Watch Out for That Capri Sun!
As a means for upholding national security, the Transportation Security Administration prides itself in being absolutely dedicated to its mission: “[To] protect the nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.” Its searches are meant to ensure the safety of all passengers on flights. You never know when someone might have a dangerous weapon or a bomb or, in this case... a juice pouch.
After watching his 10-year-old daughter being pat down by TSA officers at a North Carolina airport due to a Capri Sun in her purse, father Kevin Payne has clearly expressed his outrage. The intrusive two-minute pat down procedure captured by Payne was uploaded onto the Internet, prompting a serious discussion about the TSA’s code of conduct. Since then, the video has attracted the attention of many around the nation, receiving coverage from major news outlets such as CNN, NBC News and ABC’s Good Morning America.
Needless to say, the TSA has definitely ruffled some feathers. But why now, when people of color (especially children) experience assaults by airline security, not just that one time they forgot about a Capri Sun in their purse, but every time they fly?
Flying While Brown: Living in Fear of the TSA
Racial profiling is not a new concept when it comes to aviation security efforts. Although it is technically illegal to target based on race, nationality, ethnicity or religion, these provisions are often circumvented through actions claimed to be “safety precautions” done under established programs, such as TSA’s Screening Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT), a “behavior detection” program that trains TSA officers to observe passengers’ conduct and assign points for “suspicious” actions. Anything from unrestrained yawning to “wearing improper attire for location” (read: non-Western dress) could be grounds to make the completely illogical assumption that that individual is indeed a potential terrorist and poses a precarious threat to others’ safety. As a result, people of color have often experienced discrimination through unnecessarily drawn-out, humiliating search processes, from “natural hair pat-downs” to questionnaires where even the “correct answers” could still prevent passengers from boarding a flight. In a world where Iraqi men are denied flights for simply wearing a shirt with Arabic letters and Caribbean women are constantly having their ‘fros fingered through, it’s no wonder why some children begin developing a fear of the TSA as early as age nine. And yet, though these issues continue every day, these narratives often go unheard. Where are these stories in the press?
The Importance of Listening to All TSA Narratives
The failure to hear about people of color’s experiences contributes to our lack of understanding regarding TSA injustice. Branding Kevin Payne’s daughter as a unique, isolated incident worthy of mass coverage by the press while the everyday struggles of people of color remain under the radar proves the valuing of white narratives over others. This functionally ignores the intersection between security measures and discrimination, preventing important conversations about these problems from ever happening.
Although it is important to hear about incidents like Kevin Payne’s daughter in order to shed light onto an issue and contribute to discussions about it, we must also acknowledge others’ narratives and how their stories indicate prejudice on a systemic level. In order to develop effective solutions to combat TSA intrusions, the public must have a more complete knowledge of how the TSA is involved everyone’s lives. Perhaps that way, we can move closer to a world where curly afros and juice boxes are no longer seen as threats.