Damnit, I Did IT Again...
Damnit I did it again…the mad Black woman thing...the living up to all stereotypes of a Black woman thing.... the loud aggressive... I don't give a damn what any of you all have to say thing.
As I crossed through customs, security, and walked towards my connecting gate in MY country after being a way for nearly five months, the airport did an AMAZING job making me feel more like a foreigner than a U.S. citizen.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the "I have to pat down your hair", comment. Yes, my natural, kinky, wild, unkempt, untidy, plus every other label one may put on my head of hair. I wanted to reply, “No”, I wanted to cry, I wanted to rip out my hair and scream that "NO I’M NOT HIDING A BOMB IN MY KINKS", but I probably wouldn't be sitting at my gate right now preparing to leave Newark if I had done that.
So, before I share my series of unfortunate, slightly prejudiced, traveling while black events, I want to add to the voices of millions of other women of color screaming to remind the world that we CAN be dynamic, we CAN be mad one moment and happy the next and sad the moment after. Our complexity should not DEFINE us; rather that should remind YOU that we are kinda like the other human beings on this planet and thus, should be allowed to express what we feel, when we are feeling it without having to police ourselves, our attitude, our emotions, our hair.
My anger for the day started with the U.S. Customs line lady’s continuous questioning of my citizenship after I displayed my US passport. Yes, I know I'm coming from the DR and thus, since all Blacks coming from the DR MUST be Dominican, I am automatically assumed to be Dominican as well! (LET’S not forget the MILLIONS of Dominican Americans who are just as much a US American as me or the white girl on my left or the old white man behind me.)
Then, I moved on in the line with other US American citizens, fortunately I arrived when I did because that line was desperately in need of some spice, sazón, color, however you want to put it! So, as I pass through the customs line, the customs officer claims he went to Tucker High School down the road from me and remembers my face. He graduated four years before me so I'm almost COMPLETELY sure that he confused me with another Black woman with a fro and who looks Dominican. I literally had never seen this man in my life, but I played along pretending and saying "ya, I do remember your face."
I moved on with a little quickness, hurrying to my connecting flight, and passing a group of police officers without making eye connect. I am nearly exiting the door when I hear and feel a loud running behind me.... "ma'am can I look in your bags".
I turn to ask, "what happened and what is wrong"... Without receiving any answer the cop attempts to reassure me by saying this is a "routine random check".
"Random"... Is anything ever random when it comes to choosing individuals to pursue for questioning?
"Random" is such a loaded word, especially depending on the subject who is being questioned.
"Random"....security checks, random stop and frisk, random checkpoints, random drug testing.
Random has suddenly begun to feel not so random... it seems to be filled with prejudice, bias, quite careful selection, fear, antagonism...random?
So let's replay this scenario…
Old white man asking young Black woman to go through her bags. Young Black woman has never experienced this before and is running to connecting flight. Old white man attempts to reassure her that it will be fast. Young Black woman begins to feel that she did something that she didn't do... that she is guilty when she is not... that she is exactly who he should've questioned...
So, he begins to pull item by item out of my bag... all of my Christmas presents wrapped in newspaper. He questions me what is this, what is that... reminding me that they are looking for illegal drugs coming from certain countries. Not sure what he thought that was going to make me do... admit to being the culprit? Well, I get tongue tied. He asked about a particular bottle in my bag which is a traditional Dominican (mama juana) drink that has herbs and wine and rum all mixed in it... But I'm tongue tied...so I begin to say herbs... until realizing that probably wouldn't be the right word to use... simultaneously he begins to attempt to guide my words with saying "could it be marijuana".... I pretend to act like I didn't just hear him nearly try to get me to admit to something I didn't have, never had, wouldn't have on a flight...somehow I form the words alcohol in an attempt to ease his concerns as he is smiling and laughing at my lack of comfort...
