GOATMILK continues its original and exclusive month long series entitled “Facing Race: Muslims and Islam”featuring diverse Muslim writers from around the world discussing race, ethnicity, prejudice, stereotyping and multiculturalism in the post 9-11 world.
Airport Celebrities- Flying While Brown
NOTE: THIS IS A TRUE STORY.
November 2007, Orlando International Airport: My parents, my 17-year-old brother Ali, and I are returning from a college visit for Ali. Why was I along, you might ask? Because even though the tour was only about 3 hours and baby bro was an obnoxious teenager who wouldn’t want to be caught dead with his family, Mom had naturally turned it into a 3-day family vacation at Universal Studios.
Now here we are at the airport, sick of each other and ready to get home and go our separate ways, when we hit a snag: the guy at the check-in counter informs us that someone in our party has been selected for a security check. I jump at the opportunity for adventure
“You said ‘someone’, right? As in, any one of us?”
“What?” He’s confused. Why would a young woman volunteer to be detained by national security and potentially strip-searched, cavity-searched, who knows what else?
“Take me. If you just need one person, let it be me.”
He nervously laughs, looks around, and spots my dad. Jackpot.
“Oh, how about him!”
Side note: Dad’s Egyptian. He’s brown, has an accent, and a name no one can pronounce. Any sort of law enforcement sees him coming, from our neighbourhood cops in Jersey to these winners, and they salivate. He set off the metal detector during every family vacation growing up. My white mom, Ali, and I, who could both pass for white, would make it through and stand off to the side pretending we didn’t know him, maybe even giggling a little. Ok, a lot. We began calling the machine the Arab Detector. Who cared if Dad actually had anything on him? They’d see a brown man coming and push the button.
With time, Ali started to look more Arab. Now Mom and I would place bets as to which of them would get stopped. The only time neither of them did was when we flew EgyptAir. ‘Cause like, in that case, who ISN’T a suspect?
But I digress. Back to Florida.
“I’ll go,” says Pops Pacino.
“No, Daddy, just let me go.”
“Eeeeeh, don’t worry about it, what are they going to do to me?”
“You’re Arab! What do you mean, ‘what are they going to do to me’? Next time I see you’ll be on the news in a line-up at Guantanamo. I’m a woman, they’ll be gentle.”
Seriously, what other family argues about who’s going to be taken in by the authorities?
But he won. And I remember watching him go through automatic sliding glass doors and wondering when—or if—I’d ever see him again.
Not even seven minutes later he’s back, all smiles, staring straight at me. He pinches my cheek and with a hug says, “it was YOUR name on the list!”
When the man at the counter had said, ‘someone in your party,’ it turns out one of our names in particular had come up. Apparently there’s another Sherri Eldin on the worldwide Most Wanted List for embezzling 300 million or billion dollars. To which I say, “do you think if that were actually me, I’d be in Orlando, Florida?”
December 2008, Los Angeles International Airport: I’m traveling alone on my way home from visiting friends. I’m in a terrible mood from the goodbyes, so I’ve been crying. Then I get to security.
“Ma’am, please step aside, you’ve been randomly chosen to be searched.” This time it’s a woman.
“WHAT?! Are you kidding me? What did I do? Tell me what I did.”
She yells over to another female guard that I want an explanation as she escorts me to this giant glass box in the middle of everything—not off to the side—that looks like one of those Grab-Your-Cash boxes from the old game shows. The other guard waddles over, puffy pocket that is her post-menopausal stomach swelling under her belt.
“You’ve been randomly selected, which happens when people travel often or buy their ticket last-minute.” I throw up my arms and start pacing around the box. Which is so small that I look more like I’m doing the cha-cha at a senior citizens’ luncheon. True, I’d bought my ticket that day, but I know the real reason why I’ve been stopped. And that’s all I keep saying.
“No there’s another reason, and I know it.”
Suddenly I see a tall, young white guard eagerly speed-walking towards us.
“Let me see your ID!” This did not make the other guards happy.
“No, let me just see it!” I hand him my driver’s license. The steam is building in me. The last thing I need is to get hit on by the exact people who are trying to nab me. Worst pickup scenario ever.
“Oooooh Eldin!” he shrieks, pronouncing my name wrong and fueling my fire.
“Don’t you know that story? About what happened in Orange County in ’86-’87?”
“I’m not from here, I wouldn’t know that.” Once again the other guards try to interject, but he shushes them and goes on to say there was a cult leader who did one of those Koolaid things and his last name was Eldin.
“Google it when you get home!” he says.
The fun doesn’t end there. Next, I’m escorted to this giant wall that looks like it’s leaden and told to put my hands up to my head. Then to turn around. The first female guard goes deadpan, mumbling into her intercom.
“No…no…just a lot of bracelets”—then she addresses me—“Ma’am, do you have a navel ring?”
“Yes,” I say, keeping my cool. Meaning I catch them completely off-guard when, about 3 seconds later in the middle of LAX, I flash them my navel ring.
They turn their heads away, shielding their eyes as if the sun’s rays are emanating from my stomach.
“Okay, okay!” they yell. After that, there’s no point in postponing the moment of truth any longer.
“Look, my family ALWAYS gets stopped and we all have the same last name. I know why you stopped me.”
“Well maybe you should call the airline and have your names cleared.”
“It happens on every airline though.”
“It’s because we’re Middle Eastern!!!!!”
They all collectively take a giant step back from me in disgust like I told them I’d just shit my pants. Then they look at each other with a mix of confusion and fear, and simultaneously begin speaking over one another.
“Well, you know, I HIGHLY doubt that’s the reason—“
“You should still call the airline to find out anyway—“
“Blah blah blah…”
And I look over to my left to yet another glass box and see another guard, even bigger with an even puffier post-menopausal pouch, going through my bag. She’s taking out every item one by one and inspecting my own personal belongings, what is a part of me and my life and who I am, like they are alien. And I start bawling.
I go sit by her until she’s finished, slowly putting my shoes back on with what little energy I have left. When it’s all over, I’m proceeding towards my gate when I hear a voice calling from behind me…
“Don’t forget to google Eldin!”