Democratic Underground

We Are Not In the Promised Land
January 17, 2002
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 bigoted views.

Printer-friendly version
Tell a friend about this article Tell a friend about this article
Discuss this article