Racial profiling on airplanes is unfortunately nothing new but in our current social and political climate, this type of behavior has become dangerously normalized. Last week, a high school student wrongfully photographed a man wearing a turban on an airplane and shared the images on Snapchat.
The teen, who has not been identified due to his age, accompanied the images with captions implying that the man was potentially a terrorist who planned to hijack the plane. "Never mind I might not make it to Indy," he wrote in one caption. The elderly man in the photos didn't appear to know that his picture was being taken, and he was even asleep in one of the photos.
When Simran Jeet Singh, a professor of religion at Trinity University in Texas, learned that the images had been shared on social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, he used them as an example of what it's like for a person who "appears Muslim" to travel by plane.
Singh, a Sikh activist, says a quick look at the teen's Twitter account showed he stood by his racist, invasive actions: “I tracked his Twitter account for a little bit, and he was tweeting about the photo,” Singh told New York Magazine. “When they [the plane screenshots] were going viral, he was sharing similar messages about why he stands by what he said.”
He also noted that the teen had received positive feedback from Twitter users who applauded his actions.
“It hits close to home because he’s an older man. He’s clearly harmless, and he could very well be my father or my grandfather," Singh explained. "So that just hits close to home, because if this individual is receiving this kind of messaging from a fellow passenger, it could have been any one of us."
Singh himself is no stranger to racial profiling when traveling by plane. He says he is frequently selected for secondary TSA screenings and people often "choose" to not sit next to him on airplanes.
“Really, you never know the line between hateful thoughts and speech and hateful actions. It could easily cross over into violence, and that could affect any of us at any time," he explained.
“I just think that in this political climate, we all have a responsibility to stand up against racism whenever we see it," Singh continued. "So I just felt, when I saw these photos, that it was just a responsibility I had to my community — and to other minorities in this country — to bring light to the fact that these are the kinds of sentiments going around."
His words are especially important this week: Earlier today, a modified version of Donald Trump's travel ban was officially put into effect despite the best efforts of federal judges in Hawaii, Maryland, Virginia, and California. The Supreme Court has announced it will hear oral arguments on the case this fall.
When it comes to anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions, if you see something, say something. The behavior exhibited by this teen is both morally reprehensible and dangerous. We hope the national attention he's garnered will make him think twice the next time he's inclined to engage in racial profiling.