Amartya Sen, immigration, identity and self reflection

There is a widely broadcasted event of Armatya Sen being interrogated at Heathrow by a some what slow and ill informed immigration officer. In Sen’s immaculate wit we can all enjoy the moment. Well of course we would recognise the great man, have read his books or columns about him. Recall the 2016 event:

“Mr. Sen, now a professor at Harvard, was awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize in economics for his contributions to the field of welfare economics. He has a CV so seriously good that everyone, surely, knows of his being (in his previous post) the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, the apex of the British academic pyramid. Everyone, that is, except a British immigration official at Heathrow Airport a few years ago who, on looking at Mr. Sen’s Indian passport and then at his home address on the immigration form–“Master’s Lodge, Trinity College, Cambridge”–asked whether Mr. Sen was a close friend of the Master. This question made Mr. Sen enter into a private contemplation, rather self-indulgent in the circumstances, of whether “I could claim to be a friend of myself.” As the seconds ticked away without answer, the immigration officer asked whether there was an “irregularity” with Mr. Sen’s immigration status. And can you blame the man? Yet Mr. Sen–in his amused-but-chippy recall of the episode–says that the encounter was “a reminder, if one were needed, that identity can be a complicated matter.”

Let us however compare that with another situation. A Nigerian of Lebanese descent arrives at Heathrow and shows his passport to the immigration officer. Now the immigration officer is of Asian descent, probably Indian. He looks at the passport and then at the traveller whose skin is white and says ‘how can you be Nigerian?’ The deliciousness of the situation is that here is someone who looks Asian and is obviously British unable to think that someone who looks white could be Nigerian.

So how many people assume you cannot be African if you have a white skin, but accept you can be British or American with a Black skin?

A little self reflection goes a long way.

 

Notes:

  1. https://www.lehigh.edu/~amsp/2006/04/tunku-varadarajan-has-screw-loose-on.htm