Why I’m not traveling to the US

I’m supposed to be giving a talk at Harvard on Friday. It’s at a meeting organized by a scholar whom I respect enormously, one of the most important figures in digital archaeology, Eric Kansa. But I won’t be going.

I used to tell the story for laughs – how, in order to take up a job working online for an outfit in the states, I had to get a NAFTA visa. Of how the border agent didn’t believe me, and my documentation. How I had to turn back, reformat all my documentation, and try again. I got the visa, worked diligently at the job, and largely forgot about that awful day. This past summer, I was suddenly reminded of it all again when I was questioned about it, some seven years later, whilst on my way to a meeting at a university in New York.

These past few days have thrown that episode into sharp relief, a taste of what others are wrongfully enduring, and a small lesson in the power of small people who implement or interpret the dictats of the leader. I really got worried when it emerged that despite court orders, agents were still implementing the illegal orders.

There’s so much wrong with all of that that I needn’t go into it  – but I guess what is germane here is that I don’t feel that I should be traveling for academic purposes when others don’t have that right. I’m just one guy, and it doesn’t matter a damn to the kleptocrats whether I come or go, but I think it might matter to other academics. But what good does me not turning up do? It just screws over people I like and respect and trust. So I’m torn. And clearly, Canada is going to have to do some careful work too to make sure the virus doesn’t do any further damage. “You’re Canadian, you’re white, what are you worried about? Don’t be such a drip”. But I think right here, right now, coasting through because of my whiteness, my maleness, my Canadian-ness, is the weaker position. It might not matter to the white house, but it matters to me. Part of me is worried about encountering someone who delights in the malice, since clearly, I’m still on a list somewhere, but in all likelihood that’s not really an issue. The bigger issue: this is wrong, and I think that travel to the US would make me complicit with it.

And so, for those mixed reasons, which may strike you as not good reasons (and so be it), I have decided to not travel at the current moment. Depending on how things play out, it might be a while.

(Image is a shot of the Quebec Bridge Collapse of 1907, Canadian Encyclopedia, Library and Archives Canada/PA-109498)