November 22, 2010

We're All Black Men Now, Honey

I recently happened to have dinner with a senior federal law enforcement official who happens to be acquainted with the head of the TSA. It was right before the TSA's aggressive, invasive new genital-grabbing or naked photography search protocols were installed. I made a joking but obviously critical statement of the upcoming mass infringement of our liberties at the hands of our own government, and how this unproven security theater provides no actual protection against a terrorist threat. The official replied that the thing he couldn't figure out is why no one ever criticized or blamed the terrorists; after all, they're the ones who are making us do all this in the first place.

I was frankly shocked--too stunned to actually say anything about this candid, complete abandonment of any sense of accountability in the upper echelons of our security bureaucracy, the utter lack of awareness that we are not, in fact, forced by anyone, much less terrorist thugs dwelling in Pakistani caves, to surrender our principles and personal liberty to government agents in order to exercise our constitutionally guaranteed right to travel. We are doing it to ourselves, and we have only ourselves to blame. Ourselves, and the spineless politicians who hand out $350 million body scanner contracts for each other.

Instead of saying any of this, though, I agreed that when I saw him, I would definitely add US governmental ball-grabbing to my list of complaints for Osama Bin Laden.

In the mean time, while at least one frustrated dad in Salt Lake was driven to strip his 8-year-old son's shirt in order to "expedite" his secondary TSA screening--and while the TSA ludicrously claims this dad's action absolves them of any responsibility for the incident ["you brought this on yourself, baby"]--I can understand how a parent who is planning to travel with kids soon would be concerned about these encounters affect his kid's psyche.

And I can also see that preventing your kid from being traumatized by the TSA would be even more important than making sure your kid doesn't freak out at the airport and somehow throw your whole family into a Kafkaesque TSA nightmare--that ruins Thanksgiving and lands you, eventually, on Larry King.

So fortunately, Debbie, whose suddenly wistful-sounding momblogging mission at is "making travel with kids fun," has asked a child development expert's advice on how to make travel with kids, if not fun, at least not emotionally scarring for life. Fine.

Now that that's covered, though, I want to know how to talk to my kids about the outrage and injustice these encounters represent? How do you prepare a kid to deal with being subject to police power--to survive, first and foremost, of course, but also to maintain one's autonomy, dignity, integrity, how to assert one's rights with confidence and fear, but with respect for their counterpart's humanity? How do I talk to my kids about the responsibility of an engaged citizen toward such needless violations, and about the role of the state and its relationship to the individual? And finally, something that I've wondered ever since the September afternoon in New York nine years ago, how can you still have hope for the world when the forces that be align to instill and confirm fear at every turn?

And that's why I went with the headline I did. Just as involved dads suddenly awake to the hostility of the American workplace to family issues--the discrimination working moms have known all too well for decades--maybe the current TSA search controversy can awaken the entire traveling population to the abuses of power and injustice that some of us, the browner ones, have been dealing with for decades.

Under Rudy Giuliani, the NYPD routinely subjected tens of thousands of African American and Latino men each year to illegal strip searches and police stop-and-frisks. Presumably, parents of kids in the affected communities have taught their kids how to deal with the unjust reality they were likely to face.

In short, then, can the lessons hard-learned from Driving While Black help us--and help us help our kids--make sense of the new crime of Flying While American?

How to talk to your kids about TSA pat-downs [sic] []


It kind of drives me crazy to consider that so many people feel entitled to travel anywhere without consequence. I agree with you that the latest barrage of amendments to civil liberties are without justification and that they have the potential to impact our children, teaching them a kind of learned-helplessness that places its focus in a government over-reaching its charter. But I ask, why anyone conscience of the inevitability of these problems would choose to travel via an air plane … ever?
Security checks at our nation’s rail service stations are nearly non-existent. Kids who ride the train with their parents are likely to be enthusiastically welcomed by staff both at the station and while onboard the train. Add to this that it gives parents that much more quality time to spend with their kids.
If you’re investing in an airline ticket you’re also investing in the infrastructure that supports that mode of travel (regardless of its necessity). None of us seemingly are part of this decision making process, the Federal security apparatus in the States has found a way to insist on its own autonomy and is not subject to the will of the people it’s supposed to protect. Add to this the lost opportunity that air travel represents and any alternative mode of travel becomes a better candidate. Rail travel, on existing lines with existing stock, happens to be the best value for the money.

