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 led 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 1994. 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 neighborhood. 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 traveling to Nazi Germany (or any Nazi-occupied area, for that matter) and loudly proclaiming socialist sympathies or your Jewish ancestry is an excellent way to commit suicide.note 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. It's also paranoid (in most cases) to assume that a "modern" person's very existence will trigger violence or repression. Most civilized societies will tolerate just about anyone as long as they don't "cause any trouble" — although, granted, "trouble" will be defined very broadly if a society really is that reactionary.
Of course, a discriminated-against character who is superpowered, a highly-trained soldier or vigilante, or just plain deranged can easily punch and/or slaughter their way through a past era following any number of Mugging the Monster moments. In this way, such a character can earn respect - or at least fear, though that might trigger even worse persecution if the past era manages to muster a sufficient force against them.
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 War.note
Compare Black Vikings, Politically Correct History. Also Eternal Sexual Freedom. Not really related to Time Travelling Lesbians, which is about the setting as a world in which time travel can exist making being queer more acceptable — this can definitely still apply in those stories.
- Big Finish Doctor Who: Inverted with companion Oliver Harper, who is worried about time travel due to being a gay man from the 1960s, when homosexuality was illegal. Steven Taylor, from hundreds of years in the future, hadn't even thought about this and finds the idea of people discriminating against someone for their sexual orientation faintly surreal.
- Third Doctor Radio Dramas: The The Ghosts of N-Space has the Doctor dress his companion Sarah Jane in boys' clothing during a visit to medieval times, causing her to be repeatedly mistaken for "his catamite".
- One arc of JSA saw some of the team sent into the 1950s 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 Ku Klux Klan 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.
- In Memento Vivere, a Final Fantasy X fanfiction, Rikku faces full on Al Bhed discrimination in the past.
- In Code Geass fanfic My Mirror, Sword and Shield Suzaku accidentally time-travels from the year 2036 to a decade into the past when the racist Britannian Empire was active and is constantly discriminated, distrusted and degraded until he earns the trust of the young Emperor Lelouch elevating his status. Even then, no one gives him any respect and he's viewed with suspicion.
- 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. This didn't occur in the original novel, which specifically showed that Middle French isn't anything much like Modern French, so nobody is able to understand them until they learn it.
- 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: 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. Possibly a reference to his quip in the second film about replacing a black inflatable driver for a white one due to being constantly pulled over.
J: 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?. This is one of those Reality Is Unrealistic cases. While black Africans were discriminated against in most European countries at that time, and moreso as time moved on, the idea that it'd have more to do with his place of origin and not specifically his skin color is pretty valid.
- Hot Tub Time Machine 2 when the guys are going to go back to the 1770s to "Make America Happen" Jacob tells Nick (who is black) "you're not going to be to super welcome there, but we should totally go!"
- In Late For Dinner, two guys unknowingly end up becoming subjects to a cryogenics experiment. They then get accidentally thawed out 29 years later. Not sure what happened, they go to a hospital to patch up a bullet wound in one of them. One of the guys comments to a black doctor of how great it is that black people are being allowed to be doctors. The doctor is a little taken aback at this, although seeing a card from a cryogenics lab is a little more disturbing to him.
- Octavia Butler covers the perils of time traveling while black in the 1979 novel Kindred - the black protagonist goes to 19th-century Maryland to meet her ancestors, one of whom is a white slave owner. Drama ensues.
- In To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, the time-travel research division at Oxford contains a black student and a South Indian professor. The plot of the book involves everyone else in the department being forced to do far too much time travel for their own health to satisfy a rich donor's demands in researching the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral. Those two celebrate their good luck, as they can't do much time-traveling into pre-1940s England for safety reasons.
- In an Animorphs story involving time travel, the group runs into this problem — they wind up at Princeton University, circa 1934, in an alternate timeline with a lot of differences from the real one- where someone calls Cassie something she would REALLY rather not be called. She puts him in his place to the tune of a 900-pound Polar Bear.
Cassie: "You don't like black people, Mr. Davis? No problem. I can turn white. Watch me."
- In Johnny and the Bomb, Yo-less travels back a mere forty years or so, to World War II era, and has to deal with people calling him "Sambo".
- Inverted in Andre Norton's The Time Traders series, where both the titular organization's agents and their Soviet counterparts are sent on undercover missions in different areas and eras of history (and their cover identities composed) specifically on the basis of their racial makeup. Not only is conspicuous behavior avoided for fear of the usual Butterfly of Doom, but because word of it in history books would alert the enemy to your position in time.
