There were between twenty and thirty people on my car of a Berlin-bound train from Amsterdam. The train was taking a ten minute break in Bad Bentheim, the first stop in Germany after passing out of the Netherlands. As is the case with so many European borders today, the shift from one country to another can easily escape the notice of a traveler, until perhaps they catch on that the announcements have switched from Dutch and English to German and English. Though this was not true for the whole train, all the passengers in my car were fairly pale skinned northern European-looking sorts with two exceptions. One dark-tanned guy with some Spanish writing on his shirt had stepped off the train for a cigarette. The second racially distinct passenger sat in front of me, a middle-eastern looking guy wearing some fancy looking jeans and an Italian national football jersey. Whereas I had a large backpacker’s pack and a somewhat disheveled look, he had no luggage around him and was browsing the music selection on his cellphone.
Two police officers boarded the train and walked through my car looking at the people in each seat. Only later did I realize that this is was what counts for border control within the Schengen Area these days.
Of all the over two dozen people in my car, the two officers spoke to only one person. They asked only one passenger where he was going, where he was coming from, how long he intended to stay there, and where his luggage was. They asked only one passenger to produce his passport and then subjected each and every one of its pages, most of them blank, to close inspection. They were polite, respectful, and spoke excellent English. When they found nothing wrong with his Italian passport, they handed it backed, wished him a good journey, and moved on to the next car.
Though the man sitting in front of me didn’t seem annoyed by the encounter, I couldn’t help feeling a shiver run down my back and an anger swell within me. I was reminded that this happens every day, all over the world, in all sorts of context, and that however rational it might seem to the one asking for the documents, racial profiling is unjust, pure and simple.