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Flying While Black
A Whistleblower's Story
by Cathy Harris 337 pp
ISBN 1-881524-90-6
Milligan Books California

Book Reviewed by Carol Taylor  

Ms Harris has written a powerhouse of a book. It should contain a warning, because it reveals enough accounts of her (United States Treasury Department)- U.S. Customs Service-induced personal (and family) suffering as well as other evil blatant racist/colorist acts, to make readers wet the pages with their tears. 

As I read through the twenty-six Appendices, all of a sudden, bells rang in my head as Appendix G appeared - it was written by Derwin Brown, without doubt one of America's unsung heros, who was gunned down soon after he became the Sheriff of Decatur, Georgia. His first paragraph might cause the same "clunk-into-place" question about his murder (which no one has solved) in the reader's mind as it did in mine, and stands as an awesome testimony to the fine judgement Ms Harris used to reproduce it. Why was he killed and who killed him?

"Many Americans, particularly African-Americans, have enthusiastically applauded President Clinton for attempting to discuss the race issue on a national platform. His mobile town hall meetings on racism have appeared very controlled and without the stinging edge that the topic usually raises when discussed just about anyplace else. However you view the success or failure of this traveling sideshow, one thing is crystal clear, and that is the President's failure to handle racism in his own backyard. I personally refrain from using the term racism preferring the more accurate term "White Supremacy." To me it is more descriptive of the system that allows racism to be acted out against people of color. Even as President Clinton's Commission on race carries out its duties, racism permeates the Department of Agriculture, which appears dead set on driving the Black farmer into extinction. Then, there is the U.S. Justice Department. Would you believe me if I told you that every bureau in this department has a class-action lawsuit pending with African-Americans as the plaintiffs? Why hasn't the President started the discussion on racism in the nation's capitol, in his own back yard? Clinton's inability or reluctance to straighten out his own house makes me question his sincerity and motivation for his national race relations initiative. Why hasn't any editorialist posed this question? 

In the midst of this chilling literary roller coaster ride, Harris describes the former New York City Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly as "The Hatchet Man" who, as the Bill Clinton-appointed Commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service, (Harris' boss) has a reputation for illegally terminating Black employees, and according to her, has taken the Customs Service, the oldest federal agency, back twenty years. Black women, especially, are warned time and time again, in accounts of hideous torture of mostly Black females by U.S. Customs Inspectors, mostly white, arrogant males, of the high probability of being stopped, frisked, body-cavity-searched, detained for hours at local hospitals, forced to take laxatives, bowel-monitored and subjected to public and private racist/colorist humiliation. (Thank goodness, however, Flying While Black provides numerous preventions and remedies!)  

Of the top Ports of Entry (POE's) in this nation, including Atlanta, where Ms Harris was based, Los Angeles, Miami and New York, Baltimore, Maryland is listed as one of the worst ports for Black women travelers. (Tell ALL of your Black female relatives and friends! Harris states, many times, that the depredation is still going on!) (my emphasis) It took Harris five years to expose the port of Atlanta and the abuses of Black travelers. Despite Commissioner of Customs Services Ray Kelly's denials of 'airport-color-profiling,' the "unwritten rule of the port"- Harris writes - had always been to go after Black travelers. She was most disturbed by the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (despite the fact that Harris had an exemplary record as an employee and that there had been numerous complaints filed about the egregious situations within the Customs Service) was aware of the magnitude (my emphasis) of the retaliation and victimization currently going on by the Customs Service officials against EEO complainants, witnesses and their EEO counselors! 

Flying while Black is a virtual compendium for Black liberation and should be a "reading must" for anyone, especially Black female travelers, not only to read but to carry with them as a critical reference for their survival. What Edward M. Fox, Esq., the lawyer for a class-action lawsuit brought by nearly 90 Black females against the Custom Services, has described as a 'Kafkaesque scenario,' is that these females were held incommunicado during horrendous torture. And if the readers up to now think that the surreal accounts Harris provides are limited only to outrageous depraved treatment of humans, a letter by Congressman John Lewis to the Secretary of the Treasury describing how the head of the Canine Inspection Unit, "...has trained the dogs to 'sit down' (or identify) Black travelers," will shock that thought completely out of their heads. And I haven't even relayed the information about the "Black-baby-killing" the United States Customs carries out as it "routinely violates its own regulations ." (my emphasis) 

Give thanks to Cathy Harris for her gargantuan work. She is surely the 'Rosa Parks of the Customs Service of the United States of America.'


TRUE DEMOCRACY     FALL 2001     Copyright © 2001 by News Sourse, Inc.