Security personnel in Mexico City refused to let American celebrity Waris Ahluwalia board his flight back to New York City due to his Sikh turban. The security personnel racially profiled Ahluwalia and insisted that he remove his turban, a clear violation of his civil rights.
Ahluwalia, a renowned actor, model and designer, opted to maintain his rights and has since remained in Mexico City – despite having commitments at New York Fashion Week. In his quest to ensure that such discrimination does not occur again, he has asked the airline, Aeromexico, to issue a public apology and to promise education for its employees.
Ahluwalia’s decision to stand for his civil rights is welcomed by minority communities who are targets of racial profiling. As a fellow Sikh man who is routinely subjected to additional security screenings at airports, I believe it is time for us to develop approaches that ensure our safety and security without alienating our own citizens.
The practice of racial profiling is wrong because it operates under the assumption that all people who look a certain way are guilty until proven innocent. Mr. Ahluwalia and myself are forced to endure additional security screening simply because of how we look and what we believe. This goes against our universal values of acceptance, equality and the freedom of religion.
Racial profiling is also incredibly dangerous because it perpetuates the same negative stereotypes that lead to intolerance and hate violence. When our security officials discriminate against individuals based on appearances and stereotypes, it sends the message to everyone that it is okay to do the same.
Waris Ahluwalia addressed this problem as a Sikh character (Vikram Ray) in Spike Lee’s 2006 film, “Inside Man.” Officers racially profile him and forcefully remove his turban upon arresting him. Ray is visibly upset and pained by not having his turban, repeatedly insisting that the turban is a critical article of his Sikh faith and that it be immediately returned to him.
Ahluwalia’s character then speaks to the issue of racial profiling that minorities face in airports: “Why can’t I go anywhere without being harassed?… I go to the airport, I can’t go through security without a random selection.”
In a way, Spike Lee’s character foreshadowed what Waris Ahluwalia is experiencing in Mexico City today. At the same time though, the character merely reflects the same racial profiling that millions of people have been experiencing for the past two decades.
Again, no one is asking for a free pass, and no one is suggesting that we compromise our safety to ensure our civil rights. We can achieve a balance of both security and civil rights, and it’s clear that doing so would make our communities safer and more secure. It’s in our best interest to become more culturally sensitive and to abandon the practice of racial profiling. This is the stand that Waris Ahluwalia is taking, and this is why we should all stand with Waris.