Profiling in America

I’m currently on a US trip to Harvard University as I was invited to talk about youth communication and civic engagement, specifically in the Arab World. Hopefully when I get back to Amman I can talk about it in more detail but for now I’d like to leave you with this story.

So I land in Boston and I’m incredibly tired and sleepy. The flight from Paris was delayed for three hours and I hadn’t slept at all the day before. So it’s about 12am and I get to passport control where the lady asks me a few questions and waves me in with my Canadian passport so I didn’t have to do the whole right-index-left-index finger printing.

I prayed my bag wouldn’t get lost as I always get a bad feeling that it is whenever I approach the baggage carousel. But thankfully it wasn’t. So I headed to the final door to hand in my “nothing to declare” card and that’s when I’m waved towards the far end of the gate where a single officer is there to look at my card. He leaves me standing for several minutes, then asks for my Jordanian passport as well before disappearing again. He comes back and ushers me into a room for people who are pretty much ‘suspicious’ material.

Inside I’m basically told to wait while another officer behind the computer types away. After some 20 minutes the man calls me into a small (interrogation) room and starts asking me question after question after question. Questions about my life and my education and what I’m doing in Jordan, what my father did for a living before retirement. What I do for a living, what I studied, how I got my job (“I applied for it” was my answer), and question after question, 90% of which had absolutely nothing to do with the purpose of my visit but I nevertheless answered them pleasantly mostly because I really wanted to get to a bed. He asks me what I write about and if I’ve ever written anything anti-American. He asks me why my Canadian passport was issued in Amman (“because that’s where I was when it expired”). Why I studied in Canada and why I didn’t apply to go to university in the US.

He takes me out and tells me to wait again. Then he asks if I have any information about my trip, so I hand him my invitation which is obviously a print out of a PDF file that was emailed to me.

So now over an hour and a half has all but passed and I’m falling asleep on the waiting room chairs. The officer is calling around to see if I am who I say, or rather who my passport says I am. He calls the hotel he calls whoever. Then he says he wants to check my bag which is when he turns to me and says…

“You know what all this is about, right?”

“No, not exactly but I could probably guess”

“Well its that invitation you gave us. I mean it didn’t really look legit, you know, put yourself in my position”

“Yeah, I see…but then again you guys stopped me over an hour before I even gave it to you…”

“Uh huh, uh huh, but you know, it was kind of suspicious so it made the process longer”

So ten minutes after the bag check he tells me I’m all cleared. In the 2 hours that I was made to wait, I went through a mental facebook of all the passengers on my flight in an attempt to see if I was in fact the only brown person on the plane. I was also kind of glad my name isn’t “Mohammad” or “Ali” or “Ahmad”, just because I know I would’ve been there an hour or two longer.

Of course by the time I get outside there’s not a single person out there or even a taxi. But that’s what it’s like to be profiled.

Thought Is Free...