Tuesday, May 10, 2016

An Arab in the plane is the new Black on the sidewalk

In three years, in 2019, we will mark a very dark anniversary--four hundred years since the first Africans were sold as slaves in Virginia.  Between the old country's caste system and its untouchables, and slavery and African-Americans here in the adopted home country, I feel like I always carry an unbearable burden of the sins of the past.

I have no idea how a young black man makes peace with how his life has been screwed up forever thanks to this history.  It is beyond my wildest imagination.  Which is all the more why I am blown away by Martin Luther King's commitment to non-violence in the struggle for civil rights.

It took me a few years of living in this country to understand the deep effects that slavery and white supremacy have had on everyday life.  I am continuing to understand my own deep-seated biases as well, and am trying my best to rid myself of those.  The earliest learning experience was in graduate school when the friends from Nigeria and Ghana laughingly observed how people switched to the other side of the road in order to avoid walking up to them on the sidewalk.  Kayode and Seth laughed about it because they had a great sense of humor.  But, I suppose other than laughing about it what else could they have done anyway!

Now, we have added one more category to such awful behavior: An Arab, or anybody who even looks Arabic while on a plane is now viewed with suspicion.  But, unlike the sidewalks where people crossed the street, racists cannot get down and climb into a different plane.  Which is why things like this happen:
A college student who came to the United States as an Iraqi refugee was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight in California earlier this month after another passenger became alarmed when she heard him speaking Arabic.
That was a month ago.
The student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, a senior at the University of California, Berkeley, was taken off a flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Oakland on April 6 after he called an uncle in Baghdad to tell him about an event he attended that included a speech by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
“I was very excited about the event so I called my uncle to tell him about it,” he said.
It turns out that one does not even have to speak Arabic.  One does not even have to wear a jubba for a fellow passenger to get all worked up.  You are a danger if you even look like this:


Who is he?
Had the crew or security members perhaps quickly googled this good-natured, bespectacled passenger before waylaying everyone for several hours, they might have learned that he — Guido Menzio — is a young but decorated Ivy League economist. And that he’s best known for his relatively technical work on search theory, which helped earn him a tenured associate professorship at the University of Pennsylvania as well as stints at Princeton and Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
So, if he was not speaking Arabic, or wearing a jubba , then what happened for him to be forced off the plane?  His seatmate, who was "a blond-haired, 30-something woman sporting flip-flops and a red tote bag" "had Seen Something, and so she had Said Something":
That Something she’d seen had been her seatmate’s cryptic notes, scrawled in a script she didn’t recognize. Maybe it was code, or some foreign lettering, possibly the details of a plot to destroy the dozens of innocent lives aboard American Airlines Flight 3950. She may have felt it her duty to alert the authorities just to be safe. The curly-haired man was, the agent informed him politely, suspected of terrorism.
And what exactly was Menzio scribbling?  Math!  "A differential equation, to be exact."

After reading the news report, I tweeted:
The trolls showed up right away.  Such is life in these United States, which will only get more awful if the fascist gets elected in November!  I shudder thinking that it could be President Donald Trump addressing the nation in 2019, marking the tragic anniversary!

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