By Henry Amador-Batten
“You’re going to have to come with us sir” was a phrase I had grown accustomed to hearing each and every time I was boarding a flight.
This was the late 1980’s and I travelled a lot on business.
While mostly from Miami to New York, work often took me to London as well.
This was also when the hit television show Miami Vice was all the rage so I barely batted and eye when this sharply dressed, brown skinned, Hispanic man was so routinely asked to accompany airport security to some out of the way little room.
It became a bit of a joke at work; we made little wagers as to whether or not I would get that tap on the shoulder.
I can’t honestly say that it offended me at the time, inconvenient yes, but insulting?
I had nothing to hide, I had done no wrong and so I would answer their list of questions and get on with business as usual.
Now remember that this was before the TSA was created, it was years before September 11th. It was still a time when terrorist acts on U.S. soil were uncommon. It was also when travelling still retained some form of dignity. You would never have been expected to remove your belt and shoes, or in my case empty out all my belongings in front of strangers on a random table. I even had all the tooth paste squeezed out from its container once. I had rolls of film exposed, hems on suit jackets ripped out and personal notes that were quietly folded in my wallet read aloud in those random rooms.
I also denied feeling embarrassed all those years although I do remember the looks on other travelers faces as I ran on the flight, last one on due to my being detained, shoes and belt in hand, an unzipped bag with things apparently tossed in. In retrospect they were looking at me with an equal mix of curiosity and concern. And still, that younger me still denied being embarrassed or insulted or even angry.
My husband and I were recently talking about racism and discrimination as we often have to do these days and I made the comment that I had never been discriminated against as a gay man, I have never lost a job or a home or even a family member because of who I was when he reminded me that I had indeed been discriminated against, perhaps not for who I was but certainly for how I looked.
I looked at him puzzled and honestly confused when he reminded me of those travelling years.
You were being racially profiled before that was even a common term.
He opened my eyes to something I had never even considered.
We are a transracial family, I am a brown skinned Hispanic man, my husband is white and we are raising two boys of color while living in Durham NC at a time when racial tensions and discrimination are at one of their most dangerous highs.
We are also living in a country that is being torn to bits due to its politics and views on these exact things.
I have to ask myself why I just accepted the way I was treated in all of those different airports. I can only come up with the fact that I was not fed up yet, I had not reached my own personal limit and as often as it occurred it somehow still felt isolated.
What would happen today if I refused to comply?
At that time, those events cost me time and money, today they could cost me my life.
We have only just begun to educate our boys on how to live and stay alive while living brown.
Gratefully I now have a new experience to draw on and share to help them understand what discrimination looks like, how it feels and why they don’t have to be willing to comply as their good ole dad did.
The truth is that our boys are growing up with two dads; this fact within itself will come with its own set of challenges for them, but now we need to teach our children how to stay alive while walking or driving or biking or doing pretty much anything kids should do without any real thought.
My generation grew up carefree and in a way that I fear may be lost. This could perhaps be why I was that easy going and compliant young man.
If my theory is true than my boys, by virtue of the time they live in, will know better.
Oh, they will travel and still be darker skinned sharply dressed men but they will be packing a different set of survival skills than I had to carry.
Universe willing, it will be enough.