- The book A Wish After Midnight sends a girl back to the Civil War.
- Pretty much the entire point of Harry Harrison's A Rebel In Time. White supremacist goes back in time to help the South win the Civil War, and a black federal agent decides it will be a snap to follow the killer back to antebellum deep south. When the slave owners of the era see his high quality clothes and hear his 20th century New York college educated accent, things proceed pretty much as you'd expect under the circumstances.
- In Orson Scott Card's Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus, only one of the three time-travelers sent to change the result of Columbus' first encounter with native Americans is the appropriate race for the culture that they will be dealing with (and none of them are white). In the end, one character, a black woman, has to overcome a lot of prejudice to win over the natives, but she eventually succeeds while another, a middle-eastern man sent to sabotage one of Columbus's ships, actually uses his race to the mission's advantage, revealing himself and allowing his Heroic Sacrifice to unite the crew against the "Muslim enemy". The Muslim is explicitly stated as being white. It is only when he speaks Arabic and declares himself a Turk that his race becomes an issue... even the Mayan going back to visit the Mayans is a foot taller than the Mayans of that time, making him stand out. The "foot taller" part helps, as his goal is to convince the natives that he's a messenger of the gods.
- Tunnels of Treachery plays with this — the two previous books both involved white kids going back in time using the Moose Jaw tunnels, and when their Chinese-Canadian friends do so, they get a very different reception.
- Averted in S.M. Stirling's Nantucket series: Capt. Alston, an African-American Coast Guard officer, is assumed, by the Bronze Age people she encounters, to be a respected Nubian warrior chief. Of course, many presume she is a man until convinced otherwise.
- In Time Scout, Women cannot be scouts. Period. When Margo insists, she ends up tortured and gang-raped by downtime Catholics and is almost burned at the stake. They can be guides. Guiding and scouting are wildly different professions; guiding is a fairly safe if high-compentence profession strictly limited to well-explored times and places where a woman can learn to blend in. Scouting is an extreme-risk profession where one is operating without a net and guides all but guaranteed to die horribly. The race issue is never brought up.
- Played with in The Freedom Maze by Delia Sherman. Sophie — who is white in 1960 — goes back in time to 1860 and is instantly assumed to be a slave thanks to her tan and frizzy hair.
- Averted (and lampshaded) in the 1632 series. Two black characters from twenty-first century America are both doctors, and this is readily accepted by the seventeenth-century Europeans, who assume they're Moors (who were far and away the most trusted physicians of the time, with the possible exception of Jews). The only issue is that they're father and daughter and it takes the down-timers some time to be convinced of the daughter's qualifications as she's a woman.
- It is mentioned in the first Time Wars novel that while the Temporal Corps recruits women, they are often limited to support roles in missions as not many time periods have frontline female fighters.
- Played completely straight in Jon Birmingham's Axis of Time trilogy, where a Multinational Taskforce from the 21st century is transported by a Negative Space Wedgie to 1942. A good number of crewmembers from the "uptimer" ships are either black or Asian. In fact, the "temps" are incredulous to find out that the "uptimers" put a black woman in command of a warship. One of the main characters is a black Marine, who jibes as a "temp" named Dan Black about racism. Dan shuts him down by pointing out that in his father's household, anyone who used the N-word would be sorry. The liberal views of the 21st century clash hard with the "normal" views of 1940s America. To this end, Admiral Kolhammer gets FDR to declare an area in California as a Special Administrative Zone, where the laws and customs of the 21st century are the norm (and people can be sued for violating those laws, even if the act happens outside the Zone). J Edgar Hoover is determined to shut down the Zone, claiming that it's amoral. In response, Kolhammer tries to expose Hoover as a closet gay.
- Played straight with women in Scott Meyer's Off to Be the Wizard. It's fairly easy for men who discover the file and travel back in time to pretend to be wizards/sorcerers/fakirs/shamans/etc. in the past. However, any woman who tries to do the same usually runs straight into the Burn the Witch! attitude of most of history. Thus, most women end up traveling to the 4th century BC to the city of Atlantis, a Lady Land built in the Mediterranean as a safe haven for sorceresses. Averted with wizards named Tyler (black) and Eddie (Asian). They choose to live in 12th century England. When asked, Tyler replies that he claims to be a Moor. The locals then assume that he has either converted to Christianity or is powerful enough not to care. Eddie pretends to be a sorcerer from the Far East named Wing Po, despite his heavy Joisey accent. Either way, being a powerful wizard means that the locals won't dare touch them or complain about their non-whiteness. Most male time travelers tend to go to a place and time that fits with their ethnicity and cultural heritage. The second novel also reveals that not every native Mediterranean is okay with women being in charge.
