Just when I think we’re making progress, we go and pull the one-step-forward-ten-steps-back trick. First, a friend tells me about how her daughter was treated recently in a suburb of New York City. The daughter is 17 and African-American, although my friend is Caucasian. Her daughter was adopted from Sierre Leone in West Africa as a child. She is a good student and a great kid, giving her parents just enough teen drama to keep them on their toes. Her boyfriend is also black.
Last week, as blizzards were swirling through the area, my friend’s husband took their kids out to alleviate cabin fever before it set in completely. This daughter and her boyfriend asked if they could stop at Dunkin Donuts for a drink and wait there while Dad delivered the other kids to the nearby library. He agreed and dropped them off. They ordered their drinks and food and stood by the door, sipping, talking and waiting for Dad to return. Several other patrons sat or milled about, but the two teens were the only people of color in the place. After less than 10 minutes had passed, the manager came out and rudely told the two of them that they had to leave or he’d call the police. ”Why?” they asked. Because we don’t allow loitering, they were told. They told him their ride would arrive shortly, but he said he didn’t care. He told them they’d have to wait outside.
Remember the blizzard? So these two kids, who were doing nothing wrong but being darker than the other donut-eaters, had to stand out in the wind and the snow and wait for her dad to arrive. They called him on her cell, and you can rest assured he made it back there in record time. He confronted the manager, who hemmed and hawed through his amazement that this man, this white man, was claiming to be her father, then finally admitted that no, they’d done nothing wrong. They weren’t loud, they weren’t bothering anyone. Dad even asked other patrons, and all agreed that the manager had been entirely out of line. They left before any law enforcement arrived, but the damage had been done. She was angry and hurt – and who can blame her? She and her father are writing a letter to the local paper together, as they try to show her proactive ways to handle prejudice. They will not spend another nickel in that Dunkin Donuts, nor will any of their friends, but who knows if that will have an impact. Several friends advised calling the corporate offices to let them know that one of their franchisees is exhibiting blatant bigotry like this, but past that, what can my friend do?
Sue him? That’s an option, sure. But she realizes her child may not want to become the poster girl for bigotry – especially because she is already the black girl with white parents. She has siblings of several colors, including her own biological sister, but not every kid has the temperament to take something like this on.
I find it appalling that this small-minded manager decided that he would actually vocalize his prejudice and without cause, send two well-behaved kids out into the snow. What was he thinking? ”Uh-oh, they’re gonna cause trouble, I just know it. I know! I’ll outfox ‘em and cut ‘em off at the pass, kick ‘em out before they have a chance to scare my other customers.” Really??? In 2009?? Sometimes, living in the city and surrounding myself with generally kind and open-minded people, I honestly forget that the world is still full of idiots. This was quite the reminder.
But we weren’t done treading backward, oh no. The very next day, I read an article about a Muslim family taken off a plane, after they discussed the safest place to sit.
From the Washington Post:
Kashif Irfan, one of the removed passengers, said the incident began about 1 p.m. after his brother, Atif, and his brother’s wife wondered aloud about the safest place to sit on an airplane.
“My brother and his wife were discussing some aspect of airport security,” Irfan said. “The only thing my brother said was, ‘Wow, the jets are right next to my window.’ I think they were remarking about safety.”
Irfan said he and the others think they were profiled because of their appearance. He said five of the six adults in the party are of South Asian descent, and all six are traditionally Muslim in appearance, with the men wearing beards and the women in headscarves. Irfan, 34, is an anesthesiologist. His brother, 29, is a lawyer. Both live in Alexandria with their families, and both were born in Detroit. They were traveling with their wives, Kashif Irfan’s sister-in-law, a friend and Kashif Irfan’s three sons, ages 7, 4 and 2.
AirTran spokesman Tad Hutcheson agreed that the incident amounted to a misunderstanding. But he defended AirTran’s handling of the incident, which he said strictly followed federal rules. And he denied any wrongdoing on the airline’s part.
“At the end of the day, people got on and made comments they shouldn’t have made on the airplane, and other people heard them,” Hutcheson said. “Other people heard them, misconstrued them. It just so happened these people were of Muslim faith and appearance. It escalated, it got out of hand and everyone took precautions.”
Now just hold on a damned minute here. Am I the only person who finds Hutcheson’s statement utterly reprehensible? Comments they shouldn’t have made??? About the safety of airplanes, while sitting on an airplane? No, what you meant to say, Mr. Hutcheson, is not that they “just so happened to be of the Muslim faith.” What you meant to say was that “MUSLIMS got on and made comments they can’t make without EVERYONE ELSE freaking out, because we have been fed a constant stream of fear rhetoric by our government for so long that we are completely unable to think for our own flippin’ selves!”
The wronged family stated that the FBI agents who interviewed them and ultimately cleared them of any wrongdoing whatsoever were very professional and treated them well. I have to say I was quite relieved to read that.
But that doesn’t change the fact that this is ridiculous. Only caricatures of terrorists in a bad political cartoon would get on a plane, with their children, and chat amongst themselves loudly enough for the people around them to hear, about where it is safe to sit. Newsflash: Terrorists rarely chat before blowing themselves up or hijacking planes. Read any account of any thwarted terrorist action, and trust me, “chatting” is not going to be the clue that gave them away.
Newsflash #2: When terrorists blow up airplanes, there is NO safe place to sit. Not close to the jet engines, not far away from the jet engines. It all goes up in horrible flames. Just so you know.
All you have to do is insert anyone else into that conversation, and you see how ridiculous it is. I guarantee you that if I sat down on a plane with a friend, and we started arguing about which part of the plane is safest, the most we would get is a look of annoyance from our seatmate who wants to start his nap. No one would think twice about whether or not we were dangerous. The 9/11 terrorists succeeded in giving our government the ammunition it needed to turn the general American public into a flock of fearful lemmings.
Religious dress is a right in this country, yet we use it to profile Muslims and treat them disrespectfully and suspiciously – and I find it horrifying. The damage *some* priests have done to thousands of children over the past few decades in this country is horrifying, but we don’t stop priests from interacting with children or humiliate them in public simply because they’re wearing clerical collars, do we? I’ve not heard that one, at least not yet. Some of them are pedophiles, why not all of them? Oh, wait, that’s right – we can’t stereotype like that, now can we?
No. Of course not. We only do that to black teenagers and Muslims in traditional dress. Oh, and gays. And, well, other black people. And some brown people. And everyone who isn’t exactly like me. So there.