The President’s partial government shutdown is sneaking up on two weeks long and the essential personnel that work for unfunded sectors of the government are working without pay – through the holiday season, which is an added cruelty. In Atlanta, the most visible face of those working for no pay are Black people – Black TSA agents.

Let’s take a moment to speak plainly.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workers at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport are nearly 100 percent Black people. The official demographic data is difficult to come by, but having been through the airport hundreds of times in the past few years, this claim is at least experientially true. 

The people who stand outside the security line to tell you which way to pre-check versus general are Black. The boarding pass and ID scanners are Black. The x-ray machine attendants are Black. The people who pick up the bins off the conveyor belt are Black. The people who wave the wand looking for explosives are Black. The supervisors that sit on the raised security altar before you go down to board the plane-train are all Black. The security who sit at the entrance to the T-gates to make sure exiting passengers exit, are nearly always Black.

TSA agents in Atlanta are Black people being forced to work for no pay.

Plainly, they are working for no pay because the President wants to keep Brown people from entering the country. The warring ideals over the complexity of comprehensive immigration reform and the methodology of border security are semantic obfuscations of the simplicity of that basic fact.

Black people in the country are being forced to suffer to prolong the suffering of Brown people outside of it. The inhumanity of the whole ordeal is glaring. While the face of suffering in Atlanta is the face of Black people, workers affected across the country are Americans of all stripes.

But who are the Black TSA workers?

The starting salary for a TSA worker in Atlanta is approximately $38,000 per year. If the government withholds approximately 25% in taxes, those workers take home approximately $28,500 per year – $548 per week, about $110 per day. When the shutdown extends beyond 2 weeks, that means people will not get their checks.  They will not receive the approximately $1,100 they need to live through the middle weeks of the month – food, transportation, gas, rent, car notes, child care – are all in jeopardy.

Atlanta is already among the US cities with the highest income inequality, and the lowest levels economic mobility and both correlate precisely with race. The average household income for Black people in the city of Atlanta is $28,500 per year. The federal poverty level for a family of 4 is $25,100 per year. With an annual take home income of approximately $30,000, Black TSA workers are living on the precipice of poverty. They cannot afford not to be paid. There is no financial cushion. The destitution of Black Atlanta families is on the other side of this cliff, not border security.

This is not a trivial number of people. Hartsfield Jackson International Airport is not only the busiest airport in the world, serving nearly 275,000 passengers everyday, it is the largest employer in the state. 63,000 people work there, more than 1,000 of whom are federal TSA workers.

In Atlanta, the President is forcing nearly 1,000 Black people to suffer in order to exact his scorn on thousands of Brown people. The wall is merely a monument in service of a racist ideology. As a practical matter, it is the perfect example of the structure of racism.