Between Lomé and Brussels, a mother recounts the “shame” she and her daughter suffered

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Through his lines, although “anger and dry cough” took hold of him as “every time” he “remembers or mentions the facts”, Dame Fatoumata Ouattara Traoré, looks back on the trip this time in Europe that he and his daughter will not soon forget.

“On October 21, 2022, to go to Marseille, my daughter and I were on Brussels Airlines flight SN 0278 Lome Brussels via Accra. Installed in Premium class at seats 10D and 10F, my daughter noticed that his headphones were not working. After several attempts, I informed a stewardess after the flight that the stopover was made in Accra. The hostess suggested that after the meal, we move to the last row of the Premium space, where there room. We followed this advice. And that’s when our misadventure began. I confess that anger and a dry cough came over me whenever I remembered or recounted the facts.

When we moved to this row of three seats, a passenger installed on the far left occupied, in addition to his tablet, the center. I lowered myself to greet him. Note that this is a white man, the accuracy is significant, around fifty years old. My “good evening sir” was greeted with an unsympathetic expression to which, I confess, I did not attach much importance at first sight. Thinking that he probably didn’t understand French, I explained to him that my son and I had to move because my son’s headphones weren’t working. He seems to have seen where we were installed before. But while he pretended not to understand my explanations in English, I asked my son to explain to him why we would be sitting in the two free places next to him. The angry man started asking me for our boarding passes. This amazing request drove me crazy. He said annoyed, he couldn’t understand why anyone and anything was allowed to sit in these places. His displeasure and words were heard by the crew and some Premium Class passengers. My words of rage and anger were also heard. All this made a little movement and noise in the plane. The crew, obviously moved by compassion, asked me to calm down. Note that no passenger expressed any anger. Not even blacks!

The angry white man repeatedly tapped his tablet. He continues to curse and threaten me. The only solution the crew found was to install my daughter between me and this man. Needless to say the distressed state of my daughter who lived through a blatantly racist scene live and saw me in such a state. Worry added to my shame and anger: I don’t know what this man is capable of. He could have physically attacked my daughter who was sitting next to him. To go to the bathroom, it is complicated to leave my daughter alone with such an individual. Later, when the individual fell asleep, the purser came to apologize to me. He told me that in this situation, he wanted to put us in 1st class, but there was no room. Which I knew, because there was no more room in 1st class so we were in Premium.

Arriving in Brussels, the man hurriedly left the plane.

We continued our journey to Marseille.

The experience of this racist scene is extremely violent.

We returned to Lomé on November 5, 2022. And without hesitation, we traveled in Business class, not without trepidation. It’s not our place.

Upon arrival in Lomé, we were among the first three passengers to leave the plane. All our travel documents are complete. However, we waited so long at the police counter that some white European passengers noticed. They sympathized. Again and again, we were obviously out of place. We don’t have white skin and we don’t have a private policeman to pay for his services.

We can allow ourselves to draw it from this ugly story: it is important to share this experience even if the fact of writing it revives the feeling of shame. It took me two weeks to write these words. The indifference of the passengers (all colors combined) who witnessed the facts was more than surprising. Thanks to the crew who showed their empathy. When he came to me on the plane to express his apology and his sadness, the purser promised to make a report. I don’t know what that means. In any case, we are left with this permanent feeling of being an impostor both in Africa, and in the West.

Fatoumata Ouattara-Traore

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