I’ve spoken about privilege before; the idea that some humans walk through this life with such a sense of entitlement that the universe responds in kind. I now realise that my arguments were academic then, and I’ll tell you why.
I’m in Nigeria on a work trip, travelling with one of my colleagues who’s white. The night before we left, we spoke and she reminded me to keep time. “Stop stressing,” I said to her. “It should be fine.”
The next day, I snoozed my alarm at least 10 times before I finally got out of bed. It took me an hour before I got on the road, and by the time I was getting to the airport, I had less than two hours before boarding. And because when it rains it floods, the ‘cattle class’ line was from JKIA to Timbuktu.
Just at that moment, my colleague sent a text message asking how things were going. I told her I was stuck in the queue. She told me to use the business class entry. ‘If they ask for your ticket, just tell them your assistant is sending it to your email’.
I told her I would give it a shot but I knew that I probably wouldn’t get away with it. Mostly because I’m a crap liar - you can see the lies on my face – also because the officer manning the gate wouldn’t be as quick to believe me, as he had to believe my colleague.
Which is something she admitted herself. “I know I can get away with stuff like that because I’m white.”
So I stood in the raia line impatiently, watching the time tick away and trying to figure out what I would do if I missed the flight.
I finally got into the airport, passed the annoying ‘take-off-everything-but-your-tampon’ security check, and joined the next line to drop off my luggage. By this time, I had about half an hour before take-off.
My colleague sent another text to see how things were going. “Stuck in another line,” I said.
“Tell them you have to check in,” she said. “Don’t take no for an answer. Go into the sky priority line if need be.”
At this point, I knew that if I didn’t throw a fit I was going to miss the damn flight so I flagged down an airport official and told him that I was going to have to jump the queue. “What time are you boarding?” he asked. “Eight,” I said.
“You still have time,” he said, shoving my boarding pass back. “I don’t have time,” I said. “It’s 7.50!”
“Okay, fine. You come with me.”
Relieved, I followed him to the counter, checked in my bag, and took off at a sprint for the immigration desk. But yup, you guessed it, there was yet another queue. I messaged my colleague an update, and she responded with, “Skip the line.”
As I stood there marvelling at this new world where preferential treatment was anticipated, expected, or demanded, the lights went out.
And to make matters worse, the guys and gals manning the desks were at the end of their shift.
Three of them stood up and walked away, leaving what was now resembling a mob standing around in semi-darkness and seething with frustration.
Long story short, I made it to the gate just in the nick of time. And to her credit my colleague was very sweet about it all. “I wasn’t going to board until you got here,” she said.
About five hours later, we landed in Nigeria and were met by a plethora of Nigerian officials, each demanding one document or the other.
We got through that much quicker than I ever have on my own.
Outside we were met by a cabbie who immediately reached out and took my colleague’s suitcase, leaving me standing next to my own luggage. By this point, I was genuinely, and I mean genuinely, perplexed at this Africa we live in.
Supposedly our homeland, but at the same time, a place where black folks – myself included – sit comfortably in second place.
This experience showed me just how reluctant I am to question authority, even in an emergency, and just how easy it is for a white person in Africa to spit in its face without consequence.
And this, my friends, is why we need to begin the conversation about race, the value of black lives, the colonised mindsets of black people, and the dignity of indigenous citizens in their native lands.
Ms Masiga is Peace and Security Editor, The Conversation Africa