The clear pattern we’re all choosing to ignore



It's time to recognise the not-so-random selections at airport security are unacceptable.

"Take it off," the Greek airport security said casually. "Sorry?" I responded, hoping I had misheard, praying I had misunderstood. He looked up at me for a fraction of a second. Uninterested, he turned his attention back to the security screens. "Take it off," he said again, a little more sternly this time, motioning to my head.

My sister and I glanced at each other in shock, realising he was speaking about my hijab. I let out a nervous laugh before looking at the security officer, trying to meet his eye. "No?" I said, as if it was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard, which it was at that moment. He let out a heavy sigh and looked at me with utter irritation. Our interaction had begun only minutes before, when he informed me that I had been "randomly" selected. But he was carrying on like this conversation had gone on much too long for his liking.

What followed was a heated back and forth that consisted of some suitcase slamming, a mild argument (where I demanded, and finally got, a female security officer and some privacy) and a permanent distaste for Greece.

This wasn't the first time I had been "randomly" selected at an airport. In fact, it's passing security without being asked to step aside that's out of the ordinary for people like myself: people who don't meet the "harmless" criteria, who look a little different because of the colour of their skin or the way they choose to dress.

Even though my most memorable anecdote occurred on the Greek island of Mykonos, my anxiety-ridden experience of being "randomly" selected at security checks begins right here at Sydney airport. To say I have been racially profiled is a controversial statement to some, and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection assures the public "the Australian Border Force do not question or search passengers based on their race, religion or ethnicity", however, when history repeats itself every single time I go through security, it is hard to think otherwise.

The clearest memories I have, of all the different countries I have travelled to, are not the sights I saw, not the food I ate ...

In 2018, American rapper and producer Le1f accused Melbourne airport's customs officers of racism and racial profiling. In 2017, Sunshine Coast Indigenous artist Jandamarra Cadd made similar accusations, outlined in Sunshine Coast Daily, based on his experience at Brisbane international airport, saying a 45-minute search of his belongings was conducted due to the colour of his skin.

Now, it seems airport security processes are set to become even more onerous, not to mention anxiety-ridden, for "ethnics". This month, the Senate passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Police Powers at Airports) Bill 2019, which allow federal police to conduct identity checks without reason and order people to leave major airports. (The changes will undergo a parliamentary review in three years' time.)

These new measures were set in motion by then Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, after a foiled 2017 airport bomb plot. At the time, Turnbull reminded us all to stay vigilant due to the terror threat that still exists in our region. It is crucial to note the importance of these security checks, but it is equally important to avoid crossing the line when deciding who should be the subjects of these searches and how often.


American marketer and blogger Brandon Gaille says "the chances of a terrorist actually being a Muslim is 1 in 8 million, but if you remove the events of September 11, the odds are actually 1 in 90 million." Despite this, a poll published by Cheat Sheet showed 11.2 per cent of Caucasian American respondents found racial profiling "extremely acceptable" and another 31.6 per cent found it "somewhat acceptable".

For the majority, going to an airport and passing through security and customs is a simple process, however, for targets of "random" selection, it is anything but. Ahmed Yasin, a Lebanese Australian male, with a full beard, describes his usual security experience as "cumbersome and embarrassing".

"It's choosing the line that has the friendliest-looking staff, making sure all your jewellery is off, including your belt. Basically, eliminating any possibility of setting off alarms and being asked to step aside. But, after all of that, even if you pass the alarms with flying colours, you're still "randomly" selected," Yasin said.

The consistent pattern of the type of people "randomly" selected at airports is so clear it has become a trope, used for viral internet memes, included in comedic and satirical videos and incorporated into television shows.

It has become normalised and almost expected; however, the effect it can have on the profiled individuals is ignored.

The clearest memories I have, of all the different countries I have travelled to, are not the sights I saw, not the food I ate, but my experience at their airports – and that's no way to travel, no way to live.

When You Are "Randomly" Selected By Airport Security |


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