Power Play

Tuesday, 19 February 2013
I experienced an interesting moment while flying through LA recently. After going through customs, travelers proceed to baggage claim to pick up their bags and then go through another security check point before entering the area where they re-check their bags. The line for the security check point was very long. You know the drill: children are crying, people are complaining, the area is hot and bags are cumbersome. One woman was even shouting because someone had grabbed her bag which was the same as the one she was holding but not hers... The situation was tiresome. Nonetheless the line was moving, slowly.

As I got closer to the front, I could tell that the two lines were being serviced by three male federal officers. Their podiums were approximately 15 feet from the line and we were to wait behind a red line for them to call us to approach with our entrance cards. No problem. While I noticed that the distance between the officers and travelers created "down time" where the officers were standing alone waiting for the next person to approach as the line stretched on for miles, I'm not here to complain about the lack of efficiency of the design. I wanted to share my interaction with the officer.

He (late 40s, Caucasian, bald) called me up and I approached with a fake but believable smile on my face (I'd already been traveling for eight hours and was tired of standing in line) and said, "Hello, sir" while handing over my card and passport. "Welllllll...." he says, looking at me for what I felt was a long time. "Aren't you just a ray of sunshine?" He smiles, looking me in the eyes and finally glances down at my passport. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and I suddenly felt uncomfortable. The officer peered at my picture and gave a creepy laugh. "My, my, my. Aren't you just beautiful?" Starting to fume because I recognized the undercurrent of a power play, I didn't reply. I was thinking, "Really? The line is wrapping around baggage claim for miles and you want to discuss my looks?" Expecting me to respond, he stopped what he was doing with a creepy smile again and held my documents in his hand. Unfortunately, I caved, feeling a touch of fear and answered, "thank you." He took my card and handed me my passport, hanging onto it for a second longer than necessary. He said, "Have a great day, dear."

Some men (and women) may read this post and think I'm being overly sensitive or perhaps even ungrateful. Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion and I respect a variance of perspectives. However, the behavior of this officer was not friendly, it was unprofessional and worked to solidify the structure of power of the "elite." Not only did he use his position of power (federal officer) to control my behavior, he demeaned my confidence as I approached by diminishing me from a person to an "object."Does he comment on male travelers' appearances? Maybe - but I doubt it.

What is the point of this post? We need to recognize power plays in motion and share our experiences. Perhaps this is a small way to challenge hegemony in our culture. The officer felt he had the right to comment on my appearance and hold my passport until I thanked him for his "compliment." How often do things like this still go on today? I was surprised but not shocked. 

No comments