Brief Career as a Racial Profiler
June 22, 2002
It was after Lockerbie and TWA 800, but before Kenya and
Tanzania. Not yet the anniversary of Columbine, but still
Hitler's birthday. April 20th, 1997.
It was a Sunday. The day before Passover. I was flying from
New York JFK airport to Los Angeles with my husband, mother-in-law,
eight year old son, 50-60 religious Jews, and a guy named
Mohammed. I was quite sure I was going to die.
My husband and I had just had a screenplay out on the market
and were on our way to Hollywood to meet with a number of
producers. As two aspiring writers with day jobs, we were
trying to combine business with vacation, and had scheduled
the trip to coincide with our son's spring break from school.
My mother-in-law was onboard to watch our son while we were
in meetings, and also to treat her to a west coast trip. We
were brimming with excitement and visions of tinsel town -
it seemed like a daunting task to try and convince them that
we should not get on that plane.
I think I noticed Mohammed before I actually took note of
the 50-60 religious Jews. The thing that caught and riveted
my attention to him were his eyes. They were bloodshot. They
were angry. They stood against his bronzed skin like laser
points on a dark movie screen.
And then I noticed the briefcase. A silver metallic briefcase
which my imagination was able to fill with timers, wires,
plastique, ball bearings... and I began to look around the
waiting area, to see if anyone else had noticed the man with
the blood red eyes and metallic suitcase. That's when I noticed
the women with the long skirts and hats, the men wearing yarmulkes,
the prayer books in Hebrew which some were already reading
from and the boxes upon boxes of matzo which were to be making
the flight as carryon.
Wait a second, wait a second, I thought to myself. What are
you doing? Don't let your imagination run wild. Don't be paranoid.
Don't be racist.
But what if? What if on Hitler's birthday, a lone traveler
named Mohammed (How did I know his name was Mohammed? Because
I inconspicuously sat down next to him and glanced at his
boarding pass, how do you think?) decided it would be a swell
idea to blow up a plane full of Jews on their way to celebrate
Passover in Los Angeles, an eight year old kid, his grandmother
and screenwriting parents?
I felt I should tell someone, as a reality check, as a melodrama
check, as a human being check. So I went up to my husband
and said, "You realize of course, we're going to die." He
took note of my observations, he weighed the risks involved,
and I'm not sure if he thought I was making alarmist pronouncements
based on superficial evidence, or if he just wanted his walkon
pass to Universal Studio so badly nothing would stand in his
way, but he acknowledged my concerns and proceeded to the
gate when they finally called for boarding.
Once I was on the plane, I immediately took note of where
Mohammed was sitting. It was in the rear and I of course made
sure to check him out every time I ventured back to use the
facilities. The in flight movie was "One Fine Day" with Michelle
Pfeiffer and George Clooney, and even if I had wanted to watch
it, the sound wasn't working on my side of the plane. To distract
myself from thinking of what else might not be working on
my side of the plane, I ran scenes in mind from a number of
different movies - "Airport," "Airport 75," "Diehard II,"
"Passenger 57," "Executive Decision" and of course my own
movie for which I would win the Academy Award, posthumously
But perhaps not. Because the plane did eventually land in
Los Angeles and we all disembarked without incident. Once
my feet were planted firmly on the left coast, my thoughts
began to turn getting our luggage, negotiating the 405, wondering
if I would run into Chris Carter on the Fox Lot. And as I
stood at the luggage carousel, clearly not disappointed that
my concerns turned out to be unfounded, I looked over my shoulder
I spotted Mohammed walking toward the airport exit.
I saw Mohammed walking with his wife on one side, and a three
or four year old little girl holding his hand on the other.
And I thought, "Wow." I almost didn't get on this plane because
of that man. That man who is nothing but a weary business
traveler going home to be with his loving family. Maybe this
is na´ve of me, maybe Anne Coulter would deride me with creative
and humorous slurs, but I felt ashamed. Ashamed that I had
judged this man to be a potential terrorist because of his
That's the moment I decided to end my career as a racial
profiler. Maybe that decision will cost me my life in the
future. But what it will save in me between then and now will
be well worth the price.