Airports, Racial Discrimination and Forgiveness. My story at JFK.

imagesLast week I invited my best friend to Los Angeles for her birthday. We opted to take a very early flight from NYC to get a full day in LA. We woke up at 4am and we had just about reached security by 5:30am. Bare in mind, It was the day after the Boston Bombing.

As I passed through the X-ray, or whatever it’s called, I asked the security guy jokingly hope that I’m not being exposed to any harmful rays. Martin answered, We don’t do that anymore. (Key word: images-2Anymore.) Besides, it’s optional. If you don’t want to go through that, you can decline. But we would have to pat you down”. Good to know, I thought… Although, I did go through the X-ray thing AND they still patted me down.  Lose-Lose situation I’d say but understandable.

As I was collecting my belongings from the conveyer belt, a security officer called Debbie, held my wrists out of nowhere and started swiping my hands. That’s odd, they usually swipe bags but never hands. Maybe it’s a new machine”, I said to myself. I rushed to put my shoes on as I was barefoot – I know, disgusting – but Debbie barked and said that I had to keep my hands where she could see them and that I wasn’t allowed to put my shoes on. I didn’t understand the logic but I just wanted to get out of there as soon as possible – I respected her authority.

When I was allowed to proceed, I curiously and politely asked Debbie “What is this machine used for?” In a perfect scenario, Debbie could have politely answered that they were checking for traces of explosives or radioactive substances, etc… I would have simply thanked her and walked away.

But that didn’t happen. This is how the story goes:

Debbie: (Defensively)It’s not your concern ma’am. It’s security

Me: (Cooperatively) I understand. I am not taking this personally. I just want to know what it is for”. Now some of you may argue, who cares just do it and leave. But I was genuinely curious. Had I known that it was going to create such an issue, I would of left it at that.

Debbie: (Annoyed) “ Ma’am, Where are you from”

Me: (surprised) How is that relevant?”

Debbie: (Sticking to her guns) You asked a question. Now it’s my turn. I said, where are you from?

Tell her you’re from London, said my friend in French. It made sense after all I am a UK citizen and passport holder– So I did.

Debbie: (Growing impatient) Ma’am, where are you from O.RI.GI.NA.LLY?” She made sure to spell it out as if I had trouble with understanding English.

Me: Oh! Well, ORIGINALLY I’m from Beirut.”

Debbie: (Finally satisfied) Then you should know why I’m searching you.

Umm What? Wait a minute. I paused for a second.

 Me: (inquisitive)What do you mean?”

Debbie: (Hatefully) Stop pretending you don’t know what I’m talking about.” And she turned her head away leaving me in disbelief.

A bystander was watching the whole scene and said to her: That was a very racist comment actually Miss”.

At that moment, I realized what had just happened. It was the first time that someone said something racist to me (to my face) and it’s not right. With an effort to remain calm, I asked to speak to her supervisor. But she kept asking me to leave. The more she ignored what she had said, the more I felt belittled.

Me: I want to speak to your supervisor NOW. I want to report you”.

Debbie: Ma’am you should just leave

Me: No. What you said was incredibly racist and hurtful. You shouldn’t be allowed to talk to people like that.”

As I started to look around, a couple of security officers started circling around me and questioning me. All I could hear was an automated voice saying “Ma’am please remain calm” Ma’am please calm down. The more they spoke in a robotic manner, the more I felt agitated; I just wanted to speak to a supervisor. Truthfully, my anger was just sadness with a lid on it. Her harmful words had cut through my chest and wedged a hole in my soul. It was the first time that I was subjected to that kind of behavior.  I was HURT.

At that instant, Martin (remember him?) walks angrily towards me with an inquisitive face. I saw his familiar face and despite his frown, I was hoping I would get him to back me up. I quickly told him what had happened the way a little girl would tell her father to get his support. I wish I could find words to describe the way in which he answered, but I can’t. What I can do is tell you how it made me feel. It was as if someone kicked me in the stomach really hard and kept kicking me as I reached the floor.

Martin:  Well, it’s not our fault that YOU blew our twin towers

Wait a minute. Where did that come from? He can’t be serious! I was in total disbelief. I said, “I didn’t even grow up in the Middle East”. (That part is a lie, I did grow up there. But I had left almost 8 years ago! And, I wanted to see if he would still consider me as a threat.)

