No Equal Opportunity Time Travel
"Here's how great it is to be white — I can get into a time machine and go to any time and it would be fuckin' awesome when I get there! That is exclusively a white privilege! Black people can't fuck with time machines. A black guy in a time machine is like, 'Hey anything before 1980, no thank you, I don't wanna go.'"
Modern European society is legally and officially an egalitarian environment for all ethnicities; most fiction writers suggest that the sci-fi future will be even more so. But if time travel ever becomes an institution in the future, some parts of the past may not be safe for all people to travel to. In particular, the use of Africans as slaves on plantations in The Americas and Arabia in the period c.1600-1870 and the establishment of European protectorates (puppet-governments) over the entire continent of Africa from the 1870s 'til the 1980s lead to Africans being thought of as intrinsically inferior to non-African peoples - the last regime to espouse the inferiority of African peoples was only toppled in 1990
. It's safe to say that this period of history casts a long shadow over present-day Africa and the African diaspora in The Americas in particular.
Imagine being a black man and traveling to a place and time when all blacks were second-class citizens (e.g. 1950) or slaves (e.g. 1860) and had to carry papers to prove otherwise, or where they were likely to be lynched for using the wrong public toilet or being in the wrong neighbourhood. Similar issues exist for other peoples too — a non-Chinese of any
sort found in China during the Boxer Rebellion would be beaten to death in short order. Likewise, being a Semite, Roma, Slav, or homosexual and traveling to Nazi Germany
(or any Nazi-occupied area, for that matter) is a really
bad idea, unless you want to experience a very, very
nasty death. If they go to these dangerous time periods anyway, expect repercussions. Women in many eras and places will have similar issues, although to a lesser degree — the culture shock of a less modern and/or liberal society may be a plot point.
How realistic (at least, to the extent that a story about time travel can be rooted in realism
) this trope is varies. There is no use pretending that racism did not exist, but the levels and expressions thereof have varied wildly throughout history — it is not cleanly divided between the dangerous Past and the accepting Present.
Note that one should be careful not to generalize, as bigotry was never universal even in eras when it was at its height. Hillsdale College was a 'liberal-arts school' (i.e. university) in the 'Great Lakes' area USA State of Michigan that admitted women, Jews, atheists, and Africans as students before The American Civil War
- a big deal given that the USA did not ban slavery until the very last months of the Civil Warnote
Frequently subverted for laughs with a Discriminate and Switch
— e.g., nobody cares that you're a black woman, but wearing trousers?!?
Compare Black Vikings
, Politically Correct History
. Also Eternal Sexual Freedom
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- One arc of JSA saw some of the team sent into the 50s to the time of the original Justice Society. The black Mr. Terrific had some unpleasant experiences in the pre-Civil Rights era, like being forced to change train cars, but took it rather stoically. And then, just to rub it in, he fights a KKK chapter who manages to get a noose around his throat.
- In Yoko Tsuno's last story involving time travel, Monya points out that it's easier to walk unnoticed in medieval China without Yoko's European friends. A little odd, because usually the whole gang traveled, but now they have so many extra members that there is a sufficient team without them.
- When the Runaways have an adventure in 1905 New York City, Xavin—a Skrull (shapeshifting alien) whose default human form is a teenage black lesbian—sticks to an adult white male form for most of the adventure. Also, Nico encounters some racism and Karolina is nearly raped when she goes sight-seeing since a lone young woman must be "asking for it" (the would-be rapist got an energy blast for his troubles). Interestingly, Victor doesn't face any troubles despite being a Hispanic falling in love with a white girl.
- One of the Justice League one-shots had a story where Steel and Wonder Woman are sent back in time to the year 1574. In order to hide their true identities, Wonder Woman poses as a pirate, while Steel is forced to pose as an African slave.
- Inversion in the Winter Soldier: Winter Kills one-shot. Bucky Barnes (who is from the 1940s) uses the term "pansy" as an offhanded insult, and Kate Bishop of the Young Avengers calls him out for being homophobic. He clarifies that he meant it as an insult for wimpy men, not gays.
- Timeline: In the movie adaption of Michael Crichton's novel, one of the time travellers gets killed by 14th century Englishmen (who are at war with France), due to his French accent. This is a bit odd, considering that British royalty actually spoke a French dialect at the time in Real Life, and French accents change over time, so a modern-day Frenchman wouldn't necessarily sound anything like a 14th Century Frenchman.
- Variation in Escape From The Planet Of The Apes. Zira and Cornelius are talking apes from the future, where their kind rule the planet. When they travel back in time, they're in 1970s USA, where humans rule and apes are wild animals, resulting in them being taken to a zoo and assumed to be normal animals until they reveal their secret.
- Men In Black 3 features this. Agent J is warned before he goes back in time that the 1960's, to paraphrase, "weren't the best time for... you guys". Minutes after arriving in 1960s New York City, the time pressed J steals a (rather nice) car to head off the villain's plot, after being thrown the keys when mistaken for a valet. Predictably, two white cops stop him along the way to his destination, leading to humorous results.
: Just because you see a black man driving a nice car does not
mean it's stolen! Well, this one is
- Averted in Black Knight. Martin Lawrence's character Jamal ends up in Medieval England and isn't treated any different from a white man, although he gets annoyed at frequently being called "Moor". In fact, the big problem people have with him is his attitude. Of course, he starts being treated much better after he accidentally names himself as the messenger of the Duke of Normandy. Any of his oddities are attributed to him being a "Norman". Then again, it was All Just a Dream - or was it?.
