An Arab American man murdered by his neighbor in Oklahoma. Two Bangladeshi American men murdered in New York. A Pakistani American student bullied by his school principal is forced to “confess” to being a terrorist.
I look away from the older white couple, wondering if they’re the kind of folks who could get me, a brown dude with a beard, kicked off of a plane.
They wouldn’t do that, I immediately tell myself. These incidents are still rare enough. I can’t let myself fall prey to irrational fears, like the people afraid of terrorists lurking behind every corner.
I sit down. I work. Listen to an old Billy Bragg album.
Half an hour before landing, I’m reading articles saved on my tablet. And I find myself clicking on an article about women in the Irish Republican army.
As I scroll down, I see striking images of IRA fighters. I peer at them to see them in detail, when I suddenly remember where I am. I recoil, quickly turn off my tablet, and look around guiltily, to see if anyone had noticed the brown dude looking at images of terrorists while on a flight. My heart starts racing. In post 9/11 America, this is exactly how those worst case stories began.
I put the tablet away and close my eyes, relieved not to have become another hashtag, another one of those stories being circulated on Twitter. Me, I’d be that brown dude detained by security for reading about Ireland on a plane.
I drift off to sleep, and wake up when the plane lands. We’ve touched down safely in America in the age of Trump.
Anirvan Chatterjee is a Bay Area techie and community historian. He co-curates the award-winning Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour (BerkeleySouthAsian.org). Find him online at www.chatterjee.net and @anirvan