It wasn’t difficult for me to get back in the country in October. It was as simple as hopping off the plane from Mexico, waiting through a line and checking off a few boxes. When I handed my passport and customs form to the Border Patrol Agent, he didn’t ask any questions, just glanced down and sent me on my way.
As a white female student, nobody gave me a second thought through the Dallas airport.
But while I didn’t have any trouble getting back in the country, some of my classmates did.
I was traveling with nine other students and two professors as a part of a semester-long program studying human rights in North and Latin America, migration and identity. Due to the short layover, we were given TSA Pre-Check passes to speed up the security process after re-checking our luggage. Entering security, we were redirected to a different checkpoint with shorter lines, not an unusual occurrence at a busy airport.
At the new checkpoint, when we tried to present our freshly generated Pre-Check clearances, they were rejected with no explanation, and we were pointed to the normal security lines. The attendant split up our group – a blonde blue-eyed woman, a white man, and I were placed in one line, and the other students were sent to a different, longer line, even though they were on the same flights as us and were wearing the same university apparel as us.
The difference? Our classmates were all non-white, except for one student who is white but has a tan complexion. All of us were stunned. We had spent two months at that point discussing discrimination against non-white humans in the Americas, and now it was happening to our group.
It wasn’t until later that I learned of the harsh treatment that two of my classmates sustained while trying to assist a burdened mother carrying her child with their belongings through security. As my classmates tried to help her, a TSA agent yelled at them and kicked over one of their bags, spilling its contents onto the floor.
I didn’t hear until later of the racial slurs muttered by strangers under their breath at our Korean-American classmate, just loud enough so she could hear. Or of the repeated pushing of our Peruvian professor by a TSA agent to move out of the security area faster.
This type of difficulty doesn’t just exist when traveling internationally -- this incident occurred in a domestic terminal.
I didn’t experience the worst of the conduct, nor can I claim to have experienced this type of discrimination in the ways that I know my classmates and the broader populations of minorities in America do routinely.
Yet, as a white observer in this scenario, I can acknowledge from my privileged vantage point that the discomfort and strife endured by my colleagues was both discriminatory and uncalled for.
Airport security is important. Nobody wants to fly on an unsafe plane. However, racism doesn’t need to be part of the equation, and there is certainly no place for it from fellow travelers.
So, as the holiday travel season picks up – although really, it shouldn’t take the holiday spirit to elicit common courtesy – let’s all do our best, whether we’re airport security or fellow passengers, to be considerate and kind to all to make traveling, life, and the holidays a little brighter for everyone.
Rebecca Hall is a junior at Duke University from Hudson, North Carolina, majoring in public policy studies.