Are Not In the Promised Land
by Tommy Ates
Welcome to the new year of 2002. Do you have any resolutions?
I don't have any - but I do have a statement: "We are not
in the Promised Land yet."
You heard me.
The treatment that an Arab-American Secret Service agent
received last week from an American Airlines pilot should
trouble everyone, particularly African-Americans. After the
pilot was able to verify the agent's information from the
airline's front desk (which did the paperwork) and two of
the Secret Service agent's colleagues by phone, he still wouldn't
let the man aboard the place.
Now, the airline's administration is in the uncomfortable
position of defending the pilot in this post-Sept. 11 atmosphere
of arch-conservatism, protection at any cost, even if it means
humiliation, being declared guilty before even walking in
the door - sound familiar? Just because such profiling and
discrimination is happening openly to Arabs, doesn't mean
the focus will stay there or not cast a wider net. Look into
the case of Richard Reid, the British shoe-bomber who tried
to cause an explosion by lighting his shoes (and very nearly
succeeded.) This gentlemen was not of Arab descent, rather
mixed British and Jamaican.
In light of this event, and now the Arab-American Secret
Service flap, many of the talk show pundits have had guests
- almost all white - saying that the discrimination is justified
for an indefinite period of time so Americans can feel safe
in the air, and that Arab-Americans should understand that
everyone must contribute to the nation's healing and that
extra-suspicion won't hurt in the long run.
Wondering why another voice isn't heard? Strangely enough,
these arguments by white-collar elites for other white-collar
elites are some of the same ones that have been used to justify
DWB or WWB (Driving While Black or Walking While Black) as
legitimate hazards for the overall populace in dealing with
crime outside of the inner-city. African-Americans can refute
this argument wholesale as our history tells us that once
tar from the paintbrush hits you, it's hard as hell for it
to come off.
If the future of transportation security means racial profiling,
it is na´ve folly to think that such procedures will not have
a lasting effect on the general populace.
Likewise, the mainstream media seems to be keeping in lockstep
with the "protect America" line used by conservatives
in the effort to justify such extreme measures - even some
black pundits like Earl Ofari Hutchinson in Salon are
saying that "Black leaders like Jackson seem lost in the face,"
in the GOP wash after Sept.11.
I counter the assertion that African-Americans are going
for the Republican party - rather they are being patriotic,
patient, and polite. But they will be soon pained and partisan,
if the GOP's erosion of civil liberties includes open profiling
of minorities, as it seems it will.
Why is this incident important for minorities? In this new
year, African-Americans (in particular) must remember that
the past uses of profiling, and the consequences of such actions,
have only ingrained bigoted perceptions and covert racism
that have become festering sores on the body politic. Better
yet, explained in the blunt terms of those high achievers,
"a field Negro is never moved to the house unless it's
for a good reason." Those blacks thinking that the "us
vs. them" pathos may have moved beyond African-Americans
will be clearly mistaken, as justified profiling will only
give credence to use racial profiling (i.e. DWB) as a means
of preserving public safety for homeland security.
In the post-Sept.11 rubble, anyone who is not perceived as
"All-American" is potentially considered a target,
a dangerous notion considering our Constitution supposedly
states that "all men are created equal." This meaning should
extend to equal treatment for all our traveling citizens,
especially those men and women serving our country. Leave
it to the conservatives to convince Americans to resort to
the more "inclusive" definition.
In short, the treatment of the Arab-American agent should
be considered wrong by everyone committed to ending racial
profiling, and should be a wake-up call for minorities. The
consequences for FWA (Flying While Arab) are just the same
as WWB (Walking While Black) - you're an inherent suspect,
which the white majority will take to heart.
The justifying of racial profiling, especially from minorities,
does not mean that racial profiling will not affect everyone
openly as a new scapegoat for the problems of the nation comes
to bear. Erosion of freedom doesn't just stop with one action,
but compounds others, which begets even more erosion of race
in the national dialogue.
In 2002, let us resolve as patriotic citizens, who believe
in problem solving rather than scapegoating, not to let this
happen. Our newfound unity does not have to be a mosaic, but
then it does not have to be a facade either. As citizens,
we have to realize that every American has features that embody
the world community, and though we may have more than a hundred
different looks, we all share the same face of freedom, especially
among those individuals willing to die to protect our still