My new year began with my best friend's portents of doom, as he very logically explained how America's recent economic downturn may result in a Russia-like disbanding of the United States, effectively creating fifty little, self-sustaining, independent countries -- which, if you consider the mere 400 mile difference between states like California and Arizona, isn't too far a leap of the imagination, as both states retain the most contrasting identities one can fathom between neighbors. I grew up in Arizona, but I feel like I really became a functioning individual in California, so my perspective of the two states may be mired in my respective state of mind, but that's all I have to go on anyway. I couldn't elaborate on my friend's doom-'n-gloom philosophy if I wanted to; I know as little about world history and economics as the next idiot Jay Leno manages to find at Universal Citywalk. Still, his thesis is enough to make you think. President-Elect Obama is promising change of mass proportions, and everyone assumes it's for the better. Change is a double-edged sword, as promising as the new year's resolution you never keep.
Identity may be a key component in 2009, as the token news story of the new year has been the Muslim family kicked off an airplane for talking about which might be the safest seat. The CNN story quotes them: "We were (discussing whether it was safest to sit near) the wing, or the engine or the back or the front, but that's it. We didn't say anything else that would raise any suspicion." While the phrase has become tragically cliche, in a "post-9/11 America, anybody talking about the safest seat in an airplane raises suspicion. Unfortunately, if you're Muslim, or you even look Middle Eastern, a constant orange alert cloud looms over your head, and in my opinion your rightful pride in your ethnicity or appearance should include this understanding, not exclude it via the justification of potential prejudice. If I were Middle Eastern, I'd walk onto every airplane exuding a spirit of conscience peace in an attempt to chip away at that fear. "We are not inherently evil people. Look at me. I'm just here to travel safely, just like you." By now, the lifestyle should be one of dignity, not perpetual victimization, and taught to children.
Before you stamp "racist" on my head, consider this: When you see an Amber Alert for, say, a dark green Dodge Caravan, don't you stare at every green van on the highway a little longer than usual? It could a lighter shade of green, or a Ford, or even a camper or something, but you look at it suspiciously, as for the margin of those microseconds, that driver is a kidnapping rapist . . . Right? Now, consider this Muslim family, who, when they appeared on the news, were very neatly dressed (their kids were even dressed alike), in definitive Muslim garb, -- and add to that the flagrant talk about airplane safety. I'll take it a conspiratorial step further: they were traveling on 1/1/09, which, backwards and excluding the zero, is 911. I know!
I'm not saying the family shouldn't feel offended; I just don't think they should feel surprised, and to their credit, they've praised the professionalism of the FBI agents that interrogated them. It's the airline they've chastised, and the communication between the feds and AirTran. This is my problem, and why I started my argument with statements about dignity. Forgive the airline their trespasses, and accept a lifetime's worth of waivers, if you play your cards right. But understand that one family's inconvenience if worth the sanctity of our country's safety, or at least the illusion of it.
Of course, I'm not Middle Eastern, and it wasn't my family inconvenienced, so this is all very easy for me to say. Yet, in my quest to understand 2009's potential trend toward identity crisis, seeing things through someone else's perspective is critical. As much as a California liberal would scoff at those blasted traffic cameras on seemingly every corner in Phoenix, would the same person stuck in traffic on the 101 everyday prefer the smoother freeways and decreased accidents as a result? To feel the comprehensive soil of America beneath our feet, it's paramount that we try on someone else's shoes from time to time -- even if you have to take them off at the airport, too. I'm resolving to give it a try, why there's still an America to understand.