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Racism in US Customs

Dear Rudy,

Last week you asked for stories regarding experiences while going through US Customs. It reminded me that I've been meaning to write you regarding your interview with a US Customs official a couple of months ago.

Talk to ANY African American about U.S. air travel and FWB (Flying While Black) will come up in the conversation. Hence, I very disappointed in your interview with the customs official, as you didn't ask, much less confront, him about the common racism in that line of work.

I'm an African American who has had many negative and distressingly consistent experiences with customs officers during dozens of "re-entries". Here's the formula I've learned: At some airports and border crossings the traveler has a choice of customs officials (who do the interview). If I do not pick a white male I will be asked the bare minimum of questions and waved through in a matter of seconds. If it is a white male (often you have no choice) I will be given the third degree, spoken to as if I had already broken a law and my belongings will be pawed through without concern for fragile items.

The only time I wasn't treated in this fashion by a white male customs officer was when I was traveling from Mexico with my wife who was carrying a box of strange looking cultural artifacts (he was nearly drooling over that!).

I returned from Mexico a couple of weeks ago and with my "I showered this morning" look for the dreaded customs interrogation. I was pleased as punch to see that I not only had a choice of customs officer's but one of them appeared to be Latino. I quickly got with him and, as predicted, he asked a bare minimum of questions. But, as he was waving me through a white male officer who appeared to be a supervisor (he had a snappier uniform) working the neighboring line looked over his shoulder, saw me, and started asking the Latino officer about my belongings. By this time I was high-tailing it out the door as I heard the Latino officer explain what he thought I had in my possession. Pretty sad, huh?.




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