Earlier this week, YouTube stars Adam Saleh and Slim Albaher were allegedly kicked off of a plane for speaking Arabic on a Delta flight from London headed to their home in New York City. According to Saleh, passengers and airline personnel were frightened by his phone call to his mother as well as his side conversation with Slim Albaher — all spoken in their mother tongue. They were eventually asked by Delta’s flight personnel to leave, even though, as confirmed by a London Metropolitan Police spokesperson, “they didn’t do anything lawfully wrong.”
There has been a lot of talk about whether or not these events truly happened the way Saleh reports, since he is a semi-famous prankster known for pulling pranks to expose Islamaphobia. According to Roderick Edens, one of the passengers on the Delta flight, Saleh’s story is untrue:
“The entire thing was planned. He wasn’t on the phone with his mom speaking in Arabic. … He and his friends were shouting in Arabic with their fists balled up in the air. They were removed from the plane for being loud and disruptive.”
But regardless of whether Saleh’s story completely went down as he said it did, the airline industry has some major issues with racial profiling that need to be addressed.
Airports are where bigotry is often perpetuated in the name of safety. White fear causes individuals of color to face microaggressions at best — or civil rights violations at worst — only to be condoned in the name of national security. Earlier this year, four men were kicked off of an American Airlines flight in Canada for what they claim was “looking too Muslim.” They later filed a civil rights suit to contest this mistreatment.
Furthermore, racial profiling is not just a Muslim issue.
I’m a seasoned traveler who, like many people of color, has faced racial microaggressions at the airport quite regularly. As a Black woman who has worn many different hairstyles during my travels, I’ve had my hair searched while it was in a headwrap, as well as in braids and twists — all Afrocentric hairstyles. In Sri Lanka, airport personnel pulled me aside and did a thorough search during a layover and the only thing I was doing differently than anyone else at the airport was being and looking Black — Marley twists and all.
Last year at San Francisco International airport, I grew thoroughly fed up when my hair was searched while pulled into a ponytail in its natural state. When I protested, the white TSA agent merely replied, “Girl you have a lot of hair.”
Interestingly enough, of all of the hairstyles that have been scrutinized, the only one that hasn’t been was my straight weave. Somehow, TSA found my straight hairstyle to be non-threatening, but anyone who has ever had a full weave knows there’s capability of hiding major shit underneath the tracks if you really want to. But, alas, somehow this Eurocentric hairstyle appears safer. Hmmm, I wonder why?
People of color do not feel the same level of comfort at the airport, particularly if their hair, language or clothes do not seem normal, (A.K.A. white). Thus, I am not willing to completely disregard Saleh’s story. I am wondering if Adam Saleh and Slim Albaher had been speaking loudly in English, would the situation have escalated the way that it did? Four hundred and twenty million people speak Arabic in this world; it’s pretty ignorant to see an entire language that hundreds of millions of people speak as a threat.
Here’s the thing: each time that I got searched, I wish I would have spoken up for myself a little more, instead of just letting it slide. It made me think about the people on the plane whose hearts and minds disagreed with the decision to kick Saleh off the plane. Did they speak up, or did they silently fume?
The next time you witness or are a victim of blatant racism/racial profiling, will you let it slide? For more of these stories of discrimination must be publicized so airlines can he held accountable for their systemic racism.
As we enter the era of Trump, silence is violence.