Thursday, August 16, 2007

Personal Experience of Racial Discrimination in a Posyt-911 World

In the post September the 11th hysteria that gripped the nation, at no time did the country experienced a resurgence in racial discrimination. By discrimination, I do not mean that of the African-American kind, as in generations past where our fellow citizens of color where segregated in the use of public utilities and treated as second class citizens, though I think some Americans still do harbor racial prejudice against them. By discrimination, I also do not mean resurgence of anti-Semitic blend, in the manner neo-Nazis in Europe and Australia have been regrouping and making themselves felt through riots and attacks.

The kind of discrimination that I witnessed was something new, novel even, which emerged only as the jumbo jets hit the towers and took the lives of thousands of our people. It is the racial discrimination that is now gripping thousands of Muslims and Middle Eastern men and women who reside and immigrate to the United States for business or in search of the American Dream.

Actually, I really did not notice it at first, especially as I went to school, as it was perfectly normal for me to see students of different races – Hispanics, Orientals, Malays, among others. I sometimes even see a little girl with a veil walking around the campus. I do travel once in a while with my family, visiting different countries and experiencing a host of other cultures different from our own.

But when I arrived back from vacation abroad two years ago, it was there that I realized that a new kind of racial discrimination exists in the light of the terror attacks that brought the nation to its knees and the quagmire that is Iraq.

It all happened at the JFK airport when my family and I got back from our summer trip in Thailand. As American citizens in our airports, we were a privileged bunch, and so are hundreds of thousands of American citizens that enter and exit the terminals of JFK every year. The gleeful welcome of immigration officials, while trite as they may seem, is such a healthy reassurance that ours is a proud and great country. More so, landing on American soil, polluted as it is, made me feel that there is really nothing else which an American could ever ask for than reside anywhere else in the world.

To a certain extent, my statements really hold true to other American jetsetters who do look the typical American citizen – Caucasian or African-American and a host of other races, for as long as the looks do not resemble a Middle Eastern descent and a valid passport is at hand. When we were lining up the immigration counter to have our passports checked, I noticed a young Middle Eastern family who were having such a hard time in securing clearance from immigration officials, especially when they also had the same flight as ours. I think they were bona fide American citizens, or at least immigrants of the country, as they queued on the same lane as my family.

The father of the family, in broken English with a heavy accent, was arguing with the immigration official to let them pass especially when they were able to furnish the required documents. Actually, I think they also had a difficult time during the X-ray inspection, as they took such a long time falling in line at that station as well.

At first glance, I did not mind it as much as I was very eager to have arrived in the country already and get my hands on the notebook I left at home. I did not pay much heed until I wrote this paper and researched about forms of discrimination the past few weeks. It’s sad that I realized that the incident that involved the Middle Eastern family was a formulaic case of the current trend of discrimination of Islamics and Middle Eastern person. It was called racial profiling. I really hate myself for knowing only now, and realizing that I myself have been duped into believing that most Middle Eastern men and women were intricately linked with the terrorist cells and groups that our proud soldiers were laying their lives for in Iraq and Afghanistan. Actually, I really thought that I was just a normal standard operating procedure in our airports – to toughen our homeland security in the fight against global terror. Only now have I realized that in pursuit of such a war without borders, we are also creating an invisible war back here at home, when we create a presumption in our minds that every Middle Easterner we meet in our schools, supermarkets and streets might be a terrorist until convincingly proven otherwise. It is quite perplexing to conjecture that perhaps one of the primary reasons as to why the Middle Eastern family was having more trouble than in securing an immigration clearance might simply be due to their ethnicity – social trait which they never yearned for nor had the capacity to determine for themselves. It is just patently unfortunate that in the hysteria against terrorism, the little kid of that Middle Eastern family had to experience the ordeal of being treated differently than most of us.

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