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I travel a lot, also. I'm not brown, but I have a typically muslim name. I guess that makes me terrifying to other passengers, because I get subjected to extra screening almost every time I check into a flight -- after 2001 I had to stop flying for short-hops because it just wasn't worth the extra time I had to budget for having all my luggage taken apart. (Travel tip: buy luggage with zip-out liners so you don't have to sew it back together every time you fly.) I've only had a cavity search once. But then again, how many Americans who are traveling on business inside the United States have ever even had to undress, much less faced a situation where in order to get to a conference they had to let the government into their orifices? If I arrive too early for a flight, the TSA tells me, that looks suspicious. If I arrive too late, also suspicious (but then I miss my flight while they take everything I own to pieces). I've been asked to justify carrying lots of books with me (I always carry lots of reading material because I read a lot). I've been questioned about the conferences or vacations I am going to or from, about my work, about my religion (not Islam). I've got a whole protocol for packing and dressing for travel. I've gotten the suggestion that I travel with my passport ("and immigration documents," which I don't have since I was born here) for domestic flights. I'd accept this as "security theater" if I thought anybody was actually looking and thought I looked threatening, but I don't fit the American physical stereotypes about terrorists (I am small, female, and pale-skinned). It's pretty clearly profiling, and stupid profiling at that. I recently flew through MSP, and when I was inevitably selected for enhanced search, I opted for a pat-down as opposed to a full-body imaging search (not for modesty's sake, but because I asked for information on the medical risks associated with the scan, and they were unable to provide me with that). That search was notable because it was one of the few times when the woman doing the search did not grope me roughly, and told me everything she was going to do before she did it. I don't think I'm being a drama queen when I say that over the years I have just gotten used to air travel requiring an hour or so of being groped and shoved by the government. I suppose it is comforting to know that if I had complained about being groped, the TSA would have further violated my privacy by posting video footage of the incident in public so everybody could tell me how I was overreacting. I've always thought it was enough to have to let people with guns touch me wherever they want for fear of being thrown in prison and then "deported" to wherever they decide I must have come from, but I guess I haven't really had the full humiliation experience yet. (I should say that I think this groping and shoving is more about being a bully than about any real security need. I think giving people a lot of power brings out the worst in them, and I make a convenient target for bullies because of my size. It may just be a few bad TSA agents, but I seem to have had the luck to get them almost every time. And since 99 percent of the time I travel I get singled out for enhanced search, I have been touched by a lot of TSA agents. The only time I didn't recently was when I flew to the Middle East; I guess they were overwhelmed by people with muslim names to be felt up.) While this furor over the humiliation of the full-body scanners is interesting in the abstract, as a discussion of rights and risks, for me this has been going on since the mid-90's, with the big ramp-up in intrusiveness since 2001/2. Yeah, yeah, security was different pre-TSA. It was a lot meaner, for one thing. Back when you all felt safe I used to finally make it to my flight bruised and crying. Switching from private security companies to a government agency was a big win for me. (No more beating hit with the wand! No more wedgies! No more boob-twisting!) I actually do understand the value of security theater; you want to discourage the people who are less committed by making it clear you're watching. I disagree that restricting the amount of liquids a person can carry on the plane -- with constantly shifting definitions of what is a liquid -- has any real value. (For me, stick deodorant is a liquid; for my blond, blue-eyed husband, it is not.) I disagree that there is real value to making the casual travelers feel reassured about brown people on the flight. Especially since I think the kind of person who tries to play international terrorism expert is not likely to be convinced even by the most thorough screening. Still, it's kind of hard to muster up a whole lot of sympathy for a bunch of spoiled, complacent white people who have been totally willing to let people like me bear the burden of their intolerance of risk. If it were up to me everybody would get the same treatment I get. Or worse, what people who look even more like "terrorists" get, since I don't fool myself that I have the worst of it.
Toggle Commented Nov 15, 2010 on In Defense of Security Theater (Sorta) at
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