Imagine you’re waiting in line to board a flight. You’re making sure you have everything, getting yourself situated, and you happen to remove the luggage tag from your breast pump bag, which is pretty inconsequential, but all of the sudden people are freaking out and calling you a terrorist. Sounds unreal, right? Well, it actually happened to a breastfeeding mom on a Delta flight yesterday.
Valarie Kaur, a successful attorney and filmmaker, was waiting to board a flight to Los Angeles when a male passenger standing near her raised an alarm because she pulled the tag off of her carry-on bag. The commotion caught the attention of a gate agent, who came over and demanded that Kaur open her bag right then and there for an inspection. Kaur ended up having to show off her breast pump to everyone in line to prove she wasn’t a criminal.
Kaur described the situation in a troubling Facebook post, where she writes, “All the passengers in first class watched and I smiled weakly to show them I wasn’t a terrorist.”
When women are being forced to pull out their breast pumps in the middle of crowded airports to prove they aren’t terrorists, I think it’s safe to say we’ve reached peak absurdity with this racial profiling nonsense. Just two weeks ago a plane was grounded for three hours because passengers grew suspicious of a “Middle Eastern” man looking at his phone. These things are not happening because of valid threats. They’re happening because racist people think it’s acceptable to be suspicious of anyone who doesn’t look like them.
Newsflash: it’s not.
In fact, these suspicions are solely based in a denial of facts. As we profile innocent people, block refugees from entering the country, and wrongly assume practicing Sikhs or Muslims are in any way related to violent extremists, it is actually so-called “right-wing extremists” — who are mostly white and male — that pose the most legitimate terroristic threat. In a New York Times Op-Ed, UNC Professor Charles Kurzman and Duke Professor David Schanzer explain:
“Since 9/11, an average of nine American Muslims per year have been involved in an average of six terrorism-related plots against targets in the United States. Most were disrupted, but the 20 plots that were carried out accounted for 50 fatalities over the past 13 and a half years. In contrast, right-wing extremists averaged 337 attacks per year in the decade after 9/11, causing a total of 254 fatalities, according to a study by Arie Perliger, a professor at the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center.”
There is no justification for the way Valarie Kaur was treated, and we should collectively feel ashamed that things like this keep happening. If there’s one bright spot in this situation, it’s Kuar’s beautiful response. She ends her Facebook post with, “…I know that the only social and political force powerful enough to fight hate is love, and I want to practice the loving response now. What does revolutionary love look like in this moment?”
It’d be nice if we could all stop hurling horrible accusations at strangers long enough to ask ourselves the same question.