- Doctor Who Missing Adventures: In The Plotters, the Doctor attempts to avoid trouble by dressing his female companion Vicki as a boy (as he had previously done in the TV story "The Crusade"), only to find this has the opposite of the intended effect when she attracts the attention of a lecherous old gay king who sets about trying to woo her.
- In Human Nature, the Doctor's companion Bernice Summerfield is supposed to be keeping a low profile during an extended sojourn in the 1910s. She ditches her skirts about twenty minutes into the adventure in favour of her regular trousers. This gets her into a lot of trouble.
- Some of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels have this become a bit of an issue for Anji Kapoor. In the 18th and 19th centuries, she's treated as exotic and mystical but not outright abused. Wearing a sari helps; too bad she hates wearing saris. Fitz Kreiner, who's white and British, gets almost as much trouble for stuff like his lower-class London accent.
- Inverted in The 4400, Richard Tyler has been brought forward from World War II, where he was almost killed for being attracted to a white woman. It takes him a few episodes to get used to the relative lack of racism.
- Subverted in a Chappelle's Show sketch, where "Playa Haters" go back in time and shoot a Southern plantation owner.
- Doctor Who:
- The early Hartnell series sometimes avoided this by having the female characters dress as men. This happens in "The Crusade" and "The Smugglers". "The Massacre", meanwhile, has no female companion until the very end (which is set in the present day).
- "The Time Warrior" revolves in part about Sarah Jane, a 1970s-80s feminist, getting stuck in the Dark Ages and the trouble this causes for her. She is treated horribly, both the men and the aliens in this time period are ridiculously misogynistic, and even clever and likeable contemporary woman scoff at the idea of not being basically slaves.
- Rose also gets called out in the episode "Tooth and Claw" by Queen Victoria herself and several other characters who repeatedly describe her as being naked, due to the short overalls and tights she wears through the episode.
- Martha Jones (who is black) tends to get away with this for the most part, though her trips are rarely to the distant past and when they are, the issue will be addressed.
- "The Shakespeare Code" had Martha worried about being sold as a slave, but the Doctor assured her this wasn't actually an issue. In reality, there actually were some black people in England, none of whom were slaves, and the dialog was actually meant to teach kids that England wasn't entirely white in the 17th century.
- The later "Human Nature"/"The Family of Blood" (set in 1913), had Martha's race subtly addressed as nobody believed a woman, let alone a poor minority woman, was capable of being a doctor.
- Donna, while treated fairly well, still complains when the Doctor's cover story for her in "The Unicorn and the Wasp" is that she's the "plucky young woman who helps me out" on account of there being no policewomen in 1920s Britain.
- Bill, being a lesbian and of African descent, has a few things to worry about when they visit the past.
- In "Thin Ice", upon finding she's in 1814, she is worried about how she'll be treated on account of being black. The Doctor sadly acknowledges that slavery is still a reality in this time period, but Bill is surprised by the fact that the non-white population of London in the Regency is higher than she was expecting, and most of the characters don't bat an eye at her. The one character who does is Lord Sutcliffe, who is a Politically Incorrect Villain, and promptly gets decked by the Doctor for it.
- When encountering Victorian soldiers on Mars, their commander laughs at the idea of Bill being a policewoman, since women couldn't be cops at that time (but, interestingly, doesn't seem to notice her skin color).
- Averted when visiting Scotland during Ancient Roman times, as Bill's admittance to being lesbian is taken in stride by the Roman soldiers (in the Ancient Roman concept of sexuality, the gender of the other person wasn't a significant factor, and people often had relationships with both sexes; one of the soldiers is gay, and the rest just think he's missing out on half the fun he could be having), and no one bats an eye at her skin color (the gay soldier is also black).
- In The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith", this gets played with when Rani goes back to the 1950s looking for Sarah Jane — Rani assumes she's getting looks because of racism, but later realises people are staring at her because of her outfit, and the only reason she's getting away with it is because she isn't white.
Rani: Yes, I get it, ethnic person in the 50s!
- In Torchwood, Jack Harkness and Toshiko Sato are stuck in 1940s Cardiff, and Tosh expresses some very real concerns about being Japanese and in WWII. Fortunately the attack on Pearl Harbor (and the British Asian colonies) is still several months in the future.
