The head coach for the University of California women’s basketball team says a Southwest Airlines employee confronted her before her flight on Monday and asked her for proof of her relationship to her infant biracial son.
On Monday night, coach Lindsay Gottlieb tweeted about the incident, stating that the agent at Southwest’s ticket counter told her that she needed to “prove” that her son, Jordan Peter Martin, was hers, even though Gottlieb had his passport. Though the agent told her she asked because the mother and son have different last names, Gottlieb tweeted that she theorized it was because she is white and her son is both Black and white.
@SouthwestAir I’m appalled that after approx 50 times flying with my 1 year old son, ticket counter personnel told me I had to “prove” that he was my son, despite having his passport. She said because we have different last name. My guess is because he has a different skin color.— Lindsay Gottlieb (@CoachLindsayG) May 28, 2018
According to CBS San Francisco, Gottlieb gave birth to Jordan on May 7, 2017. Her fiancee and Jordan’s father, Patrick Martin, is Black.
Gottlieb said in the 50 times Jordan had flown with her and the Cal basketball team, this was the first time she was asked “proof.” She said the agent first asked for a birth certificate, citing that it was federally required by law that she verify Jordan’s identity, but then asked to prove Gottlieb’s relation with existing Facebook posts.
Gottlieb went on to ask another mother nearby if she had ever been accosted with the same request despite having a different last name from her child and was told the woman had never been asked. That particular family, however, wasn’t multiracial. “Not shockingly,” Gottlieb wrote.
@SouthwestAir she 1st asked for proof with birth certificate. She then said it’s a “federal law” (not true) but asked me to prove I’m mother with Facebook post.What??Mother next to me said she’s never been asked for proof despite diff last name..not shockingly, not mixed face fam— Lindsay Gottlieb (@CoachLindsayG) May 28, 2018
@SouthwestAir it was demeaning and insensitive, not to mention inefficient. Would have missed flight if it was not delayed. I would advise better training for employees to avoid this happening to others— Lindsay Gottlieb (@CoachLindsayG) May 28, 2018
“It was demeaning and insensitive, not to mention inefficient. Would have missed flight if it was not delayed,” Gottlieb concluded her disclosure. “I would advise better training for employees to avoid this happening to others.”
The family was fine, Gottlieb confirmed. But despite what happened to her and her son, Gottlieb acknowledged on Twitter that she suspected this line of questioning is far more common for “people that don’t look like me”—in other words, mothers and families who aren’t white. Had Gottleib’s fiance brought Jordan on his flight, and the infant looked more white-presenting than Black, the incident could have been far more severe.
We are fine. It was wild, but, I fear, much more common for people that don’t look like me 😢— Lindsay Gottlieb (@CoachLindsayG) May 29, 2018
Gottlieb isn’t wrong; unwanted attention for biracial and multiracial families is common, with strangers asking or staring and making assumptions about which role each person plays in a family’s genetic makeup at the grocery store line or in a child’s school. And while interracial marriage in the U.S. has been legal for just more than 50 years—and the existence of interracial people has existed for far longer—the existence of biracial and multiracial people is still exoticized, made a spectacle, or shamed.
In Gottlieb and Martin’s case of the Southwest agent, had their son been older, he might have learned from the experience that something about his existence and his relationship to his parents made him an “other”—a pitting, dehumanizing feeling that many multiracial and biracial people feel when they and their families are treated differently from the monoracial families around them.
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Speaking to the TV network, Gottlieb said that given her position as a white woman, she felt it was her duty to call out the behavior. She said she was hurt by the insensitive employee, but that she didn’t think the agent reflected the attitude of the company as a whole.
“I do feel like as a white female, with a position of privilege, and a platform where someone is going to listen, it is my responsibility to say, hey, this happened, this isn’t okay,” Gottlieb told KPIX 5. “And maybe somewhere down the line, that helps my son, who is bi-racial and will be for his entire life.”
In a statement to the news station, Southwest apologized and said it was looking into the incident.
“We’re looking into this specific interaction, and we have engaged with the customer directly to address her concerns,” the statement read. “Our employees are well regarded for their hospitality and we always strive for the best experience for anyone who entrusts us with their travel.”
H/T the Root