Dear Mr. President,
A few months ago, in the rapid decline of my optimism about internet dating, I agreed to go on one last date with a man from the dating site I'd been using. One last chance, I told myself, and then I could safely give up this endless series of awkward, uncomfortable encounters and sulk, self-satisfied, assured of the hopelessness of dating and single men in general. When I arrived at the coffee shop at the appointed time I was already convinced that this encounter would be no different than the last, preparing already the excuses I would make after an hour or, if I could manage, even less. Ten minutes later, I might have been laughing at the irony of this, had I not been too busy attempting to scrape my jaw off of the floor and work the dumbstruck expression off of my face. My date was not only black americano-drinking, charming and easy to talk to, he was clearly intelligent, compassionate, adventurous and funny. (It didn't hurt that he was heart-breakingly, out-of-my-league-by-miles good-looking either.) We talked for hours. Nothing romantic may have come from this date, but we stayed friends, passing e-mails and brief comments on the latest news. He suggested a number of topics for my letters to you, and helped me better understand a few stories I didn't fully grasp. Our friendship since has been casual, but it certainly helped convince me not to completely give up on the idea of meeting men online.
Today my friend, returning from a trip abroad to visit family, was unreasonably held up in an American airport by security. I don't know the details of this, what it entailed or how he finally managed to get on a connection to come back home. Unfortunately, because my friend is also Arab, I know that this would not have happened to him if he had a different last name or a different skin color. The whole situation makes me sickeningly, blindingly angry. When I expressed this to others I heard more stories of friends or relatives or coworkers or friends of friends being held up in the absurd, racist so-called security system in American airports. I remembered walking through Israeli checkpoints, the separate lines for me and for my Palestinian friends and being so naively grateful that such a thing would never happen in MY country. All day I've been thinking about airports, how standing in line to get through security with my white face, American passport and generically WASP-y name while my Arab and Muslim (or, really just sufficiently brown-skinned) friends will be "randomly" given additional screening and I keep thinking of the same metaphor. I'm sitting on a bus in Alabama watching silently as they are made to file past me to the back.
You've experienced first-hand what it is to be thought of as Muslim and/or Arab in this country. Even as President you've seen the ugly, racist way some in this country still view some one with your skin color, your name, or the religion falsely ascribed to be your own. You've heard the crazy woman screeching at John McCain "he's an Arab!", the state representatives demanding to see your birth certificate, the 20% of Americans who think you practice Islam. If any privileged outsider is able to understand the treatment Arab-Americans and American Muslims have experienced in airports since 9/11 I would think that you might be. And while the TSA monopoly on air travel and the necessity of covering great distances quickly may prevent a Montgomery bus-style boycott of airplanes, I suspect that eventually the American people will not stand to see our friends and neighbors and loved ones treated this way in the name of our own safety.
Life isn't safe. I don't feel safer knowing that my friend is being profiled, harassed, or even inconvenienced solely because of his race. I feel sick about it. My patriotism is not a brittle, small thing, but it is based on the principles this country is supposed to stand for even in the face of fear. How am I supposed to love my country, to feel pride in it, knowing that these principles can be so easily betrayed by those sworn to defend them?
My friend, who has, in the course of our political conversations, proven himself to be calmer and more even-tempered than me on many issues, said to me today that "being Arabic and in a US airport may as well be a crime." I don't know what he's feeling or how he'll respond to this incident but I am outraged that he has to feel it, respond to it at all. And it isn't just my friend, it isn't just this airport or this incident. This is happening right now, it has been happening for too long and it will continue to happen until enough people with enough power are brave enough to stand up and say it isn't right, it isn't American and it isn't keeping us safe.
Until we stop boarding the bus and say we'll be walking to work for the foreseeable future, thank you very much.