Apparently I was the victim of racial profiling because I was stopped in the airport. Young, white, American girl with dirty-blonde pigtails an obvious security threat. I was pulled aside immediately. They took everything out of my bag. I shed my jacket, vest, long-sleeved shirt, sneakers, even socks, and stood barefoot in my T-shirt and jeans as they banged my shoes, frisked me and ran a metal wand over my body many times. There was a conference over whether I would have to go into another room to take off my pants because the zipper was activating the metal wand, but they handed me back my now-scattered belongings and set me free.
Do I resent it? Well, I would rather not have to arrive at the airport at 5 a.m. for a 7 a.m. flight, but you do what you have to. I am not sure if these checks are the best way of guarding against terrorism after all, there were no official security breaches on Sept. 11 but we must try to do something. If trying harder means being randomly chosen to have my shoes checked, so be it. It does seem a little ridiculous that children, families, people in wheelchairs, are stopped, but this has a good reason. We want to make sure as well as we possibly can under the circumstances that no people, regardless of nationality feel threatened or unwanted by the United States. The only reason that everyone agrees that random checks are not only acceptable but necessary is for this reason.
It is only natural for people to categorize, to use facial, linguistic, or ethnic characteristics to place individuals in groups. Compartmentalization is a very human way of thinking. This is neither always good or always bad. When justice is obscured by racial divisions, that is certainly an evil thing. However, now that we are guarding our country, we must use every piece of information which we have about our would-be attackers in order to defend ourselves. Meaning that a single Arab man traveling alone is naturally more suspicious than a Dutch child.
A few days ago, a Muslim woman was pulled aside and made to remove her headscarf. This was offensive to her modesty. If the soldiers made her take it off right where she was, then they did something insensitive. In the case I read about, however, the woman was lead into a separate room, and with only her and another woman in the room, was asked to remove it. That is much more appropriate. Ideally, I wish that we could let her just walk through with no hassle, but it is important to security that any pocket, cloth fold, or bag that could conceal a weapon must be checked.
The same day that this woman was stopped by the airlines, 75-year old U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) was also pulled into a separate room and asked to strip down to his boxers. His artificial metal hip had set off the detectors.
The point is that America is trying not to hurt anyone”s feelings while still being realistic about protecting its people. Examining Dingell seems stupid, yes, but it is America”s concession that ethnic profiling will be used only when it makes sense. And in the aftermath of Sept. 11, it often does. To ignore clues we have about terrorist identities may preserve our total equality and freedom ideologically, but it could be signing our own death warrant. All the equality in the world is no good if America can no longer safely exist.
Roth is a member of the Daily”s editorial board. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.