Tuesday, 23 2016
Politics of Performance of Black Authenticity
Prof. Jasmine Johnson
Travel is an experience footnoted by race, class, and gender. For example, never am I
simply a human traveling. Always, I am a black female identified, poor, person requesting the
transition from one local to the next. These political spatial transitions are riddled with
contradictions. I must navigate the privilege of American citizenship, English tongue, and lighter
skin while contending with a context of disenfranchisement and violence native to American
black cis womanhood. In doing so I am asked, both verbally and nonverbally: what business
does a person like me have moving between borders? In these ways, travel is always political.
This essay is concerned specifically with traveling experiences I’ve had in airports. From
the ticket booth to security checkpoint, it employs the theories of possessive investment in
whiteness, racial formations and Browne’s theories on surveillance to exploring the politicization
of multiple experiences I’ve had airports all over the country. It works to find language to
critique the ways assumed, class, gender, and sexuality facilitate effects these experiences.
This critique is in conversation with Simone Browne in that it works to do what she
describes as “[situating] airports as sites of learning [in order] to take seriously the pedagogical
possibilities embedded in its performance and procedures” (Browne 141). This essay argues, that
airports are a nerve center for the socially sanctioned surveillance of, and discrimination against
marginalized bodies, on a basis of perceived race, gender and class. Surveillance, indicative of a
possessive investment in whiteness, a commitment to reinforcing racial formations, and a
preservation of violent and disenfranchising interpretations of racial signifiers.
In the interest of providing necessary context, I begin by defining the theories used. The
first theory is from George Lipsitz’s Possessive Investment in Whiteness. He describes this
theory as the “creation of social structures that generate economic advantages for European
through conscious and deliberate actions which have institutionalized group identity in the
United States” (Lipsitz 2). The second theory employed here is taken from Michael Omi and
Howard Winant’s Racial Formations. They describe racial formations as: “the process, [by
which] racial categories themselves are formed, transformed, destroyed and reformed” (Omi and
Winant 12). Finally, this essay employs Simone Brown’s What Did TSA find in Solange's Fro?
as a lens for complicating, comprehensively the experiences that follow. It is important to note
that this is a compilation of airport experiences I’ve had over the years and while all of the
dialogue and places are based in truth even as the times and locations change.
It is two in the morning on July 4th, 2014 and I am stranded in Fort Lauderdale, Florida
airport. The flight I...