[-empyre-] On Passport Privilege, forward from Naeem Mohaiemen

Christina McPhee christina at christinamcphee.net
Wed Jan 16 04:14:57 EST 2008

dear Naeem and -empyreans-

To add salt to the wounds on this  issue of passport privilege and  
site/non-site, I just want to say, that at this moment our mailman  
software at COFA is apparently censoring Naeem's  email so that his  
posts must be reposted through the moderator, or else they completely  
disappear.  In the past years (in late 2006) I recall that the filters  
were censoring in re Arabic/Islamic nomenclature, does anyone recall  
this?  it was in connection with the month that Ana Valdes moderated  
on Palestinian issues.   I am chagrined beyond belief that the list  
moderating interface doesnt pemit us any way to address this situation  
and that I must appeal to the College of Fine Arts In Sydney  
adminstrator whom I do not know. Apparently someone at the COFA has  
set up filters for their lists and -empyre- is adversely affected.

So there you have it: on our "site" we are "checking passports"  too.


On Jan 15, 2008, at 8:33 AM, Christina McPhee wrote:

> From: "Naeem Mohaiemen" <naeem.mohaiemen at gmail.com>
> Date: January 15, 2008 5:29:22 AM PST
> To: empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
> Subject: On Passport Privilege
> I've talked elsewhere about "passport privilege" which can supersede  
> class privilege in certain contexts. During SuperIntense/Flying  
> Circus, we had a large group of Euro/American artists descending on  
> Singapore and Ho Chi Minh City.  After showing work, there was fair  
> amount of self-crit and talking about how all these artists from  
> northern centers would be coming in, showing work, and then  
> immediately leaving for the next "glamorous" location. The local  
> artists would get what they could from the experience, but in the  
> end it is the visitors who really took up most of the energy. Class,  
> location etc came up and this is when I said that it's a passport,  
> especially a dual nationality for many of us, that gives unique  
> access.
> By accident of birth I have a British and Bangladeshi passport. My  
> family didn't even know I was eligible for the UK passport until  
> 1987 when we were going to London to visit family. The puzzled  
> embassy official in Dhaka said "why doesn't your son have a British  
> passport." My father thought we were going to get stopped and  
> started blustering (he's a military officer, retired now, and they  
> can be quite gruff).  "But he's not asking for a passport, why are  
> you people making such a fuss?"  "Sir," said the official, trying to  
> calm him down, "I'm saying your son should get it, it will help."
> I think of these accidents often (my father was in medical school in  
> Edinburgh when I was born, hence the location). My brother came 6  
> years later, was born in Bangladesh. I see the struggles he went  
> through with his green passport (he only recently managed to get a  
> Canadian passport) and what came with it. It makes me acutely aware  
> of what I took for granted. My brother is an accountant-- I wonder  
> if the choice of such a practical field was defined by (partially)  
> the need to be in one of the "high value" fields that makes Canadian  
> citizenship processing go faster.
> When you switch planes in Dubai, for the New York-Dhaka route, a 90%  
> middle class flight occupancy suddenly switches to 90% working class  
> as the gigantic South Asian labor class (the ones building the Arab  
> construction miracle that oil money is buying) boards the plane. As  
> very few are literate in English, they will often look for someone  
> on the plane to fill up immigration forms. On one such flight, I was  
> bonding with a group of workers by filling the forms. There had been  
> some construction death on site, so they also wanted to talk about  
> that. Someone thought I was a journalist, so I was the receiver.  So  
> we are talking, talking and we walk out into the airport of some  
> country where there is a 10 hour layover transit.  As we talk we  
> walk towards the transit counter and I walk through and then there's  
> a huge flap behind me. The Arab immigration officer won't let any of  
> the green passports through. I stand there staring as I wondering if  
> I should go back and be trapped with everyone else, some grand act  
> of solidarity. The officer won't let me back either, I have to do  
> the full tour of transit area and shops and maybe even go out of the  
> airport.  When I come back a few hours later, I can sense the  
> distance that had settled between me and my compatriots.
> It's a micro micro moment, but I think of that moment often because  
> it made physical things that were always assumed. I travel a lot for  
> work and at every airport, even when I do get hassle, I am still  
> reminded that it could be much much worse.  The passport trumps all  
> else, it is the document that people will give anything for. Those  
> not born with the right color passport, that is.
> Don't want to monologue, so I'll stop here and hope others on this  
> list will chime in with their experiences and thoughts on this....
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