Live Action TV
- Contact magazine, based on the 3-2-1 Contact TV show, had a recurring segment involving two time-traveling teenagers. One installment had the (presumably white) American kids get in trouble when they ended up in Japan during World War II. In Hiroshima just before the bomb was dropped, no less.
Stand Up Comedy
- In the time-travel RPG Continuum, one of the flavor text stories deals with Cynthia, a Caucasian newbie spanner, discussing history's nastier periods with Evana, a more experienced African-American:
"1886. I couldn't handle going any farther Down
then. I was young. Playing the slave was not something Evana was ever going to do."
- World of Warcraft uses a Fantastic Racism variation of this trope: player races that were not a part of the Alliance prior to the Third War are given a race-lift while running certain instances in the Caverns of Time, so that they avoid attracting unwanted attention.
- Of course, many of World of Warcraft PC races weren't even known to exist until sometime during or after the Third War, including the Worgen, Tauren, Night Elves, and Pandaren — who weren't even discovered by the larger world until the aftermath of the Third War, and remain an obscure and little-known race by the start of Mists of Pandaria — so some of it is less unwanted attention in the form of overt racism and more in the form of "What the hell are you, and why are you here?"
- A similar disguise is used in Mists of Pandaria to explain each faction taking part in Scenarios featuring the other faction's leaders. Well, sort of; the in-character explanation is that the characters are listening to/participating in a sort of historical record.
- Partly done in the War Of The Ancients trilogy of novels, where the three time travelers all come from races that weren't around 10,000 years ago (or, at least, aren't known to the Night Elves). Rhonin, a human, is seen as a pale, mutated elf. Krasus is a red dragon but his humanoid form is that of a High Elf. He is the most accepted, although his pale skin gets strange looks. Broxigar is an orc. Since orcs are not native to Azeroth and wouldn't show up in that world until thousands of years later, he's just seen as a big, green brute. It's also implied that seeing Brox would inspire Mannoroth to seek out others like him and corrupt the original orcs later.
- In one episode of X-Men, a few alternate-universe versions of the X-Men travel back to the 50s to save the younger Professor Xavier from a time-traveling assassin. They all talk at a cafe, and the owner gets pissy about the fact that Storm and Wolverine (an African and a Caucasian, respectively) are a couple. Naturally, this makes Wolverine completely flip out.
- What, didn't he notice that Wolverine radiates "don't fuck with me" vibes?
At the same time, shouldn’t this dude have been worried when these people walked in and two of them were dressed like characters from a Fallout
game and one of them was CARRYING A GIGANTIC GUN? I will say, though, that I do like the idea of a dude being so racist
that the laser shotgun isn’t as big a problem
as interracial hand-holding.
- Not surprising given that the X-Men are one big metaphor for racism and prejudice. Though Storm is more amused than offended—after facing persecution her whole life for being a mutant, she remarks that plain old fashioned racism is almost quaint.
- Amusingly also something of an inversion, as this also gets them mistaken for beatniks, resulting in a patron with beatnik sympathies siding with them in the ensuing brawl.
- Family Guy episode "Road To Germany". Mort, who is Jewish, accidentally activates Stewie's time machine and is set to Poland on the eve of the Nazi invasion. Stewie and Brian go back in time to rescue him. At one point they need to pass as Nazis themselves, and having Mort the walking stereotype in tow proves problematic. At one point, they tried to pass Mort off as a Catholic priest. And then he's asked to give someone their Last Rites.
- Averted in the Transformers Rescue Bots season 1 finale "It's a Bot Time"/"Bot to the Future". No one says anything at all about Frankie's race or gender. This is justified, since Rescue Bots is a children's show and the scientists that meet her have bigger things to think about.
- Not actually time travel, but a similar idea: for those who want to research their family history, they'll probably run into trouble after a few generations if they aren't of English descent. Why? Because most other countries (particularly in Southern and Eastern Europe) didn't keep detailed records of births and deaths until the late nineteenth century, and even today, that's only a handful of generations ago (as in the number of generations can be counted on one hand). On the other hand, Eastern countries did keep records for a long time, but if you don't live in an Asian country yourself, you probably can't read them. Thus, in the English-speaking world, if you aren't of WASP descent on at least one branch of your family, you're out of luck if you want to trace your ancestry back far.
- Doesn't work for pre-Henry VIII England either, as it was his Chancellor Thomas Cromwell who ordered that every (then still Catholic) priest in England make a record of all the births and deaths in their parish. They were rather leery of the idea at the time, because they (rightly) suspected it would be used as a way of determining the extent to which certain districts ought to be taxed, but the idea's more than proven its worth in the times since.
- Would not be, contra the Louis CK quote, an exclusively white thing, since ethnic mobility was quite low for most of history. Try being anything other than Japanese in Edo Japan, for instance.
- Past a certain point in history, it would be practically inverted. White people lived on a region of the world's second smallest continent. For the rest of the world, travelers would need to be people of color.
- Rachel McAdams has appeared in three Time Travel movies (The Time Traveler's Wife, Midnight in Paris and About Time), but she has never played a Time Traveler. In an interview she admitted to being "kind of bitter about that".