What You Doing Next

Settling into the new year by working through Fader’s 55 of the most important articles about culture from 2016.

This one by Riz Ahmed

Now, both at auditions and airports, I find myself on the right side of the same velvet rope by which I was once clothes-lined. But this isn't a success story. These days it's likely that no one resembles me in the waiting room for an acting audition, and the same is true of everyone being waved through with me at US immigration. In both spaces, my exception proves the rule.

Don’t get me wrong: although my US airport experience is smoother, I still get stopped before boarding a plane at Heathrow every time I fly to the US. But now I find it hilarious rather than bruising. Easy for me to laugh with my work visa and strategically deployed 'gosh!', perhaps. But it’s also easy for me to laugh, because the more I travel, the more ridiculous the procedures become.

Heathrow airport draws its staff from the nearby Asian suburbs of Hounslow and Southall. My 'random selection' flying to LA was so reliable that as I started travelling more, I went through a six-month stretch of being searched by the same middle-aged Sikh guy. I instinctively started calling him Uncle, as is the custom for Asian elders. He started calling me 'beta', or son, as he went through my luggage apologetically. It was heart-warming, but veered dangerously close to incest every time he had to frisk my crotch. 'How are you, son?'... 'I'm er, ooh, er, good. Uncle.'

As I've travelled more, I've also done more film work, increasing the chances of being recognised by the young Asian staff at Heathrow. I have had my films quoted back at me by someone rifling through my underpants, and been asked for selfies by someone swabbing me for explosives.

The last kid who searched me, a young Muslim boy with an immaculate line-beard and goatee, was particularly apologetic. 'Sorry bro. If it makes you feel any better, they search me before I fly too.'

We laughed, not because he was joking, but because he was deadly serious. It was the perfect encapsulation of the minority's shifting and divided self, forced to internalise the limitations imposed on us just to get by, on the wrong side of the velvet rope even when (maybe especially when) you're on the right side of it. We cracked jokes and bumped fists.

As I left, he called after me with a question. 'Bro, what kinda film you doing next?'

I looked at the ID badge hanging from a string around his neck. I told him that I hoped it would be one he liked.

Riz Ahmed in the Guardian Typecast as a terrorist