“You Fit The Description”, Trump Style
This “extreme vetting” of Muslims with vague points and cruel policies puts all Americans at risk. I know first-hand.
Let me begin by setting the scene. It’s October, 2008. I’ve just had a
great weekend trip to Toronto, Canada by way of Buffalo, New York.
I was a few days away from my birthday, I was in the company of a
dear friend that I was close to who called Toronto home. She was
driving me back to the airport in Buffalo where she had picked me
up that previous Saturday. We approach the toll gates at the border,
and take notice of the long line at one gate. The line we just joined.
It’s a bright, clear fall Monday, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind
of disturbance. My friend pulls up to the kiosk and we both greet the
border agent in the booth. A minute goes by, then another as he looks
over both of our ID’s.
Then it happens.
“Mr. Smith, could you please step out of the vehicle, sir?”
The words arrive in my eardrums with a soft thud, as if you overheard
a neighbor drop something through the walls.
“Excuse me? On what grounds?” I reply. Dread wells up inside of me.
I instantly begin the internal fight to remain calm, as my friend looks
at me with worry. An intense worry that fills her gentle countenance.
At that moment I take note of an agent slipping up next to the passenger
side door where I am out of the corner of my eye. He’s armed, in tactical
olive green with a rifle. “Please, sir, it’ll only be a moment. We have
a couple of questions.” I can feel my face harden. “Okay.” I hear the
words come out of my mouth but I don’t feel as if I’m saying them.
I flash a look that I hope is reassuring to my friend and step out of
her car. The agent and I begin to walk over to the Customs building.
I walk with a million bolts of panic crashing down within my mind,
but I keep my shoulders straight. The agent has one hand on my arm.
I turn my head to meet his gaze directly, hidden by sunglasses.
I glance down at his hand on my arm — a loose grip but obtrusive. I
look back up at him and whatever I had on my face made him snatch
his hand back like a child touching a hot iron. And move away by half
“Am I under arrest?”, I ask.
“No, Mr. Smith. You’re not. We just want to ask some questions.” he
replies, in a neutral tone. The agent looks to be in his late thirties,
military crew cut. White. A sense of weariness at certain parts of his
face. We enter the building and I am guided to a chair inside as he
goes back behind a long counter. Inside, it is a hanging feeling of
tension. Not immediate, but anxious. The American flag hangs in
one corner like a wallflower at a bar who casts a wary eye on all on
the floor, wanting to be noticed. I peer outside to my right and see
my friend’s car pull into the lot out front. I look around to see who
else is in here with me. There are only two other people waiting in
chairs. Both of them Latino, short in stature, dressed in t-shirts and
jeans. One has a face of absolute terror.
After 10 minutes, I get called to the counter. The same agent stands
there. “Mr. Smith, I want to tell you why we stopped to question you.
There was a suspect in Buffalo that committed a crime. From our
records, his identification noted that you and he share the same
birthday, but not the same year. We had to make sure you weren’t
him.” As he’s telling me this, I look him squarely in the eye. If my
face registered what I was feeling inside, that this was UTTER
BULLSHIT, he was trying haphazardly to avoid it. “Let me ask you,
sir — couldn’t you search in your records and find my arrival into
Buffalo through the airport? Wouldn’t they have a record of when
I came in to differentiate?” I ask, coolly. The agent’s face had a sheen of
resignation. “We don’t coordinate with the airports in that fashion,
we’re not equipped to do so.” I retrieve my ID, and step back out
into the sunlight. I head back to my friend’s car, and we both
drive off. She told me that they wanted to detain her too, but she
flatly refused and they allowed her to drive to the building to wait
I get back home, and tell my mom what happened. As any mother
would do, she freaked out. Mainly due to worry and fear. My friend
is Somalian-Canadian, and Muslim. We had struck up a connection
thanks to the forum boards of Okayplayer.com. This weekend was
the first time we had ever met up in person to hang out. I would
go up to Toronto a couple more times after that, and be briefly pulled
out of the line for questioning one more time at Newark Liberty
Airport on returning to the United States. All in all, I’ve been the
subject of questioning three times. The first time was in 2004 after
coming back to the States with my sisters and my mother after a
trip to Cancun, Mexico. As I’m writing this now, I can pinpoint each
minute of each moment and feel the silent anger that rose inside of
me. I had been told here and there that my name played a part, that
perhaps I should change it. But I knew it went far deeper than that.
In a society deathly afraid of terror attacks after the events of 9/11,
it came down to what was at the time bordering on excessive fear
of anyone brown. A fear that still persists, as much as some would
have loved to believe otherwise.
A fear that is now boldly presented as of yesterday, with President
Donald Trump signing an order freezing immigration from seven
countries and the immediate halt of Syrian refugees entering the
United States. The effects are already apparent — as I write this,
two people from Iraq who have visas are being held at JFK Airport
in New York City. Two men who have worked extensively with
the U.S. to combat terror overseas.
I say this with all due honesty — this order is an abhorrent action
against the principles of these United States. It’s unlawful. And it
puts every one of us in danger, whether we realize it or not. It’s
setting the tone for nationalistic xenophobia to be part and parcel
of what the United States is. For those of us of color here, it is an
exposure of the cancerous and racist underbelly comprised of the
worst of us that we’ve seen for countless years. A ban like this —
because let’s face it, it is a ban- brings back the years of forced
Japanese internment during World War II. It brings back other
sordid episodes in this nation, like the Chinese Exclusion Act of
1882, brought into existence by President Chester A. Arthur.
And it again brings forth a horrible precedent — that a nation
that will proclaim itself as a leader of the free world will again,
throw dirt all over it in the name of protecting white supremacy.
Because that is what this is. Because who knows what else this
administration may pull? He announced it on International
Holocaust Remembrance Day. They will stoop to lower depths.
And drag us into the ground with them.
“You fit the description” runs through my mind the most now.
Because I can’t help but feel that this is what this administration
is trying to enact. And in doing so, they may bring about more
danger. This order is loudly announcing that American prejudice
is up for export. And it’s doing so based on the raw emotions of
hate and fear, wiping away the last 8 years of goodwill built up
in an instant like a petulant child would do to a pile of Lego
bricks. I’m a Black man born and raised here. I know the full
history of this country. It would be foolish of me not to call this
out for what it is, knowing that it could full well be used against
me and others like me. (See: voter suppression for starters.)
But, even in the midst of this, what has to happen is that people
need to speak up and stand up. Confront what is transpiring
right now, continually and openly. Read up on American history
in full, don’t just settle for a few brief articles. I guarantee you
that someone you know is going to feel the effects of this in
some way. Especially if you have a loved one in the armed
forces. Especially if they happen to be stationed overseas. If
you know someone who is supporting this without
knowing all the facts, try to give them those facts and if they
still won’t hear you — let them go. Sign petitions, spread word
on legal challenges, go to town hall meetings, call your local
representatives, talk with others who are concerned, donate
and volunteer if you can — any action that takes you out of
complacency is an impactful one. That’s what they count on.
Your complacency, and then you feeling there’s no point to
Immigrants from all areas of the globe made this nation. By
choice and forcibly — again, look to the true American history.
Honor them by fighting against this. It’s not about either side of the
aisle at this point. This is about the America you know. An
America that isn’t going to fit its lauded description ever again
if this is not challenged by ALL of us.