On the evening of Saturday, August 26, ten AGMA Artists who perform at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT), along with four AAADT staffers, were subjected to racism and discriminatory treatment from employees of KLM Royal Dutch Airline (KLM) and Amsterdam Airport Schiphol (AMS). The incident occurred during the early stages of AAADT’s ongoing international tour.
The Company, predominately made up of Black Artists, was traveling from Edinburgh to Copenhagen and connecting through AMS. When their first flight was delayed, resulting in them missing their connecting flight, the Company was split into three flights, and the ten Artists and four company staff members were delayed until the next morning. When they attempted to retrieve their bags before checking into a hotel, KLM staff flatly refused, even though the group witnessed KLM fulfill the same request for a group of white travelers. What’s worse, KLM staff subjected these individuals to racist, condescending, and vile words and behavior.
Perhaps most alarmingly, KLM staff unnecessarily called airport security in a blatant attempt to intimidate the group. AMS security responded in force, with a large contingent of security guards and police officers responding and immediately surrounding the group. Like the KLM staff, this group of AMS employees harassed, belittled, and demeaned this group of predominantly Black travelers. When one of the Artists expressed that the group felt uncomfortable and scared, the security team laughed. Fortunately, everyone is physically safe.
To KLM and AMS: This behavior by your employees is disgusting, vile, and unacceptable. Black travelers have a right to move through the world in the same manner as your white travelers, without being subjected to racism, mistreatment, and abuse. It is similarly essential that Black groups, like Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, be able to engage in work-related travel (and ANY travel, for that matter) without enduring the distressing specter of such incidents. They deserve the right to pursue their professional endeavors, including sharing their remarkable artistry, without the weight of fear, discrimination, or prejudice.
KLM and AMS have become repeatedly associated with racism and discrimination in international travel in recent years. A simple search of “KLM and racism” or “AMS and racism” reveals an alarming number of repeated and recent incidents of outright racism by your employees. The abuse and mistreatment suffered by the AAADT contingent is just part of an ongoing pattern of racism within your organizations.
This is not a time for yet another empty apology unaccompanied by meaningful action to change your organizations’ cultures. You’ve done that before, and clearly nothing has changed. Either you simply keep hiring individuals who are comfortable engaging in racist actions, or you have yet to undertake comprehensive and programmatic efforts to be better. KLM and AMS need to do the hard and ongoing work of confronting discrimination in your institutions, instilling a culture of acceptance and respect for all people and, ultimately, rooting out the outright racists within your ranks.
Anything less demonstrates a clear lack of both care and preparedness to handle the varying needs and sensitivities of the wide range of passengers you interact with on a daily basis. It might be too late to rectify past mistakes. However, you can work toward fostering an environment of equality, dignity, and respect for all passengers, regardless of their background, by acknowledging the gravity of these incidents and by taking immediate action to rectify these recent injustices.
Racism remains a prevalent global issue, persisting despite progress. What these AGMA members and company staffers went through emphasizes the need for sustained efforts to combat racism and bias worldwide.
Unless and until KLM and AMS take real accountability coupled with ongoing, meaningful, non-optical action, we feel compelled to warn other travelers to avoid both KLM as an airline and AMS as an airport. We strongly advise that you withhold your business from KLM and seek travel alternatives to AMS.
AGMA hopes that both AMS and KLM seize this opportunity to enact actual change and publicly apologize to the dancers and staffers of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
AGMA has been in direct contact with the impacted group since this occurred. We have spoken out about this with their approval and permission.