Yesterday, returning from Panama, we went through U.S. Customs at the Atlanta airport in order to re-enter the U.S.A. While being directed across a large room to a station, we observed a Homeland Security/Customs agent standing in the center of the room directing travelers as to which way to go. We both noted the agent, a woman, who was wearing a hijab.
Moments later we spoke of this and Margi mentioned that seeing this moved her to tear-up emotionally. My reaction was one of confusion, a feeling of dissonance, like seeing a kangaroo on the street directing traffic. My mind was unable to grasp the image of a Muslim working for U.S. Customs; it just had no frame of reference for me.
Hours later I awoke in the middle of the night with some clarity of this experience. I concluded that either this woman was a Christian, hired by the Customs department, and told to wear a hijab and positioned in a very visible place for all returning U.S. citizens and incoming citizens from other countries to see, as if this would prove that this country is truly the “Land of the Free,” or she was truly a Muslim person who, wittingly or unwittingly, was being used by the government for the same purpose. In each scenario, I am assuming she is a person who is employed out of necessity and is a dedicated employee.
At a time when Muslims are being profiled, discriminated against, and publicly humiliated, I realized that what I felt when seeing this person was a sense of embarrassment and shame for being an American. I wondered, if in the eyes of the non-U.S. citizens and in the eyes of the supporters of this ugly discrimination, I was assumed to be one of the proponents of security walls, immigrant bashing, global warming denial, anti-science, and on and on.
I cannot wait for the pendulum to start swinging again and I will do what I can to speed it along.