Racial Profiling

I woke up this morning to the smell of wood burning, to the soft chirping of the yellow finch that visits my door each day, and to the crisp, cool autumn air. Mornings like these are bittersweet since terrorism found its way across the ocean. As another day breaks, still we allow the evil that spawns terrorism to grow. I woke this morning knowing that a dear American friend of Turkish descent, quiet and unassuming, intelligent and kind, felt the sting of racial profiling. I woke this morning angry that anyone in our country could allow such an event to take place.

Our politicians and reporters preach that America is the home of peace and freedom; “our way of life has been attacked,” they cry. We watch with tears welling as hundreds of firefighters and police officers try to find their fallen friends.

Talking to my friend on the phone today, I heard despair and anger in his voice. While sitting in a coffee shop, he was approached by a police officer and asked questions about his personal life: “why are you here? how long have you lived here? what are you writing?” Apparently, a nervous customer phoned them because he felt my friend had been in the shop too long. The color of his skin, his facial features, and his reading material were enough grounds for action. My kind friend found himself, an American, questioned and accused, hated and feared not because he had a gun or a knife, but because he was working on his master’s thesis and using a Turkish/American dictionary in public. He was targeted because of his appearance and his ability to study more than one language. This man, whose southern accent would rival that of Scarlet O’Hara’s, was humiliated, taunted, and shamed because all of a sudden he became the other, “one of them.”

Unfortunately, I do not believe that, as individuals, we realize how responsible we are for the catastrophic events taking place here and around the world. Yes, I mean the recent terrorist attacks, but I am also talking about the terrorism we inflict on one another every day. After trying to reassure my friend, I had to examine the hate and fear in my own heart. We judge and have been judged by others in many ways. I understand that we must protect ourselves from violence, but we must also protect each other. We can never expect peace in a world where we allow discrimination and violence even through words.

No, my friend was not beaten, run over, or shot, but he was wounded in one of the most horrible ways possible; he was profiled and labeled a threat because a fellow American marked him for judgment. His very being, heritage, and life were assaulted by prejudice.

We can cry and fight over terrorism, but until we take stock individually and eradicate prejudice and hate from our own lives, we will never destroy what feeds terrorism in all its forms. Thus, I challenge Americans to educate themselves about the many cultures and peoples comprising this country, to take a stand by showing terrorists that they are not going to get what they want. Our country and all the peoples represented within will stand united.

Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” I congratulate my friend for avoiding a reactionary response during this unsettling time, and I pray that others will follow his example.

Elizabeth A. Kelly