I’m on my tiptoes. I’m starting to get grumpy. What is taking so long? There is nothing in the bag. I try to stay calm, but I’m getting annoyed. If this is because they have to check the blueberries, I’m going to lose my mind.
Everyone is going before me, and my calves are starting to burn because I will not put my heels on this filthy sticky floor. It’s gross. My clogs are in the bin with the tote bag they are holding for whatever reason.
One guy with a shoe bomb, and there are still automatic weapons for sale at Walmart. Two million women sued them for gender discrimination in the largest class action lawsuit of all time. Walmart won. Fuck Walmart.
I’m intermittently turning my back to the TSA and breathing deeply into the balls of my feet because this is no big deal. It’s been a total of five minutes. I have plenty of time to get to my gate. This is not a real problem.
I’m also doing the thing when you go to the bathroom at the restaurant, and your food comes out. Except every time I turn around from deep breathing, my bag is not waiting.
I look around the pillar to the x-ray machine in escalating exhaustion. Like, this is actually starting to be an inconvenience. What is the hold up? What could possibly be the problem? I’m sure I left all the weed in the drawer at my mom’s.
Finally, a young woman comes toward me holding my bag. I’m waving and smiling like I haven’t made it obvious that I’m the one waiting.
“Here, you can have your shoes,” she says pleasantly as she hands them to me.
I thank her because giving me my shoes was really nice, and I stay nice, but I’m also prepared for her to tell me I can’t bring my blueberries on the plane. So, I’m on guard.
I worked really hard cleaning those blueberries and picking out the moldy ones from three different containers, and I am trying to eat healthy and not waste food or money, and it’s been a rough four years, and I am just starting to feel good again, and I need to have that bag of blueberries for this flight because they mean a lot to me, for a lot of reasons.
“What’s the problem?” I ask.
“There’s a knife in the bag,” she says plainly.
A fucking knife? No way.
“A knife?” I ask, like I didn’t hear her, and then clearly state, “No,” while shaking my head.
There’s no way there is a knife in there. I wouldn’t have a knife in my carry-on. That’s ridiculous. And then I remember, at the last minute, I grabbed a little to-go pack with a napkin and plastic cutlery, in case I found a salad or something.
“Oh, a plastic knife?” I say, still nice, but like, are you serious? That’s why I have been waiting eight whole minutes? A plastic knife? This is a joke, but at least it’s not the blueberries.
She checks the screen with the x-ray and says, “No, there is a large knife in here, ma’am.”
I can’t believe it until, now, suddenly, I do. I remember the massive chopping knife I brought camping, and I remember bringing it downstairs to my mom’s kitchen before leaving for the airport. I do not remember taking it out of my bag.
“Oh my god! There is a knife in there!”
I am instantly cold-sweating, “I went camping!”
I am choked. I am shocked. I cannot believe it. I do not break rules. Mostly. I certainly do not bring knives on to planes in my Strand bag full of books and face masks and fruit.
She senses my meltdown as she keeps digging for the knife. I’m apologizing. I feel faint. I feel hot tears pulling up to my colorless face.
I say, “I think I’m going to cry.”
She says, “Don’t do that.”
I cannot believe this knife is in this bag. It is gigantic. It’s as big as the bag. It is bigger than all the kitchen knives ever made. It has a red handle and a red sheath and is in my estimation at least one hundred times bigger than a Swiss Army knife.
“It’s ok,” she says with a small smile as she finds the knife and pulls it like a standing lamp from Mary Poppins’s bag.
We are divided by the search table, looking at each other. She has the humongous weapon in her hand. I’m waiting for her to tell me what is going to happen until she asks what I want to do with the knife. What I want to do with it.
I’m confused until it connects for me that I am not in trouble. So, I make this big I-was-once-an-improviser body movement with waving arms and a rolling head to exclaim, “Oh my goodness just throw it away!”
I start profusely apologizing again and thanking her as she’s giving me the bag. I’m gripping my heart so tightly I can only use one hand to take my things back.
“Don’t worry about it,” she says kindly, commanding all my attention, “it happens.”
She turns to get rid of the red knife and I turn away in shock, free to walk to my gate.
How the hell could I be so stupid to have that knife in my bag? What the fuck is wrong with me? Lauren. Terrible job. Really bad work. What am I thinking? God. I need to calm down. Just take a minute to breathe and get organized. This is a lot.
What if I were the kind of woman who traveled with a knife like that? What if I were the kind of woman who could wield it in a fight? What if I were Sydney Bristow or Laura Croft? I would not be sweating. I’d be kicking ass. I’ve always wanted to kick ass.
There are still wet beads rolling down my back. I’m still shaking and cloudy when I’m all packed up to walk the terminal. I’m telling myself, It’s done. It’s over. Get an americano and get on the plane. You’re fine.
And then. What if I were wearing hijab? Oh my god, Lauren.
What if I didn’t speak the language? What if my skin weren’t white? What would all that panic look like? What happens to another woman who cries at airport security because of the knife in her carry-on?
Because I just found out what happens to the blonde, white American.
She gets to walk away.
What if the roles were reversed? What if the young woman of color who checked my bag was traveling? What if she was on her tiptoes and cranky because I took too long? What if she rolled her eyes and said, “A plastic knife?” when I had already seen the x-ray?
Would I have given her shoes back so quickly? Would I have interpreted her cold-sweating as wrong-doing? Would I have told her not to worry, it happens?
I’d like to say I’d share her kindness. I’d like to say I wouldn’t request a body search or detain her or cancel her travels. But that’s not the point. The point is that white women uphold racism and patriarchy, historically and statistically, all the time, at grave cost to everyone, particularly women of color.
The point is that if another woman had that knife in her bag, it is not an exaggeration to say that it could have ruined her life. It could have taken her life. She could have died.
Maybe a woman has a flustered morning. She’s not quite ready to say goodbye to her mom who is recovering from surgery. She wants to leave the room clean and during the final look around she sees the big knife in the bathroom. Packing is weird.
Maybe she slips the knife in her carry-on because it’s already on her shoulder and her hands are full and she’s not coming back upstairs. Downstairs she puts her heavy bags on the porch and makes a cup of coffee. She forgets about the knife and heads to the airport.
Maybe TSA’s policy is to simply confiscate the weapon. Maybe, in theory, everybody walks away. Maybe there is a clause allowing further questioning and searches if contraband is found. And that clause, if it exists, did not pertain to me.
I walk away. For me, it’s a mistake. It happens.
I think that one of the ways I can understand the racism inside of me, the racism I perpetuate and the racist structures holding up everything around us, is to examine the ways that I benefit from racism and white supremacy.
And this right here, eating blueberries in a seat with extra legroom after an airport security search produced an ten-inch blade from my bag? This is white privilege. This is my benefiting from whiteness and the belief that whiteness is safe and good.
It’s acting like my knife is blueberries and getting treated like my knife is blueberries when everyone else’s blueberries are knives.
It’s wondering if I could be a spy instead of preparing for a cavity search. It’s getting an americano instead of getting a lawyer. It’s two people, making the same mistake, and one of them lives and one of them dies.
That’s white privilege. It shapes me more than my favorite albums or my friends or my families’ values. It steers my steps to open doors and getaways. It takes up just as much space as the misogyny, sexualization, violence, and dismissal that comes with this womanhood. It is this womanhood. To treat it as anything less is dangerous.