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In which I am made acutely aware of my white (presenting) privilege

Two things first: 1) I am running on 4 hours of sleep from nearly 24 hours of flying, so forgive me if my thoughts are scattered, and 2) I am a white presenting Brazilian (and American) of mixed race.

So I consider myself fairly aware of privilege, both in abstract and concrete terms. But as I was going through customs today on my way back from Brazil, I witnessed a scene that really solidified how much white privilege I have and how I use it to my benefit.


As those who are familiar with customs probably already know, when you first enter a country, there are usually two main lines for passport control: citizens/residents and foreign visitors. While waiting my turn in the citizen line at Atlanta airport, I notice one of the lines is backed up by a Muslim family getting pretty much interrogated by the customs officer. People are switching lines so that they don't have to wait so long. They keep showing the officer document after document, and it takes a lot longer than average for them to get through. They were US citizens/residents, judging from the line they were in. My turn comes up in a different line. Here's the exchange:

Customs Officer: *glances at customs document* So how long were you in Brazil?

Me: 3 months.

CO: 3 months?! What were you doing there, studying abroad or something?

Me: I was interning.

CO: Where at?

Me: At a university. I'm a graduate student here.

CO: Cool! What do you study?

Me: Public Administration (my field is actually too complicated to summarize quickly, so this is what I say to simplify things)


CO: Fancy!

Me: Trust me, it sounds fancier than it is.

The customs officer was just joking around with me. There was no suspicion of what I might have been doing abroad, despite how long I stayed. This is a pretty accurate representation of most of my encounters with customs officers. The interviews take 3 minutes, tops. I can't imagine what that Muslim family did or where they went that required such a lengthy questioning.


Anyway, nothing too deep in this post, but this small occurrence was so striking that I felt I had to share with GT.

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