White Gypsies (Or, how you’re not as badass as you think)
Many of us (I’ll let you decide who ‘us’ is) go through a certain stage, I know many of my friends did. I did. You want to see the world and all it has to offer. You want to travel and be nomadic. Sometimes we call ourselves backpackers, sometimes gypsies, sometimes travellers or wanderers. We think its hardwired into us, the inability to stay put in one place. We laugh and joke about how it’s time to move on, interspersed with anecdotes of the time we got malaria in Malawi or ate whale in Korea or slept on a beach in Thailand. It’s exotic and full of adventure.
But really, we’re drunk on our own ability to transgress borders at will. Intoxicated with the power of mobility and the privilege to do as we desire. Mobility is the sign of our virility, our youth, our wealth, our privilege and, even, our race. We conquer places, capturing mementos to display like trophies on our bookcases, like the taxidermied heads of our prey. We are hunters. Chasing the thrill, the wildest story, the most international job, that buzz of power. We want to be doctors without borders, have vacations in the tropics, drink tea with monks, shout obscenities into the wind. We’re hunters from the wild West, transgressing on new frontiers. All of this has a cost; the prey always ends up mute on our walls. They couldn’t run or hide, couldn’t cross the same borders we could; they were the scenery and landscape for our adventure, their sweat and tears made it all possible, their pictures sit in our albums of conquest. They tried to warn us, to share with us, to hit us – but we would have none of that.
Perhaps I’m disillusioned about it all or, as many would suggest, past my prime and old enough to settle down. Or maybe I’m tired of hearing and reading of the thousandth young, privileged white person pretending to be a colonial explorer, conquering experiences that have become a rite of passage into middle class, domesticated Whiteness. They yell: we need to rebel, to grab the bull by the horns, to shout ‘Viva la revolution’ one more time, to remind ourselves we only live once, shout c’est la vie, carpe diem… to drown out the noise of those who clamber to remind us of our nine lives, how we always land on our feet, our endless privileges.
This is a thousand loose threads, never woven neatly. There’s no grand message, which doesn’t and shouldn’t dilute the impact of the many smaller ones. Life is messy like this. You need to learn to clean up your own messes.