they’re superior to others are probably the super wealthy elites or major celebrities always lecturing how people should live their lives.

      • Go to a Klan rally and you might change your tune. It’s usually the disenfranchised bottom feeders of every ethnic group that proclaim themselves to be superior to others. I’ve seen this in communities around the world. Though I agree, celebrities and the elite can have superiority complexes too – largely because their egos are constantly catered to by regular folks.

        • The Klan don’t have any power mostly in society since they’re such a small minority. If majority of them had good jobs, most would just go along with their lives. They many not want to associate with people of other ethnic groups, but most people tend to hangout with their own ethnicity. It’s tribal and that’s just human nature.

          I’m also a minority, but in U.S, I’m more concerned about minority inner city youths who wouldn’t hesitate to shoot someone for few bucks rather than the Klan. That’s why I prefer to live in majority white neighborhoods. It’s not because I think any group of people are superior, but I know it’s safer.

  3. These thoughts will torment you forever. You will never escape from the ideas you are expressing in this post. They will grow and over time you will be totally consumed. Occasionally you will not be able to repress these ideas anymore. Your parents will not be happy with your chosen life path.

    Please, please try and get some help for yourself. Please write to me privately and I can get you some of the best available help in the Bay Area.

  4. I am so glad that you have expanded the substance of this blog beyond mere manufactured spending. Your readers need to hear about the terrible treatment that you are receiving. You are a victim and your readers need to know that. Please write more of these posts, so we know your suffering. There are so many people who are experiencing the same injustices and we need hear you speak out.

    All the income in America that you receive from MS can not possibly overcome all the American prejudice that you have experienced.

    Thank you.

  5. I don’t like how in the West Bank, if I wear things identifying myself as Jewish, (which I am proud to be as a child of a Holocaust survivor) I am literally given death threats and am insulted and manhandled.

    • I really wish people would stop letting institutions affect how they see and treat ordinary human beings. I see that right now in this country – people letting election results turn them against each other. You think the guys up top are wringing each other’s necks over the plight of normal folks? Nope.

  6. First off, a well written post that hopefully will make people think a bit. As far as the visiting certain places aspect, I have kind of a weird perspective. I’m a white male who’s pretty much unwilling to visit the UAE, because the laws there are so terribly awful towards women, and every time a woman reports a rape, she’s imprisoned for being a victim. I just have huge problems with this, but does it qualify as prejudice? If so, is the prejudice actually justified, given my intent, or is it a “the road to hell is paved with good intentions” situation?

    • That’s not prejudice (which is defined as the “prejudgement or forming an opinion before becoming aware of the relevant facts of a case”). I myself once vowed not to go back to Dubai until their human rights abuses against foreign workers was rectified. I don’t hold any ill will against the entire population of Dubai – just the government.

  7. Hi Ariana! Great post. I definitely think this is one part of our hobby that most people ignore or gloss over. It’s okay to talk about it. I’m kind of shocked about the amount of trolling in your comments… You typically assume traveler=remotely enlightened about things like racial awareness.

    Oh well, we can only hope. It’s amazing to me how pointing out problems in our society can make white people so defensive. -_-. I am white but welcome what you wrote, like everyone should… I’m not aware of your ethnic background but even as woman I’m sure you experience discrimination while traveling or MSing. My fiancée can’t do as much MS as I do simply because she’s worried people will be more suspicious (she’s Hispanic). It sucks and I hate it (for some reason way beyond MS obviously), but it’s reality. She’s been stopped and searched way more than I ever have while traveling in Europe.

    Anyway, keep doing what you’re doing! Would love to know that secret MS technique you tweeted about a few weeks back :-D, haha.

    • Thanks Justin! I honestly can’t say that I’ve experienced racism (I’m Afghan) at the hands of hospitality officials. As a woman, it’s the usual nonsense – creeps who say inappropriate things and just generally act like morons. I do think all people have unconscious biases and I totally understand your financee’s hesitance to do too much ms. I think addressing racism and discriminatory behavior is a good way to keep people in check. I’ve actually done this before and it really terrifies people when they’re called out on it – in fact, I’ve had people apologize to me after I called them out on their behavior (towards other people).

      I recently became aware of my local SM rep acting really hostile towards Asian tourists. It’s really bizarre because she’s so sweet to me and super upbeat, then an Asian tourist walks in and she turns ice cold and acts rude. I don’t quite know how to address that and she probably isn’t even aware of it, but its really sad to witness.

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