A quick downward glance confirmed that the word was still printed in big bold letters at the bottom of my boarding pass, just as it had been when I printed it out 10 minutes earlier. So, no, my airline status had not been snatched from me when I slipped outside to quickly hit my vape pen before approaching a TSA agent who would kill my high before it even kicked in.
I was at LaGuardia Airport for an early flight to a professional conference in Detroit, and though I wasn’t late, I had a limited window of time to get a snack before boarding. One of those moments in which my hard-earned Platinum frequent-flyer designation should come in handy; I’d get to bypass the long gen-pop line and be shuffled through the lane for those who either fly often (me!) or exclusively in first/business class (definitely not me!).
Yet, the TSA agent — a Black man about my own age — had different plans. He’d almost instinctively sent a young white woman straight through to the priority lane (I peeped her ticket; she wasn’t supposed to be there) before glancing at my boarding pass and sending me to the regular line.
I wouldn’t tell this story at all if this didn’t happen more times than I can count.
“But isn’t that priority?” I asked. He looked down again. “Oh, yeah. Go ahead.”
I wouldn’t tell this story at all if this didn’t happen more times than I can count. It’s something I’ve experienced with similarly absurd indicators of one’s worth: hotel loyalty clubs, VIP lines, executive lounges, private events. It’s the extra ID checks, the poring over a slight difference in the formatting of my name on my passport versus other official documents, the “Ma’am, where are you going? You should be over there.” It all speaks to the general sense that if I’m not in a Black space, it’s hard for people to recognize that I might belong somewhere exclusive — especially if the other faces there are typically white.
There are two kinds of madness that accompany the sort of minor slight I encountered at the airport. I took my first flight at the age of 17 and didn’t have the means to do much travel until I was in my mid-twenties. The fact that I’m flying an average of twice a month primarily for business represents triumph over the financial circumstances I was born into, so I resent being treated like I can’t afford or don’t deserve a privilege that I worked really hard to get.
A TSA agent almost instinctively sent a young white woman straight through to the priority lane.
On the other hand, is there anything sillier than conferring status via titles like “Gold” and “Platinum,” taking pride in getting access to six inches of extra legroom (I am rather tall) and free cocktails, and, at times, relishing the opportunity to sit in first class for free? Intellectually, I know this is capitalist nonsense. But as a busy professional, those little perks feel pretty damn nice. So now I gotta balance the guilt of being elite-adjacent and the weight of being treated like a nigga no matter how many airline miles I rack up all at once.
I’m fortunate to have first-world problems like the former, but I’m also frequently sensitive to the fact that they do little to protect me from the latter.
I’d be remiss for acknowledging that my physical appearance, speech patterns, gender, and gender presentation still provide a relative advantage in spaces that aren’t designed to see Blackness as normal or welcome. As such, folks who don’t see a light-skinned, average-sized cis-het college-trained woman as a business traveler or someone who gets into exclusive spaces may be more aggressive in denying access to a darker-hued woman, or a large man, or a gender nonconforming person, or anyone who may speak in the Black Vernacular English that I typically reserve for my own people.
I’m increasingly tired of being treated like I don’t belong anywhere that isn’t presided over by fellow Negroes.
I actually hate myself today even more than usual for sharing any of this publicly. Again — airline status is corny, and what bourgeois nonsense to waste ink on. But I’m increasingly tired of being treated like I don’t belong anywhere that isn’t presided over by fellow Negroes, and I’m also really sick of paying for customer service that doesn’t seem to be granted to people who look like me when I travel.
But that’s the grand nature of white supremacy: You’re never without at least a microaggression to complain about, but the top-line issues are so significant you feel like an ass for acknowledging the smaller ones at all. For that reason, and many others, I think I deserve extra legroom, and a shorter wait in the security line, and a free cocktail after all.
Read more stories from Traveling While Black: Letting My Guard Down as a Solo Black Traveler by Randy Winston, Traveling While Black in Florence by Mateo Askaripour, Where Blackness Is Its Own Nation by Kaitlyn Greenidge, and Traveling While Black in Colombia by Nneka M. Okona