Martin: (unaffected) That doesn’t matter – YOU still blew our towers”.

Aaaaaand this is the point where I lost it. For a split second, I was watching and observing what was happening to me. Then, my tears started flowing, my voice started rising and I saw BLANK for the next five minutes. For those of you who know me well, you probably can picture the scene I caused. For those of you who don’t: Think Big, think L.O.U.D. In fact, I managed to monopolize the whole wing of the airport while screaming for my rights.

Please, don’t get me wrong. I did not get upset because I got searched, tapped down or swiped for explosives; I know that these are security procedures. But, Martin and Debbie had expressed hatred towards me for no apparent reason but racial discrimination. They represent everything I despise in this world: Judgment, Discrimination, Violence, Cruelty and Abuse of power. Add to that, I had just come back from a week-long Yoga teacher-training program where I was practicing acceptance and dedicating my practice to peace for all living souls. I had come from a place of unconditional love and landed in a place where discrimination reigns.

I could see them all on their Walkie-Talkies urging the supervisors to get there – pronto! Umm, we have a situation here”.  My friend kept telling me to calm down, but I simply couldn’t. I felt like a wounded little animal on a side road that was being subjected to cruelty. Luckily, I still had my voice.

Finally, the supervisors arrived. I could tell by the look on their faces that they were oblivious to what had happened and what would have been the cause of all this fuss! (Thank god I had witnesses that could back me up or else I think I would have probably been arrested). As I recited the story step by step (I must have repeated it over a 100 times), I could tell that they were genuinely shocked and felt sympathy. They were extremely polite and diplomatic which allowed me to calm down instantly. They made sure that I filed a report and they took the two security officers off duty then and there. I’m so sorry Ma’am that you had to experience this. It isn’t right. Is there anything else we could do for you?” Finding my peace again, I thanked them for their understanding and apologized for the scene I had caused and walked towards my gate.

So, What happens next?  Absolutely Nothing.

Will I start hating all airport security from now on? Will I start hating the Debbie’s and the Martins of the world because of that? Will I start spitting in the face of anyone who looks like them? Will I start taking my revenge against any authority figure at airports??

The answer is NO to all of the above. I am sharing this story with you with no intentions of spreading any more hate. I actually forgive them completely and I mean it from the bottom of my soul. Yes, I am appalled by their behavior. Yes, they did hurt me. But hating them wouldn’t make me much different from them. Fighting injustice with violence, resentment and hatred will ONLY contribute to MORE violence MORE resentment and MORE hatred in the world. An eye to an eye will lead to Blind Humanity.

Although what happened last week wasn’t very pleasant, I must say I did learn a great deal from it. I learned that people like that will NOT change my deepest belief which is Love and Peace for all Humanity. I also learned that regardless of what was done to me, I am able to walk away without holding grudges. In fact, as soon as my friend and I left, we were able to continue our day without hating that woman or planning our revenge. I think I was able to do so because I spoke up for my rights and expressed my opinion fully. Then, I allowed myself to feel compassion and to get detached from the situation in order let go. In order to experience absolute freedom, one should be able to let go of any negative feelings towards another living being, regardless of the harm done. Mostly, I learned that I don’t like myself when I lose my temper. The next time something like that happens, I will just turn my head away and pray that they reach enlightenment some day. In fact, I had a much smoother flight on my way back; I guess everyone was on high alert because of what had happened a day earlier.

At the end of the day, we are all the same and we are all living on the same planet. We should be able to rise above our differences and live together in harmony. I know that in the light of the recent bombing, one might find doing so a little more difficult. However, taking out our anger on innocent people is not the solution. We should focus that energy on working on ourselves, setting a good example and spreading tolerance, love and compassion.

Peace x

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

“May all beings everywhere be happy and free, and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”

3 thoughts on “Airports, Racial Discrimination and Forgiveness. My story at JFK.

  1. You friend has a point – you could have kept calm and played the same game in another way. My approach would have been dark, polite, yet rightfully offensive sarcasm. I would’ve probably provoked Debbie into getting her supervisor (which serves the purpose), and I would’ve calmly explained why Debbie should create a new job for someone else.

    You still achieved the intended result: you made the witnesses and concerned security personnel re-think their attitudes and actions. I can’t see how you could’ve achieved a better result, without impacting your positivity and spiritual balance.

    Well done.

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