Fallows has been hosting a discussion around singer-songwriter's Vance Gilbert's rather harrowing experience while attempting to take a flight. Gilbert believes he was profiled. You can read about the incident here, and I encourage you to do so. One aspect that I think has been overlooked is this line from Gilbert:
How damaged am I from this experience? I'm not feeling particularly American. I'm angry, dumbfounded, frightened.
Would this have happened to the 30-ish Caucasian woman sitting across the aisle from me (who left her seat, water bottle, and book, never to be seen for the rest of the "completely full" flight)?
Is it now against the law to be dark and read a book about historic aircraft?
That last line is key. There is a great deal of overlap, phenotypically, between people who might register as "Arab" and people who might register as "African-American." Moreover, a rather substantial number of American Muslims actually are African-American.
That aside, it's worth checking out Fallows' series of posts. I meant to link earlier, but I wasn't sure what to say. I'm still not sure. I think there's a very strong impulse to believe the best of one's countrymen.
This goes back to Patricia Turner's point
about how we perceive racism and racists. To be profiled is to be victimized by a racist act. To commit a racist act is to potentially be a racist, or be subject to harbor racist thoughts. To harbor racist thoughts is not merely indicative of living in a society where white supremacy was encoded -- literally and figuratively -- in its constitution. It's indicative of some strain of evil. To harbor racist thoughts is not simply inhumane -- but inhuman.
With that context, it becomes rather fruitless to try to convey the feeling of being black and having men with guns and license to kill summoned to deal with you. To do so inevitably means some discussion of racism, which is only slightly more viable than some discussion of baby-eating.
Of course, that's the cynical side of me. Surely someone has to keep talking about these things. Otherwise, nothing will change.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to email@example.com.
is a national correspondent for The Atlantic
, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of The Beautiful Struggle
, Between the World and Me,
and We Were Eight Years in Power