This, of course, is little more than paranoia, post-9/11 anxiety, but in the days following the terrorist attacks--those stumbling, shambling days of post-terror confusion--I have felt a deeper, more troubling concern. I've felt like a racist asshole.
A battle cry from the Left has always been education equals tolerance--the notion that if we pull the ignorant out of their ignorance, they will embrace all races/swim in the melting pot/kumbaya, my lord, etc. It is rhetoric I have always embraced, at the same time dismissing the misinformed (i.e., stupid, racist [usually Southern] rednecks) with a roll of the eyes and a wave of the hand--oh, how pitiful they are!
But following September 11, I have had a nagging suspicion that deep down, when push comes to shove, we are all governed by a fear, and that fear has led me toward my own form of racial profiling. For the first time since I can remember, I find myself tensing up around those I peg as being of Arabic descent (and in a time like this, it has become apparent to me that my knowledge of nationalities is woefully ignorant).
The Japanese internment camps of WWII, however absurd/unnecessary/outright wrong they were, spackled closed a paranoid crack in the U.S. following Pearl Harbor, a crack very much reopened after September 11. Awash in threats and rumors of anthrax (or worse), as well as the continual discussion of terrorist "cells" in the U.S. just waiting for the call to strike, this is a country fighting and cowering at the same time--we wage war overseas (bombing horribly, as usual) while at the same time bracing ourselves for more attacks. The result, for me, is that while FBI officials keep telling us to watch our asses, and President Bush tells us to be on alert for suspicious persons and/or behavior, I find myself feeling a slight twinge of concern over that Arabic-looking guy slapping together a burrito for me at Taco Del Mar, lest he slip a little white powder in there somewhere.
And even though it is a minor feeling, it still scares the crap out of me. It scares me that I feel an iota of trepidation. It scares me that there must be a fine line between what I feel and what the assholes beating up U.S. Muslims are feeling. It scares me that I have a connection, no matter how minor, to those stupid, racist (usually Southern) rednecks. It scares me that fear can apparently trump my ideals.
In the weeks following September 11, reports circulated that a number of Arab Americans were either kicked off U.S. flights or prevented from even boarding them. I can't help but wonder how I would have reacted had I been on one of those flights. Would I have stepped up and defended my fellow traveler, or would I have just sat there quietly as other passengers raised a stink, thinking, Thank God they're doing it? I don't know, but I'm scared to find out.