What It’s Like To Be Racially Profiled

I’m a British citizen, and have grown up here most of my life. My parents are from Pakistan.

Every time I’ve been to the US, I’ve been pulled aside from all the other people going through passport control, and ordered into a waiting room. Once it was both me and my little brother, who was 14 at the time. (This hasn’t happened to me anywhere other than the US.)

After a long flight, I’m usually in a semi-comatose state, my ears buzzing slightly. I don’t sleep well on planes, so I’m very tired. I trudge slowly along in the queues. Finally, I get to the gate and hand the officer my passport.

Since you know what’s coming, you try and look as ‘normal’ as possible: smile a bit and otherwise maintain a neutral expression. The usual routine, of course, is that they stamp your passport and hand it back, at which point you gladly reclaim your stuff and head out to meet whoever you’re meeting.

Instead, he (it’s usually a he) looks at you. You look back evenly. He then gets out, walks over to an officer standing behind the booth, hands over your passport to him, mutters a few things, comes back, and tells you to follow the officer.

The people behind you in the queue notice, which is annoying, because now you feel like you’ve done something wrong, even though you haven’t. Your heart sinks. You’re really tired and just want to go to bed, but instead you’ve got the prospect of a 3 hour wait ahead of you.

You follow the officer. If you’re feeling particularly annoyed, you ask where you’re being taken. The reply: ‘Just follow me, sir.’

The officers wherever I’ve been in the US have been pretty rude and unfriendly.

He takes you to a large-ish waiting room with a bunch of black seats in rows, tells you sit down, and hands your passport to the officers behind the desk. There are some other people in the waiting room, all identifiably ‘foreign’. Some mother in a headscarf with her kid.

There’s usually someone looking upset while an officer examines the contents of their suitcase in great detail, before taking it out and putting it aside, or just throwing the thing to the floor. They’re gonna have to repack all of that.

You wait awhile, looking expectant. Presumably you’ve been brought here for a reason.

If you’re lucky, you kept a book on you, so you read. Otherwise, you watch the people, and hope your name gets called.

An hour passes. You are seriously annoyed. No one has told you why you’re here. Summoning up some courage, you stand up and walk over to the desk (the others look at you). You ask the officer why you’re here. She orders you – loudly enough for everyone to hear – to sit down and they’ll be with you shortly, sir.

You’re tired as hell. You’re also really angry. A little embarrassed, too. Part of you wants to argue, but it’d be pointless, so you don’t.

You wait, and you wait, and you wait. You think about everything. You go over memories. You smile at the kid a few seats away playing on a Nintendo DS. You wait some more. Your ears are buzzing. It’s indescribably monotonous and stuffy. You wish you hadn’t come.

3 hours later (meanwhile, your phone is out of battery and your aunt is waiting outside for you, convinced you’re dead because your plane landed 4 hours ago and she’s a worrier), someone behind the desk says your name. You go over.

They ask you a few questions. Sometimes they take you into a bare side room with only a table and two chairs, and sometimes it’s just standing at the main desk.

Why are you here? What’s your business here? Who are you seeing? How long have you known them? Where do you work? Did you go to university? What did you study? Why that? Have you ever been to Pakistan? Were you in the military over there? Have you been to the US before?

I’ve been asked all of the above.

You answer in a monotone, trying to sound as English as possible. You keep the sarcasm out of your voice.

Eventually, they stamp your passport and you are escorted out.

Welcome to America.

(Originally on Quora.)

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