The day I racially profiled myself

Sikh being screened by airport security (photo:

Sikh being screened by airport security (photo:

Upon booking my flight for a recent vacation, it was a routine consideration that I would need to make sure I gave myself enough time to check in at the airport, because I knew I would be subject to extra screening. As a turban-wearing man of Indian descent, I have heeded the notifications and have become used to added scrutiny and inspection when I travel through the country’s airports, which usually consists of additional pat-downs, turban inspections, and a review of my travel documents.

Now, when traveling, I have never experienced anything similar to what others have  in this country since 9/11.  Perhaps I’ve been fortunate.  Being additionally screened at an airport on superficial reasons is a nuisance, but it hasn’t yet been more than that.  It does bother me, however, that there is potential for much worse to happen, such as what happened to Daljeet Singh Mann in Sacramento, California, or recently to a half-Arab, half-Jewish woman flying on a domestic flight and detained simply because of her appearance.

"100% Randomly Searched" T-shirt from Rootsgear Clothing (

"100% Randomly Searched" T-shirt from Rootsgear Clothing (

During this trip, I hypothesized that I would be subject to even more scrutiny because my return flight was on September 11, 2011 – the date of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.  I was cognizant of the date of my travel and the potential inconveniences and delays that I might encounter, but I also decided that I would not let these things interfere with my vacation.  Rather, I would continue to go about my business and my life, facing and dealing with anything that might come in my way.  I also believe that every time I clear security, it is further evidence that the profiling that Sikhs experience going through airports is unjustified.

In the days leading up to my return flight, my e-mail inbox was inundated with notifications, press releases and commemorations about the events of not only September 11, 2001, but also those reminding us of the aftermath on minorities in racial discrimination, profiling and hate crimes since then.  Indeed, for any brown-skinned man wearing a turban, it always feels like we are under suspicion and it is something that we have tried to deal with since 9/11.

After my trip, I took note of an interesting take on the effects – or lack thereof – of 9/11 on minorities that was written by writer “Jodha” on the blog, The Langar Hall:

Sometimes I believe the present generation of Sikhs in the diaspora either does not know or woefully has forgotten the inhuman racist indignities felt by our predecessors…

Jodha reminds us of the big picture. Sikhs have faced discrimination and indignities in this country long before 9/11 happened, and in many cases, it was much more severe than what we are facing now. The effect of 9/11 on our community, however, was one of those that was a turning point for us as a community, inspiring us to mobilize to address the discrimination, profiling and hate crime issues as a group.  But, to our parents and grandparents, these issues were not particularly new.

Back to my trip, I had a bit of an epiphany while returning from vacation.  After I checked in at the airport and reached the security area, I went through a routine that I had long become accustomed to:  I removed my shoes and emptied my pockets in to trays for scanning, walked through the metal scanner, and then automatically approached the nearest security agent for the additional pat-down that I always get when in this situation. I assumed the position for the pat-down, but the agent looked at me with a blank look on his face.

“We don’t need to pat you down, you’re clear.”

I laughed at myself, apologized to the agent, gathered my belongings and put on my shoes.  As I walked to my gate, I thought about two things:

  1. I had assumed that based on my appearance, security agents will always pat me down and subject me to extra security procedures.
  2. I was too comfortable with this fact.

I began to wonder if sometimes we victimize ourselves by fixating on the negative attention we get.  We don’t always get discriminated against, and in fact, overall, the discrimination today is the exception, and not the rule.  Perhaps, post-9/11 discrimination is indeed a little in our heads, but to combat it, we must remember to not accept it as status quo.


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