College, Lifestyle, People, Travel

Getting “Randomly Selected” as an Arab-American

I’ve been standing in the security line at the airport for 25 minutes, and it hasn’t moved. My flight is boarding soon, and I can’t even see the front of the line. I feel my stomach rumble and I realize I left my lunch on the counter at home. I take a deep breath.

In front of me is a mother and daughter; the little girl looks about 6 or 7 years old. She rests her head on the metal handle of her Frozen suitcase and tugs on her mom’s shirt. The mother looks down and quietly consoles her, asking, “Remember what we talked about? What’s the most important rule of air travel?”

The girl lifts her head and lets out an extensive sigh, “always be patient.” She rolls her eyes, displaying angst that is well beyond her years.

“Exactly,” her mom coos, “especially when waiting in line.”

“But mom,” she groans, “this is a super line.” People around us start to smile, myself included.

She’s right, this is a super line, and not in a good way. I check my watch again; boarding starts in 10 minutes. This child has a much better grasp on patience than most of the adults in this line, considering there are several hundred people waiting to remove their shoes and laptops.

The security guards begin to proactively check people’s boarding passes before they even make it to the front of the line. When the attendant asks for my documents, she follows up with questions about my trip.

Am I traveling alone? Did I check any bags? Where is my final destination?

Yes. No. LAX.

“Step out of the line, please.”

I am used to this. Almost every time I have traveled, I get “randomly selected.” Blame my Arabic name, my Arabic eyes, my Arabic family, my Arabic stamps on my passport; no matter which way you skin the cat, it’s still racial profiling.

I follow the attendant, turning the little girl’s words into my temporary mantra. Always be patient. Always be patient. Always be patient.

She leads me to a separate line and explains, “you have been selected for TSA pre-check. I just didn’t want to say it in front of the other passengers because it usually makes people upset. Have a safe flight.”

She was gone, probably to offer the same great news to another lone traveler.

I’m thrilled, but mostly surprised.

I, an Arab-American, just got “randomly selected,” and it wasn’t for extra screening. This must be what regular white people feel like all the time, I think as I notice how exclusively white the pre-check line is. But that’s a conversation for another time. I have a flight to catch.

I scan my bags, arrive at my gate and board with minutes to spare. I retire my mantra and mentally high-five Allah.

A small step for Halah, and a great leap for Arab-kind.


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