Equality for Some

Upon returning to Boston and squeezing my belongings into a cab, the first thing I did was pick up the phone. Ignoring the sky-high international rates, I called my best friend, who lives in Belgium. “Anastasia, I think I’ve had my first encounter with racial discrimination,” I said with excitement. “Either that or the guy at Customs was hitting on me.” Let me assure you that I do not blame my day-to-day misfortunes on discrimination. For example, I don’t think the fact that I always get cold coffee at Starbucks or that I never win the lottery have anything to do with my ethnicity. Actually, I’m quite certain they don’t. For me, race, whether it be that others or my own, has never been an issue. Perhaps it’s because I spent the better part of my life with stereotypical, cigarette-smoking, liberal leftists who embraced my multiethnic background as a virtue rather than a fault. Or perhaps my education, my social class and the fact that I dress like an American protected me from the discrimination that other Middle Easterners have suffered. I have accepted that I will be searched more thoroughly upon boarding planes. Though it is hardly fair, if that careful search is what keeps us safe onboard a plane, I’m willing to endure the discomfort of a couple extra minutes at the security gate. In this particular incident, however, I was not boarding a plane. I had gone thsrough every sort of security check imaginable to man, as well as a ten-hour flight with wailing babies and snoring senior citizens. These trials were followed by a long wait at passport-control and an even longer wait for my luggage. I was standing in line for the mandatory Customs check, when a Customs Officer singled me out from a line of Caucasians and led me aside. I thought nothing of it at first but the following 15-minute interview consisted of questions that are only relevant if the person on the receiving end is a suspected terrorist or someone you’ve found on The questions ranged from “How much money are you carrying with you?” and “Are you a citizen of any country besides the US?” to “Do you celebrate Christmas,” “What religion do your parents have?” and “Who did you see over the break? Though I didn’t appreciate it, I answered all the questions patiently and politely, albeit with the occasional dash of ill-received humor. But, to be honest, I couldn’t see how where I grew up, where I visited, where I live and where I go to school were relevant as to whether or not I could be admitted to the city of Boston, though he did seem to calm down a bit when I mentioned “Phillips Academy.” I’m just letting you know, in case any of you find yourself in similar situations. It helps. Then he asked me what my religion was. I wondered whether he was even allowed to ask that, cursed myself for not knowing my legal rights and promised to dedicate more time and attention to Mock Trial. Regardless, I answered. “Well, I’m agnostic.” He asked me if agnostic was a branch of Christianity. “Not quite. It’s the philosophical belief that the existence of a god cannot be proven nor disproven.” He blinked a few times, scribbled something down and told me he at least knew it wasn’t Islam, so it must be a branch of Christianity. I gave up. “Sure,” I said. In the end, I was released with the reluctance one might show when letting a convict walk the streets. I felt accused, wronged and helpless. I called my dad, wondering hypothetically if I could sue the guy. I mean, if Thomas Nangle could sue Kellogg after his Pop-Tart caught fire in his toaster, didn’t I have some right to be upset as well? My father informed me that, although racial profiling was illegal, the officer had not done anything wrong since he claimed to choose someone “randomly.” Of course, I couldn’t prove otherwise. That was that. Since this incident, I’ve been “randomly” stopped at the same spot twice while other travelers have passed through without so much as a “What’s your name?” After completing my two phone calls, I sat in the taxi, still with a heavy feeling at the pit of my stomach. I flipped through my American passport, which was no longer the simple blue of the early 2000’s but a new version, stamped with patriotic imagery and quotes as if trying to prove that it was indeed American. On the first page was a pledge to let holders of the passport pass without hindrance and to protect the rights and safety of all American citizens. Indeed, all men are equal. Apparently, some are just more equal than others. Tia Baheri is a new Lower from Plano, TX.