As he continues to pick, grab, and ask, I turn to see who else has been "randomly checked”. When the officer notices my skepticism, he points to the one other person in the security office hoping that I will be comforted by seeing a young white man also being questioned. Seeing that one other individual didn’t calm my nerves or ease my doubts. I felt angry, confused, frustrated, sad, and guilty. As I attempt to process my emotions, I tell myself that this happens often…maybe, there is some sort of counting method that police use to choose "random Individuals". I repeat that over and over; each time feeling less and less convinced. The stories of minorities facing discrimination and prejudice at airports or on airplanes seemed to consume my thoughts, as I prayed that my experience with this particular cop didn’t turn into another hashtag.
Finally, the cop announces that he has found nothing suspicious and suggests that I take some time to put everything back that way it was originally. "When you've been bothered, simply kill them with kindness", resounds in my head, as I flash a quick smile, politely respond, and proceed to put my items back and prepare to depart.
Despite my impeccable control over my body at that moment while standing face to face with a white cop in a secluded room, I was angry! Should I have been? Was my anger justified? I don't know…However, my bad energy must have followed me to the TSA Pre-Check line when I entered to find my connecting flight, because a process that is usually quick was halted once again by a "random search".
Some people stared and others passed a glance at me when I continued to beep when going through the metal detector and eventually had to wait for two separate officers to pat me down. I have a strategic traveling outfit that I wear each time on the plane, so I’m not sure what deemed me worthy of this wonderful annoyance today. Was my hair a little too thick? Was my skin complexion a little too brown? Were there a few too many rips in my jeans?
Today's traveling while Black experience hurts. I'm flying back from a country where my skin complexion is permissible, but my hair is not. My English language is celebrated, but my lack of Dominican Spanish is not. I'm flying into a country where my hair nor my skin are permissible. My English is ideal only as long as my US passport is clearly visible.
I proceed to the bathroom only to experience the icing on the cake for my day... my fro is flat on one side and nobody told me!!! As I look in the mirror, picking my hair back out, I wait for another sista to come in and have to do the same. I keep staring, waiting, wishing that someone would come in and look kinda, sorta, a little like me, but they didn't. I began to feel disgusted, embarrassed, and annoyed by the reflection I saw. A reflection that lacked the usual pride and love for my hair and MY unique, complex beauty.
I exited the bathroom with my face and body language clearly showing the struggle of my day. Suddenly, a Black young man who had been working at the TSA desk earlier and oversaw my disgust passed and thought it was necessary to stop me and tell me that "I was too beautiful to be looking so mean and acting so angry.” When my face didn't change, he added, "I hope my compliment made you feel better. If I was your security guard, I would have gotten your number."
Well, if you're reading this and raging right now... shit I was too! So…
Dear Attempting to be nice/hit on me when I'm down Black young man,
1. Stop policing my face, my attitude, my expressions. I've had plenty of that my whole life.
2. No your "compliment" wasn't actually such. It was more so a way to impose control over my body and compare my Black woman body to western, white beauty standards, and I don't appreciate it.
3. Gotten my number? Pause. Do I know you? Is my number written on my face for the world to see? The last time I checked, you ASK for someone's contact information, not TAKE. My number is not available for siege.
This odd mix of emotions at an airport is new for me. I've never felt like this before, and I hope to never again. I share this experience not for you to pity me, but rather as a reminder that it's okay to want and demand YOUR safe space. All majority society knows is safe space, safe control, safe U.S.A. Today, white supremacists are feeling quite comfortable. WE WANT TO FEEL comfortable too! It is an innate necessity that humans have spaces where they belong and feel like they are a part of something greater than themselves.
So as I prepare to land in my home town, I am soooo grateful to go home. I can’t wait to just stare, hug, and love on my Mom, my Grandma, my girlfriends, and my aunties and have that feeling again of belonging. That feeling I've been desiring to feel for the last five months. That feeling I can confide in when I get weak and run to when I’m lost, because I'll be reminded that MY Blackness is not only okay, but it's supreme. Supremely beautiful. Supremely complex. Supremely me.