I've spent the last week in freezing cold Winnipeg, Canada for some training for school with a colleague from school. The people there bent over backwards to make us feel welcome: bringing us gifts, ordering us lunch, arranging transportation for us, and indulging in wonderful conversations. It was truly above and beyond what I had expected and made leaving the beautiful warm springtime in Delhi a lot more bearable.
And while it was incredibly cold there, we enjoyed Winnipeg and tried to make the most of our few days here. Our last night there, we ventured downtown and spent a few hours touring the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. It was amazing on every level. The architecture was awesome and the museum collections were empowering. I wavered between feeling stronger about how far we've come and having a heavy heart about what we've done and how far we still have to go. It was quite moving.
So as my colleague and I headed to the airport yesterday, we both never expected to feel the way we did.
I wrote this approximately thirty minutes after the incident with a still fast-beating heart, my body temperature raised, and my fingers having a difficult time typing:
Our flight carries us from Canada, through America to Paris and then back on to India. And since the moment we walked up to the door to the US Customs room, I've watched firsthand the racial discrimination that has taken place by the TSA.
My colleague was ahead of me and is not a US Citizen. Before walking into the room, the gentleman who had been scanning tickets at the door, took her to a separate counter in the room to scan and stamp her ticket. Mine was not stamped, and he stayed at this counter for the remaining passengers so I thought little of it.
As we approached the baggage scan, she continued first and the lady who took her ticket at the bag scanning looked at it questionably and took it to someone else to discuss. She told her that she would have to put her through screening, then she allowed my colleague through the metal detector as she called to a lady on the other side while holding up 4 fingers. The lady pulled my colleague aside after she cleared the first metal detector with no alarms going off. My colleague then had to go through the body scan 2 times as they weren't coming out clear and then all of her bags were wiped down after going through the baggage x-ray. I, on the other hand, went right behind her in the process and had no issues. We have the same plane ticket, but different nationalities; I feel sure this is the only reason she was flagged.
My colleague was visibly upset by this, as was I. Frankly, I was speechless at first. A part of me wanted to deny it thinking They do body scans for almost everybody; I'm surprised it isn't part of the process for everyone here. and Maybe it was just a misunderstanding or maybe the US is on high-alert. All of those are simply excuses. High alert doesn't mean racial profiling. It doesn't mean automatic discrimination of certain groups. And high-alert would mean that everyone would go through the body scan. Not just my friend. And I knew for sure that this wasn't just "random."
We made our way to customs where we decided to go through that as a couple rather than singles, which I think put us both at ease.
We went through all of that less than an hour ago and I've spent the entire time at the gate waiting while surfing the web to file a complaint against the TSA. I'm still shaking and still upset by all of this and by the impact it had on my friend. We are both wondering simply why she was harassed so much. If you knew her, you'd know that she's a kind mother and teacher who is studious and is a true "rule-follower." You'd know that something like this (which she confessed she also experienced on the leg to the United States TO our conference as well - we were separated for 2/3 of the trip) affects her emotionally and I imagine will stain her trip and her appreciation for traveling in the US.
The irony of all of this falls on the heels of our visit to the Canadian Human Rights Museum. As we left the museum feeling empowered and hopeful and walked into a situation where her human rights were obviously not met. Thanks, TSA. The two of us spent the remainder of our travel side-by-side, looking out for each other. Thankfully, France and India were much easier.