Alas the earth did not get hit by that asteroid in 2012; so, as a species we can, for a little while longer, continue to ignore the common humanity that unites us all and discriminate racially like there is no tomorrow. Take the horrifying assault on the Hindu gentlemen in the Sunnsyside subway station for instance; yet another incident in a long line of hate crimes against religious minorities. In fact, FBI statistics demonstrate that the surge of 50 percent in hate crimes against Muslims in 2010 has still not subsided. Even more than a decade after the 9/11 tragedy (not that hate crimes were justified then either) there exists a very real chance that you might be discriminated against due to your apparent religious affiliation. Therefore, I have been forced to compile a list of fool-proof ways to protect yourself from being profiled, discriminated against or becoming the victim of a hate crime.
Born and raised as a Muslim in Pakistan (and sheltered from most kinds of discrimination), a younger, more doe-eyed version of me arrived in Philadelphia in my freshman year in Sept. 2009. My very first lesson in the way things worked was when I was made to wait for two long, excruciatingly boring hours at the airport before being allowed into the country for the first time. Almost four years and several such lessons later, my experiences have allowed me to draft eight steps you can take you can take today to racism-proof your life.
While at the airport:
1. Go out of your way to be extra (EXTRA) nice to TSA agents because that smile on your face will somehow compensate for all the negative stereotypes associated with your people. So if you're generally a reserved person, this might be a good time to break out of your shell; and if you're already a pretty friendly guy, you might want to step up your game.
2. Add a generous helping of humor to your interactions with your friendly neighborhood TSA agent. Nothing like an appropriate joke to put them at ease (word of caution: bombs and explosions are not popular topics. Try knock knock jokes instead).
3. To ward of any suspicion, eagerly volunteer yourself for a full body pat down. It is your job to make sure it's thorough. Repeat as often as necessary.
4. Follow your full body pat down with a relaxing radiation soak in a body scanner. Concerned about your TSA official seeing your body outline? Not to worry, from where his hands have been he probably already has a fair idea. Besides you have been working out, right?
For those who dare to venture out of the airport into the world beyond, not to worry, I have a few tips for you as well:
5. Completely avoid the use of the J-word (you know the one I'm talking about) in public places, on the phone, in emails, in the privacy of your own home, and especially in your thoughts.
6. If you happen to be clad in a hijab or a turban make sure it is patterned with the American flag. As a further precaution, know the words to The Star Spangled Banner, just in case you need to whip it out to dissipate tension (do not do this if you cannot sing and/or have a Middle Eastern accent).
7. If those tips don't work (although I can't imagine why they would not) and somebody still goes ahead and decided to push you onto the path of an oncoming train, calmly step out of the way of their hurling attack, and proceed to the nearest safety zone (more on how to find the perfect safety zone in my next post).
And now for the most important tip of them all.
8. Disregard everything that I have said so far. You should not have to do any of this. You should be able to wear your turban or your hoodie, your burkha or your mini skirt without being judged. You should be able to sport a thick accent, a green passport or colored skin, without fear of discrimination or attack. Some elements of our society harbor the mentality that if you're of a certain ethnicity or religion, you're guilty (by association) unless proven innocent. Unfortunately I have sometimes caught myself internalizing this mentality by subconsciously trying to prove my innocence and downplaying my identity as a Pakistani Muslim. While the temptation to try to make yourself seem not guilty is powerful, and it is one that I have sometimes found hard to resist, overtime I have realized that it is time to stop apologizing for who I am.
I do recognize the need for security in public places, but there is one question that keeps me up at night: By indiscriminately targeting someone because of their religious or ethnic affiliation, are we not doing the very thing that the perpetrators of 9/11 did? By sowing the seeds of paranoia, hate and anger, it seems that our enemies may have succeeded in their mission. If we want the world to survive a wee bit longer, not only must we keep out of the path of oncoming asteroids but we must also remember to fight fire with water. Now that's a worthy new year's resolution.