As the fevered pitch around the Transportation Security Administration screenings gets even more fevered on the busiest travel days of the year, it's worth noting that, for some Americans, embarrassing frisks are de rigueur.
The man who first pointed this out to me is New York Times reporter David Carr, who tweeted, "White people aren't used to having the hands of state on them. Black folks know all about stop and frisk."
Carr is right about that, at least as far as New York City goes. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the NYPD's stop-and-frisk tactic, in which officers stop citizens on the street and search their bodies and bags, was used on 149,753 New Yorkers in the first three months of 2010. Of those frisked, 85 percent were black or Latino. Even more shocking is that 87 percent of those stopped were completely innocent.
Juxtapose New York's stop-and-frisk nonsense with the TSA's new "pat-down searches," which many people are calling invasive. In many ways, it would seem more important to ensure that a flier doesn't have a bomb than to ensure that a New Yorker doesn't have an unregistered gun — yet you wouldn't think it from the relative outrage among citizens and the media.
John Tyner, a traveler who warned a TSA agent not to touch his "junk" during a routine search, sparked a nationwide call for airline passengers to refuse full-body scans and force the pat-downs — thus causing massive delays at the airport-security lines — while heading home for the holidays. Ultimately, the call to boycott was largely ignored, but the issue of TSA boundaries is one that's surely set to divide the nation during the next several weeks of busy holiday travel. In fact, it's already taken up space in most, if not all, newspapers, magazines and blogs of record, with pundits of all stripes attacking the issue from every angle imaginable.
I personally think that people should deal with it. Vigorous searches related to air travel are the price one pays both to live in modernity and to enjoy the convenience of flying around the world on planes. Avoiding airport pat-downs — the likes of which bouncers give at nightclubs all the time — has never been a right, just as flying home for Thanksgiving instead of driving isn't a right.
But what's more interesting, especially amid all the TSA madness, is the dearth of attention given to the stop-and-frisk searches taking place across the country every single day. As Carr notes, invasive searches are a fact of life for many blacks, who can work to put themselves through Harvard and yet still be misidentified as "local gangbangers" by their neighbors.
In the end, Charles Krauthammer couldn't care less when it's a black kid from the Bronx getting pushed against the wall and having his pockets emptied by the NYPD, but when he and his friends are faced with the indignity of being treated like criminals, he's livid:
Don't touch my junk is the anthem of the modern man, the Tea Party patriot, the late-life libertarian, the midterm-election voter. Don't touch my junk, Obamacare — get out of my doctor's examining room; I'm wearing a paper-thin gown slit down the back. Don't touch my junk, Google — Street View is cool, but get off my street. Don't touch my junk, you airport-security goon — my package belongs to no one but me, and do you really think I'm a Nigerian nut job preparing for my 72-virgin orgy by blowing my johnson to kingdom come?
Yeah, do you really think he's a "Nigerian nut job"? He's white, isn't he?
Cord Jefferson is The Root's Washington reporter. Follow him on Twitter.