Privilege of the White Traveller

“Women with blonde hair and blue eyes are seen as the epitome of success and beauty in Morocco, aren’t they?” my colleague *Karen blurted out after a long swig of red wine, her blue eyes gleaming. Everybody quietened down as the comment lingered in the air, tangible now. Karen was oblivious in both her intoxication and ignorance. My other colleague *Ella attempted to change the subject, but I was no longer listening. I had rage ringing in my ears. 

It had been a dreary, quiet day in the office, and so our boss took us out for lunch. Ella and I had started discussing Marrakech since we’d both been there on holiday recently.

Suddenly Karen chimed in. “When I went, they kept asking me how many camels I could be bought for!” she giggled. “They thought my boyfriend and I were married – it’s like they couldn’t understand the concept of boyfriend and girlfriend!”

She continued to talk about how fascinated men were with her in Morocco and how they liked to touch her blonde hair, and I looked at her in disbelief.

The worst thing was not that she was aware of her light-skinned privilege, but that she was doing the one thing she could completely control - revelling in that privilege instead of trying to combat it.   

It infuriated me so much that Karen had no consideration of the weight of her words while she was telling me how her fair skin made her a Goddess in Eastern countries; she didn’t care what her light skin privilege meant for women of my sahara hue, some of us living a life of self-loathing. Women of colour are still bleaching their faces - these are the lengths we are psychologically pushed to after living with the daily insinuation that we are inferior - whether it is reflected in advertising we see, or comments from family members about staying out of the sun. The sad truth of internalised colourism is that even men who have mothers that look like us still want a woman who is lighter.

Karen put down her second glass of wine. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement, as chubby as a hamster’s. She enjoyed speaking about being seen as superior despite how damaging it is to women who looked like me, because her ego meant more than my dignity. The conversation moved on, and an Indian guy I worked with was speaking about his parents and what they do for a living, because apparently our boss had asked him. “Well it’s not like they’re bombers is it!” she yelped and laughed. I left abruptly.

I should have addressed it but like so many of us, I am tired and I have learnt that I have the right to be. Not every day do you have the strength to fight people who should know better. I’m not her mother.

So whilst I don’t always have the strength to correct people, I wish they’d at least stay away from countries where they mock the natives. I am so tired of people who don’t like or understand brown people going to countries like India and Morocco purely because it’s an ‘exotic’ destination. You don’t have the right. If you can’t fix your mindset Karen, I suggest you go to Butlins next time.