Flying While Black and Reading Antique Aviation Books lands folk musician in Security Theater Hell

Via the ACLU and the Boston Globe, a first-hand account of how "security theater" makes us no safer, and a lot less free.

Massachussetts-based folk musician Vance Gilbert (Twitter), a law-abiding citizen who is black, 6 feet tall, and loves poodles, was harassed and humiliated on a flight out of Boston—apparently in part because he was reading book about old-time airplanes.

The TSA scanners and screeners had no problem with him. His problems began after he boarded his United Airlines flight, and appear to have been the work of the flight crew.

Here is his account, shared with the ACLU. He titled it "Racial Profiling First Hand," and signs the essay, "Flying While Black & Reading Antique Aviation Books." Snip:

Policeman: "Did you have a problem with your bag earlier?"

Me: "No sir, not at all. The flight attendant wanted it secured elsewhere other than behind my feet, and I opted to put it under the seat in front of me. It's my wallet, even though there's only 30 bucks in it…And all that was done without belligerence, or words for that matter…it was all good.

A few beats…

Policeman: "Sir, were you looking at a book of airplanes?"

Me: "Yes sir I was. I am a musician for money, but for fun I study old aircraft and build models of them, and the book I was reading was of Polish Aircraft from 1946."

Policeman: "Would you please go get that book so that i can see it?"

I go back onto the plane – all eyes are on me like I was a common criminal. Total humiliation part 2.

After a couple of minutes he says, "Why, this is all Snoopy Red Baron stuff…"

Me: "Yes sir, actually the triplane you see is Italian, from 1921 a little after World War 1…"

"Racial Profiling First Hand" (, via @lizditz)

Vance Gilbert's music is pretty great. You can buy it and support the guy here.

The ACLU is pretty great, too, and you can support them here.

Related: this Boston Globe item, "Musician 'humiliated' on flight." James Fallows wrote about Gilbert's ordeal in The Atlantic.