On a flight from Florida back to Detroit, an Arab-American woman wearing a head scarf was harassed by a passenger who apparently yelled at her, “This is America.” The Detroit Free Press reports and the YouTube video seems to confirm that the flight attendant did not come to the rescue of the passenger. Instead she says the following to the woman’s husband, “You are at my wit’s end. You better be quiet before I kick you off of this plane!” The story has gained plenty of attention both because of the comments of the unruly passenger and because of the actions of the flight attendant.
Many in the Arab-American and Muslim community feel that they are unfairly profiled and harassed because of, as the article states,” their faith or ethnicity.” As a Chaldean person, a Catholic from Iraq, I have been dealing with this issue my entire life. As a youngster returning to the United States after traveling abroad with my parents I would go through immigration in a separate line. I would joke that since my passport says birthplace United States I would have an easier time clearing customs than my parents. I hoped there was a multitude of factors for why my parents were put through extra security e.g., they pack way too many luggage, bring back too many souvenirs (English chocolates).
Still, the stigma as an Arab-American especially after September 11th had me anxious and perhaps paranoid about going through security. The words “You’ve been randomly selected,” stopped feeling so random when it happened over and over again. It happened so frequently that I used to tell my friends that they were jealous that they were missing out on the VIP treatment.
Here was my comedic bit:
After walking through screening machine:
TSA Agent: Sir you have been randomly selected for additionally screening.
Me: Randomly selected?! (Ickey Shuffle ensues)
Agent: Sir, please take a seat.
Me: Oh how nice they want me to be comfortable.
Agent: Please take off your shoes.
Me: They really are pulling out all the stops.
Agent: Sir, we are going to run your bag again through the machine.
Me: How personal!
Agent: Sir, I need to swipe your hands.
Me: How thoughtful to make sure I wasn’t exposed to explosives.
Agent: Sir, thank you and have a great flight.
Me: Who else gets that sort of red carpet treatment?
And off to the gate I went.
The more troubling part aren’t the TSA Agents or the immigration officers but the growing sentiment where being Arab or Muslim equates to being a terrorist. The same friends who get a kick out of my TSA story nonchalantly make terrorist jokes about me that are meant to be humorous but would be in bad taste if made outside the confines of our friendship. Having said that, there is a fine line between joking and ignorance like that displayed on this Delta flight.
To the ignorant passenger I say, “Damn right this is America,” and because it is anyone can practice any religion she chooses without simpletons making comments such as this.
As far as the Delta agent’s handling of the situation, let me, a Michigan native and frequent flier of Delta, generalize by saying that the Detroit crew is routinely less than courteous so the agent’s behavior wasn’t shocking.
To all those who do feel they are racially profiled because of their race or ethnicity, I recommend signing up for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry. That will save you the hassle of security. This is generally true except for my first time using Global Entry when I was, you guessed it, randomly searched.