The Pleasures and Pains of Being Black in First Class

“I’m really sick of paying for customer service that doesn’t seem to be granted to people who look like me when I travel”

Jamilah Lemieux
Published in
4 min readAug 15, 2018


Illustration: Richard A. Chance

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A quick downward glance confirmed that the word was still printed in big bold letters at the bottom of my boarding pass, just as it had been when I printed it out 10 minutes earlier. So, no, my airline status had not been snatched from me when I slipped outside to quickly hit my vape pen before approaching a TSA agent who would kill my high before it even kicked in.

I was at LaGuardia Airport for an early flight to a professional conference in Detroit, and though I wasn’t late, I had a limited window of time to get a snack before boarding. One of those moments in which my hard-earned Platinum frequent-flyer designation should come in handy; I’d get to bypass the long gen-pop line and be shuffled through the lane for those who either fly often (me!) or exclusively in first/business class (definitely not me!).

Yet, the TSA agent — a Black man about my own age — had different plans. He’d almost instinctively sent a young white woman straight through to the priority lane (I peeped her ticket; she wasn’t supposed to be there) before glancing at my boarding pass and sending me to the regular line.

I wouldn’t tell this story at all if this didn’t happen more times than I can count.

“But isn’t that priority?” I asked. He looked down again. “Oh, yeah. Go ahead.”

I wouldn’t tell this story at all if this didn’t happen more times than I can count. It’s something I’ve experienced with similarly absurd indicators of one’s worth: hotel loyalty clubs, VIP lines, executive lounges, private events. It’s the extra ID checks, the poring over a slight difference in the formatting of my name on my passport versus other official…