People are in an uproar about the new TSA full body scanners and invasive searches. And for good reason, as myself and many others believe they constitute an invasion of bodily autonomy and a form of sexual harassment. But I have to wonder if we would be here today if this much noise had been made about previous discriminatory and invasive TSA policies.
Here’s the thing: airport security has been problematic for a long time. Since 9/11 security checkpoints have become a major site for racial and religious profiling, something that is still very much going on today with rules that target Muslims. Transgender and gender non-conforming folks became a target when the Secure Flight program began requiring travelers to match the gender on their IDs. There were of course social justice responses, but nothing on the scale of the backlash we are hearing now. And the new security procedures only increase the danger for and potential targeting of trans folks.
All of this makes me wonder: what would have happened if we had heard an outcry like the one we are hearing now when the TSA was mostly a problem for trans folks and those targeted by racial profiling? What if everyone was this upset by threats to the rights of minority groups?
This is why I believe in building our politics around the needs of the most marginalized. People who experience oppression as members of a marginalized group may benefit marginally from work done to win rights for people with more power and privilege, but generally their needs will be ignored. If someone is experiencing racial or gender profiling that the general public does not experience that needs to be addressed directly.
However, those with power and privilege do benefit when victories are won for those in the margins. Their issues would not be excluded by politics that center the needs of those with less power and privilege. Further, they might not even have to face a certain issue: if this kind of uproar had happened around racial profiling or the Secure Flight program maybe the TSA would have learned that threats to personal liberty are not an acceptable way to maintain “security” and that they would need to find other methods.
Standing up for the needs of the most marginalized in a given situation isn’t just the right thing to do: I believe it is the strategic action to take to avoid increased discrimination or oppression in the future and to win victories that benefit the most people. The current situation with the TSA reads to me, as a member of the transgender community who has been concerned about TSA policies for a long time now, as a sign of what happens when not enough attention is paid when marginalized folks are getting screwed.