Last weekend marked the third time I”ve been on a plane since Sept. 11. Next weekend will be the fourth. Was I struck by the preponderance of racial profiling? Was I humiliated by a security team that violated my rights simply because I look different? Was I outraged when I was singled out for “random” security checks?
No. But in trading in my outrage, I also traded in my own sense of safety.
During a security check at Detroit Metro very soon after Sept. 11, I took special care to look around me in line and get a sense of my competition. All this hype about racial profiling had me convinced that I would get a thorough checking, while all the white suburban families around me would only get the once-over.
Much to my surprise, I (a tall, young male, traveling alone with nothing but a backpack) didn”t get pulled aside. My bag wasn”t checked, I wasn”t frisked, I wasn”t even asked to remove my hat. Genuinely shocked, I looked to see who had gotten selected for random searches there was a little boy getting the metal detector wand while his parents looked on. There was an old lady in a wheelchair and another middle-aged man getting their bags searched.
For a moment, I felt a serious threat to my masculinity. In assessing the threat of the people in line, the security personnel actually decided that a little kid, a disabled old lady and a guy with a potbelly were more threatening than me?
And then I realized it: They aren”t assessing anything. In some vague attempt to appear unbiased, airport security personnel are bending over backwards to check every blind person with polio that walks through their gate while smiling politely and waving through everyone with a sheathed machete hanging around his waist.
Last weekend, on my way to my gate at the Newark International Airport, I was standing in the security line when a black man was pulled aside. As he removed his shoes, his wife stood in the background complaining (loudly) about racial profiling. “You only picked us because we”re black!”
The security guard tried assuring her that this was randomized, that he wasn”t picking people by their looks, etc. He was fighting a losing battle she was of the type who has been indoctrinated with the unfortunate minority mentality that anything that happens to you is because of racism. Didn”t get the job? Racism. Didn”t get a 4.0? Racism. Got pulled over (going 98 mph in a 65 mph zone)? Racism. Lost your keys? Racism.
So the security guard finished with the black man and turned to pick the next “random” search. He had three choices I was standing there (directly in front of him, might I add) waiting for my bag to clear the x-ray machine, two teenaged girls were walking through the metal detector, yammering on about “ohmigawd, did you see the promise ring that Freddie Prinze, Jr., gave to Sarah Michelle Gellar? She”s like, so lucky! He”s is sooooooooo dreamy!” Behind them was a mother with her little boy, who was carrying a Pokmon backpack.
He picked one of the Freddie Prinze, Jr., girls. I, once again, was forced to question my masculinity. No offense to the little girl with the In Style magazine, but I”m more of a threat than she is!
At Detroit Metro, on my way to India over winter break with my mom, I was chosen (I can only assume randomly) to have my bags searched while the guy in front of me (who had a Turkish passport and was traveling alone) walked through unquestioned. At Bishop Airport in Flint, I walked through security (alone) with not even an eyelash batted in my direction while a soccer mom (embroidered sweatshirt and all) was forced to remove her hairpins.
The point isn”t that I”m guilty. I know that I have never had an inclination to hijack a plane, blow up a building or do anything even resembling terrorism. But I look suspicious not just because of the color of my skin. But the color of my skin and other colors with similar melanin contents seem to be a “Get Out of Jail Free” card security personnel are scared to question minorities.
I don”t know about anyone else, but this racial hypersensitivity has killed my sense of security. It appears as if airline security is doing its best to find the least likely threats in a given batch of travelers and check them with extreme caution, allowing the most obvious threats to walk by.
The airline industry is sending a clear message to every terrorist: If you want to hijack a plane, don”t disguise yourself as an innocuous traveler. Don”t dress or act as if you are not suspicious.
Instead, make yourself as threatening as possible. Travel alone, have bizarre flight schedules, appear angry and menacing. Because it seems that the only way to be scrutinized as a likely threat in the airport these days is to be a teenage girl or a quadriplegic.
Manish Raiji can be reached at email@example.com.