I'm a 55-year-old white woman with gray hair and too much poundage. I look like a stern junior high school vice principal, or the kind of old lady who shouts, "Get off my lawn," at the neighborhood kids. I do not look like a terrorist, but that didn't stop the TSA from detaining me for over two hours upon landing at the Miami airport after an international flight. I was chosen by American Airlines for additional screening, so the TSA was just doing their job. I have no problem with that. I do, however, have a problem with potentially missing my connecting flight when all in the whole wide world I wanted to do was go home after three weeks in Europe. Instead of walking to the gate to get on the next flight, I found myself walking a path I've seldom walked. As a privileged, white woman, I'm not often questioned or looked at with suspicion, and I'm never treated as if I'm guilty before I even know what it is I'm guilty of. It ain't a good feeling, folks. I know this isn't a revelation to many of my fellow human beings who don't happen to be 55-year-old, privileged, white women.
I'm treated a certain way due to the way I look. That's been true my entire life. That's not a unique statement for me or anyone. We are all treated a certain way due at least in part to the way we look. When I was young and firm and skinny, I was treated a certain way. When I was a mother to two small kids and not so young and not so firm and definitely not so skinny, I was treated a certain way. Now, I'm treated like a grandma and I get it. I look like I'm somebody's grandma, even though I'm not, yet. I'm actually much more gangsta than grandma, but the point is that this is just the way the world works. I do it; you do it; we all do it. You might be thinking, "Hey, wait just a damn minute. I don't do that. I don't see a person and make certain assumptions about that person based on the way they look." Well, Sunshine, I hate to burst your bubble, but you do it even if you don't know you do it. That's the whole reason why the Walt White character from "Breaking Bad" was so popular. No one expected a white, mild-mannered high school chemistry teacher to be a drug kingpin, just like no one expects a white, 55-year-old woman with gray hair and cellulite to be a terrorist.
I have no earthly idea why American Airlines chose me for further screening, maybe it was just a random thing, but it upset my apple cart in a big way, and it got me to thinking how it would feel to have this sort of thing happen to me on a regular, or even occasional basis. Even if it happened to me only rarely, rest assured I'd be one pissed off junior high school vice principal.
Initially, I was pissed off at being inconvenienced, but I was polite and cooperative because they were just doing their jobs; however, as one hour turned into two, my anger turned into anxiety as I watched and listened to what was, and wasn't, happening around me. It became clear to me after the first five minutes that I wasn't dealing with an efficient, organized, or professional entity, and my anxiety grew as the minutes ticked by.
At about the 50 minute mark, I was led away from the long lines of people waiting to get through security, and taken to an area off to the side where I was left alone with all my things, except for my passport and boarding pass, for another five minutes. Eventually, a female TSA agent was located and that's when I was separated from my backpack and laptop bag. The body search began. It was very thorough, but not all that bad. The female agent and I had a bit of a laugh about the whole thing, but the laughter died down in a hurry when I was informed that bomb residue was found on the iPad in my backpack. I knew I wasn't guilty of making a bomb, but they didn't know that. Agents with weapons, and at least one bomb sniffing dog, were studying me and they weren't laughing. Hell, they weren't even smiling even though I was wearing a funny t-shirt. I have a tendency to use humor in most situations, but this wasn't the least bit funny.
It was ironic, but it wasn't funny. It was ironic because while in Europe, I visited the Terror Museum in Budapest. I saw through exhibits what terror does to people, and how it destroys countries. It was terrible, and now I was being accused of something terrible. Finally, after much confusion and discussion a "bomb specialist" was brought forth. He was very professional which made me relax a little bit because I knew I wasn't guilty of anything other than looking and smelling like a homeless person after spending in excess of ten hours in an airplane. He interrogated me for around ten minutes. Finally, on his suggestion, the TSA ran another test on my iPad which apparently turned out to be negative for bomb residue when tested a second time. I was released after every single item in my backpack and my laptop bag was inspected and swiped with some sort of cloth that kind of looked like an overgrown Q-tip. This took a very long time because the agent performing the inspection was also visiting with another agent who was just observing. It was possible that one of the agents was training the other, but their demeanor and conversation didn't suggest that to me. I made my connection with one minute to spare.
The TSA exists because terror exists, and terror exists because why??? That's much too complex of a question for a woman who wears funny t-shirts to try to answer. All I can say is that I'm more anxious about terror threats than ever after my experience in the Miami airport. It ain't a good feeling, folks.