I was thinking earlier today about what I could and couldn’t bring on the plane, seeing as I fly back to my home state in 5 days. An interesting concept came to mind, what kinds of privilege do I hold, as a white person, when it comes to traveling by plane? A lot probably. One incident that came to mind was something that happened to me last year. In the moment, it never even crossed my mind that there was a lot of privilege involved.
I was on the way home from Indiana and had just put my bag in on the security belt. I was in the process of putting on my shoes when a TSA agent came over to me with my back pack. I immediately thought, “Uh oh, did I forget to put my pocket knife in my checked bag?” I found out when I got home that I, indeed, had forgotten to put my pocket knife in my checked bag. However, that was not the reason they had questioned the content of my bag.
They asked me what was in my bag that was shaped like a brick. I paused for a minute and thought about it. Then I realized my step mom had packed blocks of cheese wrapped in aluminum foil in my bag. I immediately said, “Oh yea, my step mom packed me cheese. That’s probably what it is.”
He said, “oh ok,” and put the bag back through the machine.
Now, I was expecting him to take it out on the other end and search it. He never did. I was slightly confused, especially considering the blocks of cheese, wrapped in aluminum foil, in a baggy probably looked a lot like drugs. I shrugged it off and kept going. What I didn’t think of at the time was, what would have happened if I wasn’t white? Lets be honest, they definitely would have searched my entire bag. They would have found my pocket knife. I also would have gotten more than “oh ok,” from the TSA agent.
Not only did they let me go without searching my bag or confiscating my pocket knife, they didn’t even bat an eye when I said it was only cheese. They didn’t open the cheese to make sure it was in fact cheese. They simply put my bag through again and let me go. That seems absurd to me. That never would have been the case if I had been a person of color. They would have been rude when asking what was in my bag. They definitely would have searched it and confiscated my pocket knife and potentially would have harassed me and made me late for my plane.
So what other privileges do I hold as a white person in an airport? I can only speculate as to what these privileges may be, but I do know I’m very unlikely to be harassed at an airport. I don’t get weird looks or stared at like I don’t belong in an airport or like I’m a threat to people’s lives. I don’t get questioned at the security check point. I don’t get “randomly searched”. I’ve never been late to my plane because of how the TSA reacted to my very existence in an airport. I’ve never had a problem checking in or checking my bags or getting through a security line or even boarding the plane. I’ve never felt uncomfortable because of my race while sitting through a flight and I’ve never been racially profiled in any circumstance let alone while traveling in an airport.
Some of these things are things I had thought were due to the amount of experience I have flying. I’ve been flying since I was a kid and I know my way around pretty much any airport you put me in. However, the ease in traveling that I experience isn’t completely due to the fact that I’ve been flying for over a decade. It is, without a doubt, due to white privilege and people’s assumption that I am not a threat to them in an airport because I am white.
What other privileges do I have as a white person while traveling by plane?