The Petchary sat down this evening with her son to watch a film called “American History X.”  It is a stark portrayal of racism – a white supremacist gang member, played by Edward Norton, and the influence he has on his young brother.  Norton, of course, acts his socks off.  The expression on his face after committing a horrible hate crime, eyes glittering, his body tattooed with swastikas and swelling with pride – is a sight to behold.

Edward Norton in "American History X"
Hatred triumphant: Edward Norton in "American History X"

The film – set in Venice Beach, California, but it could be practically anywhere in the world – ended the younger brother’s thoughts on hatred, in general.  He simply describes it as “baggage.”

Baggage.  Yes, that object that you wish was a different color than black, that you trail around after you, reluctantly part with at the check-in desk and anxiously search for on the carousel.  It’s carefully packed with all those essential things we can’t do without – especially hand luggage of course, which we keep close to us throughout our journey.

Baggage on a carousel
What satisfaction when we grab back our baggage from the carousel. It's called "reclaim." The relief!

Now, let’s imagine that old black suitcase with one wobbly wheel that we trek through departure lounges and along endless corridors with, making that monotonous whirring sound of hard wheels on hard, shiny floors… Let’s imagine it packed with all our hatreds- our prejudices, our dislikes and our dark thoughts that don’t always see the light of day.  We unpack and repack our luggage regularly.  Some things are stuffed inside our shoes. Others line the sides of our suitcase.  Our bags have to come with us, don’t they?

Baggage claim crowd
The anxious faces of the baggage reclaimers.

And what’s in our baggage?  Perhaps its our contempt for gays, just for being who they are, packed neatly into a side pocket in our back pack, ready to pull out at any appropriate moment.  Our fearful suspicion of Muslims, or Roman Catholics, or atheists, rolled up tight inside our T shirts.  Our dyed-in-the-wool, die-hard, inbred distrust of neighbors who support the other political party, zipped up in a makeup case (not one of those transparent ones though).  Our dislike of white women, or black men, or any other shade of color you can possibly imagine, neatly folded away and ready to be shaken out and worn.

Packed luggage
All neatly packed

Of course, we take it personally when an officious security guard wearing medical gloves takes an interest in your baggage, and starts delving and disturbing our carefully-packed bags.  Those whose bags suffer the indignity of a full search, personal belongings strewn in bunches on a not-too-clean counter, stand helplessly by, pained, embarrassed, as our personal lives are open to the view of others.  If I come across such beleaguered travelers, I quickly look away, not wishing to intrude.

But wait.

Have you ever had this sudden urge to abandon your luggage?  To walk away from that scruffy, well-traveled, frayed black suitcase that looks like all the others, and leave it bumping around, unclaimed, for ever?  Or perhaps to leave it all alone in one of those vast, empty areas of the airport, for a security guard to discover, a threatening, dark object?  In that case, it might even be satisfyingly blown up.

If we did that, the feeling of freedom could be quite pleasant – even if we regretted leaving some of those long-cherished hatreds behind.  Because haven’t we all, at some point in our journey, got tired of lugging that stuff around?  I always secretly envy those business travelers – and the airline employees – who walk across the vast acreages of our airports with a neat, box-like piece of luggage pulled along behind them.  I mean, is there anything in there at all?


Businessmen on the move
All so neat, so tidy... so light.


Maybe we should all try it some time.  And let’s not bother going to the lost baggage desk, either.  We don’t want it dropped off on the doorstep the next day by a cheery truck driver, a slightly pathetic, familiar object…

Or do we?

“I have decided to stick with love.  Hate is too great a burden to bear.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

Related links:

American History X:

3 thoughts on “Baggage

  1. I remember this movie very well. I went to see it in Barcelona by myself (which I did often) and I was the only black person in the theatre. The experience was an extremely uncomfortable thing but I LOVED the movie. Thanks for reminding me.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.