Valarie Kaur was waiting to board her flight back home to LA and decided to remove the luggage tag from her carry-on.
This seemingly normal act that would usually have gone unnoticed ended up being loudly called out by an older white man standing behind Kaur. Because Kaur had removed a tag to her bag — which contained her breast pump, incidentally — and because of her brown skin, she was immediately labeled a terrorist by those around her.
In a time where massive acts of violence feel like they are occurring daily, it’s understandable that people are on edge. However, many people are using that fear and worry to wrongly accuse others, simply because they have brown skin.
Kaur, who is a practicing Sikh and an attorney, detailed her experience in a public post on her Facebook page. The man started riling up the waiting crowd around them, and would not listen to Kaur, who tried to explain that nothing nefarious was going on. In fact, right before this happened, she had been reading on her phone about what had taken place in San Bernardino and was silently grieving that act of terror. Eventually, an airline employee arrived, but instead of receiving assistance, Kaur was continuously treated poorly, for no real reason (beyond “looking like a terrorist”).
“A gate agent arrived, alarmed and angered. I explained that I was a nursing mother, but she still didn’t let me board with my bag. Her face was just as angry. I had to pull out the breast pump to show her,” Kaur wrote.
Humiliated and aware that everyone else in the First Class section of the plane could see what was happening, Kaur was eventually allowed to take her seat. The airline eventually tweeted Kaur an apology, but to be honest, the damage was already done. Not just to Kaur but, to a greater extent, the way we treat people with dark skin.
Kaur wasn’t the real danger in this case. There is absolutely nothing dangerous or alarming about somebody taking a tag off of their own luggage, and even if you are suspicious, alerting an airline employee, rather than riling up those around you, would be the way to go. This John Wayne hopeful who loudly called Kaur out should be ashamed of himself. Not only because he humiliated this woman, but also because he allowed his own prejudice to take over. Would he have been as vocal if the person removing their luggage tag was a white woman? Of course not.
Thankfully, in Kaur’s instance, she was still allowed to take her flight and nothing else happened. However, the result for other brown-skinned people that look like they’re from the Middle East can be more devastating. Profiling and overt racism will not end terror — it will only increase violence against peaceful people with brown skin.
Kaur understood the racist reasoning behind what happened to her as well, but she rose above to call for love in response. “I’m angry and shaken and sad… 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 should be noted that Kaur’s husband, Sharat Raju, is a writer for the hit show Scandal. I wonder if what happened to Kaur might end up as a storyline in an upcoming episode. How would Olivia Pope have handled this?