- Legends of Tomorrow has Night of the Hawk when the team travels to 1958. Jax and Kendra get uncomfortable reactions to their interracial dating/fake marriage, and when Jax gets pulled over by a cop... Then there's Sara's budding romance with a cute female nurse. Stein initially expresses his belief in how great and simple a time it was, only to be brutally shut down by Jax and Sara, who point out that this is only true if you're a straight white male. Stein is forced to agree. In Season 2, the Legends end up in the middle of the American Civil War, and Jax and Amaya end up witnessing the plight of the slaves. Their non-submissive attitudes immediately land them in hot water with the white plantation owner.
- Amanda's black roommate in Lost in Austen points out that she can't go through the door because she's black.
- The trailer for the Fox comedy Making History has a bungling time traveler realizing he's messed up Paul Revere's ride. He then brings his college professor pal back with him to fix things. However, both have overlooked the tiny fact that a black man in 1776, no matter how educated he is, will automatically be thought of as a runaway slave.
- This trope was the center of an early Quantum Leap episode, where Sam ends up in the body of a black man, in the past. Sam nearly gets himself into hot water immediately by trying to sit down in a café and order a meal.
- The premise of one Saturday Night Live sketch was to bring a rather camp 17th century Belgian nobleman and his equally camp black (free) manservant together with KKK membernote John Belushi in the Deep South.
- An third season episode of seaQuest DSV, the titular sub ends up in the 60s during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Commander Jonathan Ford (a black man) takes a team to the surface. They "borrow" a car and take it to their destination on the shore. On the way, they pass by car full of young men. They arrive to the beach only to see the other car pull up behind them and the guys getting out with baseball bats. Ford suddenly notices a "No blacks allowed" sign and remembers his history. Plus, he was in the same car as a white woman, which only pissed off the '60s guys more. Luckily, all of the team members are military-trained, so a bunch of punks with baseball bats is not a threat.
- Averted but discussed in the Stargate SG-1 episode "1969". The hippie calls Teal'c "brother" and insists that he ride up front with him. The hippie is making a point of showing that he's not racist, unlike a lot of his contemporaries.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation:
- Averted on the episode "Time's Arrow", where the android Data is sent back in time to late-1800s San Francisco. His Starfleet uniform gets more attention than his albino-pale skin and yellow eyes, and he's able to pass without trouble by telling everyone he is from France. (It helps that, having a perfect memory, he can speak perfect French.)
- Also averted without explanation in the case of Geordi (a black man), who only has to hide his anachronistic VISOR, and Guinan, a black-looking Human Alien who lives in that time and lives a high-class life.
- Cited on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as a reason Sisko doesn't want to participate in a holodeck program set in 1962 Las Vegas — even if the program doesn't recreate racial discrimination, as that just makes it an unjustified romanticization of a troubled period.
- Timeless: Brought up almost constantly. As Rufus says: "There's literally no place in American History that'll be awesome for me !" He's proven right.
- Done with space travel rather than time travel on the original The Tomorrow People, when the characters visit a planet of Human Aliens. As there are no dark-skinned people on that world (or at least that part of it), a black character from Earth isn't able to accompany her companions in public.
- In the time-travel RPG Continuum, one of the flavor text stories deals with Cynthia, a white 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:
- 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 woman and a white man, respectively) are a couple. Naturally, this makes Wolverine completely flip out.
Chris Sims: 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. However, many of the town's top scientists of that era also seem to be non-white, so it seems that Griffin Rock was just as far ahead socially from the rest of the country as it was technologically.
- In the Justice League episode "Legends", several leaguers are sent to an alternate Earth based on The Golden Age of Comic Books and team up with expies of The Justice Society of America. On most accounts they are actually Fair For Their Day, but include uncomfortable moments like Black Canary's expy suggests Hawkgirl Stay in the Kitchen and Jay Gerrick's praises African American Green Lantern Jon Stuart by calling him a credit to his race.
- 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.
- Also happens within the U.S. with African-Americans, who usually can't trace ancestry before the 1860s, since detailed records of black people before then are hard to find.
- 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 C.K. 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.
- The closest real-world equivalent would probably be "No Equal Opportunity Time Zone Travel. Let's say, for instance, that you were an interracial couple traveling from New York to California in 1950. Assuming you stayed north of the Mason-Dixon Line, your marriage would be legal in only about one-quarter of the territory through which you passed. And even today, in Texas, where "dry" counties still abound, transporting a moonshine still across a county border will as likely as not get you pulled over.