I hope you're not saying that US rail travel, as it exists today, is the best value for money. That would be silly.

@Matt: I'll remember that next time I want to leave New York to visit my sister in Seattle or my brother in Minneapolis.

@Greg: Great post.

@Matt, there are people who live outside of the US you know? I happen to live in South Korea. My friends and I are currently glad to be here since this country has not yet adopted the draconian measures. However, we are nervous about returning to the US in time. Are we supposed to take a ship?

@Greg, fantastic post. Sharing.

@ Matt: Another voice from South Korea. For those of us lucky enough to be able to have them sent, it takes our personal goods 6 weeks AT LEAST to travel here from the states (via ship). Any idea how much leave my husband gets A YEAR? 2 weeks. 2. So by your reasoning, we should never go home for a visit. Because by the time we got 1/6 of the way across the ocean, It would be time to turn around & come back. Not ever partaking of air travel is NOT the answer here. There needs to be a substantial draw-down of the nanny state in many different ways. This latest TSA insanity is only one area.

Greg, if you come up with an answer to these questions, let us know. For now, I'm not taking the family to visit my brother and his children in London, for the same reason we don't watch the nightly news with our kids--I don't want them to see people treating each other that way.

My problem is that people actually believe that all these scanners, pat-downs and strip searches are making us safer. How many terrorists has the TSA caught with these screenings? Zero!
The best protection against another 9/11 is the locked cockpit and informed citizens. Who stopped the shoe bomber? Passengers. Who stopped the underwear bomber? Passengers. Who will stop the next terrorist? Passengers! None of these guys were stopped by any screenings done at the airport. They were stopped by informed passengers who are not willing to die...

I reached my saturation point when I went to the airport to see my daughter off, on a short trip from Dallas to Amarillo. As my teenage daughter worked her way through the line, I watched as the TSA goons required a little toddler girl to take off her princess slippers so they could check them for shoe bombs. And that was a couple of years ago, before the "enhanced" screenings.

The scene was surreal. The lobby of Dallas Love Field is inlaid with a map of the world, representing the freedom we have to travel anywhere thanks to the miracle of flight. That map was criss-crossed with the TSA's barriers, and crowded with people waiting to get permission from the goon squad before they could even go to the next state over. The symbolism was overwhelming.

Don't you figure Osama and his cronies are laughing their butts off, knowing that we've willingly given up our freedom? Wasn't that their goal in the first place?

ah, but according to the NBC Nightly News last night Europeans willingly subject themselves to all this security without complaint because, you see, they are more willing to put the greater good above their individual needs... I just about died when I heard that last night. *sigh*

This is really a great post, Greg. I love that you compared it to "driving while black", so true. I recently read a great post by a Black momblogger about how issues like Attachment Parenting and teaching your children to speak their mind are totally different for her as the mother of Black sons, because she *has to* always remember while parenting that a young Black man can easily lose his life for speaking up. It was a powerful and sobering read.

This crap is yet another reason why we moved across the country this Summer, so we could be within driving distance from family.

Great article and good discussion in the comments. I recently wrote on this topic as well. I take issue with the loss of liberty/dignity for the illusion of safety. I agree with the assertion that the only way to defeat terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. We live in a world full of danger, we do what we can, reasonably, to avoid the dangers and we go about our lives trying to enjoy them. We will all die some day and most of us will face death earlier than we should because we didn’t eat right, we drank too much, we smoked too much and we didn’t exercise… not because we didn’t allow bureaucrats to check out our private parts.

Check my page for more on my point of view (just a stay home dad and son of an airline pilot) or just watch this little cartoon I made illustrating the rediculous nature of these TSA procedures at the link below.

I just returned from 12 days in Asia and I did quite a bit of inter-Asia traveling and if you want to relive security circa 1990, try it. No shoes off, very short lines, maybe two agents per line. I think I saw a few people get patted down but not many. I work in the transportation industry and spent quite a bit of time at ocean terminals and the security there is far more lax than in the states. In Shanghai we simply drove out to Yangshan, a terminal located at the end of a man made 32 kilometer causeway. We then drove up to an observation point that overlooked the entire place. No stops, nobody questioned us even when we bumped into some PR Military, they just said hello. Maybe the Chinese understand the margins here and if they were ever attacked would simply never allow in anyone from said ethnic group to their country.

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