“I took my second flight about a month ago, a short 45-minute plane ride to Chicago. I’m not much of a flyer, but I hate what I encountered on the plane ride home even more than I do being 30,000 feet in the air. As I boarded the plane, I noticed a Middle Eastern-looking man sitting next to the window with two empty seats next to him.””
I took my second flight about a month ago, a short 45-minute plane ride to Chicago. I’m not much of a flyer, but I hate what I encountered on the plane ride home even more than I do being 30,000 feet in the air.
As I boarded the plane, I noticed a Middle Eastern-looking man sitting next to the window with two empty seats next to him. I thought nothing of it because I was one of the first people on the plane, so I took a window seat across the aisle from him.
Passengers began to take their seats, occupying nearly the entire plane, and just before take off, I happened to look away from my copy of the Chicago Sun-Times across the aisle.
The man still had two vacant seats next to him. At first I thought the extra space made him a pretty lucky guy, but as I turned to get a better look at how the plane had filled up, I quickly realized a terrible truth.
People were scared to sit by him.
Every seat was occupied – except the two next to him.
The tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001 have scarred our country to the point that people flying on airplanes make conscious or unconscious efforts to avoid Middle Eastern individuals on the same flight.
I felt guilty, as though I was grouped among the people who chose other seats because this man wore a turban.
It took me over a month to really gather my thoughts about this situation, because it is so delicate and I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
I couldn’t necessarily blame the other passengers for choosing a different location to sit, because it’s possible they never thought of this, but it made me think about how it must have made this man feel. Did he notice what I noticed? Was he offended by the situation?
The ramifications of Sept. 11 still affect this country, but at what cost? I understand that the terrorist attacks have had a profound impact on our country but have they made us so fearful that we can’t trust people because of the way they look?
Our country has forever been described as a melting pot; a place where any citizen can enjoy the freedoms that we cherish. It would be ignorant to think that Middle Eastern Americans have not felt the consequences of the actions of a few men, who happened to resemble the isolated passanger.
Everything felt wrong about the moment.
I wondered further if I was blowing the whole situation out of proportion.
I don’t think I was, and I think that the actions of the Sept. 11 terrorists have put a terrible label and stigma around individuals who have done nothing wrong. In other words, the actions of few have affected the lives of many – of all races and cultures.
Looking back, I wish I would have taken a seat next to the man and learned more about him. I’d much rather have had the opportunity to fill this space with a story about a stranger who provided me with insight about a culture of which I know very little.
Instead, I am reflecting on a very disturbing situation; of a moment that not only proves I haven’t done enough to learn more about other people, but that people subconsciously fear others because of preconceived notions.
If you don’t believe me, picture a Middle Eastern man on a plane, wearing a turban and write down what your first thought is.
Your answer will prove that our country has a long way to go before we truly accept people for who they are, not what others make them out to be.