‘Why Are Y’all so Bearded?’

#ShitTSASays chronicles the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s ludicrous mistreatment and profiling of Muslims while flying. Send your story to editorial@muslim-girl-2021-production.mystagingwebsite.com.

Mike B.

I’m a Swiss-Lebanese hybrid of a Swiss mother and a Lebanese father (both Christian) and I work as a photographer. Over the years, I’ve had some exceptionally shitty TSA comments made that I’ve always let slide — but I’ve remembered every single one. I have an Arab last name and a Christian first name but I travel mainly on my Swiss passport. I don’t look like your everyday Swiss citizen; namely I’m not blond and blue-eyed. I look pretty ethnically ambiguous, as most biracial people are.
TSA have always looked at me and then questioned why I look the way I look. This wouldn’t happen so often with someone who is black or someone who’s Jewish, so it’s pretty ridiculous how often this happens blatantly to me.
I travel in the Middle East often for work but also to see my parents. I fly a lot for work to some pretty troubled places sometimes and steadily since 9/11, I’ve been “randomly” searched less. But the comments have steadily gotten worse. Needless to say, I drive more often than fly if I can manage it, just to avoid the headaches of airports.
What is also shocking is that none of these comments occur until my passport is involved. Most Americans believe I was born here because of my accent.

  • “Why are y’all so bearded?”
  • “Arabic name — but you don’t look full Arabic. What are you actually?”
  • “Didn’t your white mom feel bad having a bearded kid all those years?”
  • “Why do you have to have so many electronics in your bag? It just makes my day harder. One of these days, I’m gonna find something in y’all’s bags.”
  • “How do I know these cameras belong to you?”
  • “Can you prove you’re a journalist and not something else?”
  • “Is this Swiss passport real?”
  • “Is this Swiss passport stolen?”
  • “How do I know this isn’t a fake passport?”
  • “You sure don’t look Swiss.”
  • “Are you Muslim?”
  • “Is your father Muslim?”
  • “Does your mother have to cover from head to toe in your country?”
  • “Because of your Middle Eastern stamps in your passport, I’m going to have to search your bag manually.”
  • After opening my bag: “Why do you have so many phone chargers?” I had two because I had two phones.
    “I’m going to have to confiscate these because you can’t have these on the plane.” They didn’t check my camera bag, which has hard drives and more cables in there.
  • “You’ve got a lot of electronics, must be all that oil money.”
  • “Why do you have ski pants in your bag? Lebanon is a desert, isn’t it?”
  • “What are these crosses for? You trying to hide something?” They were gifts for my mother who collects antique crosses.
  • “The chemical test came back negative but I’m going to need you to do another test just in case. You can never be too careful with…” He paused awkwardly as if to say another word and looked at me nervously.
    “…Um, people these days.”
  • At passport control: “Why did you go to Lebanon three times in one year?”
    Me: “My family lives there I went for special occasions.”
    “Yeah? You sure about that?”
    Me: “Yes sir, one time was Christmas, the other two were for weddings.” They checked my documents over a few times.
    “You ever been involved with al-Qaeda or anything like that?”
    Me: “No sir I’m a good Catholic, I wouldn’t be going home for Christmas otherwise.”
    “Yeah, of course you are. Nobody ever did anything bad while over there.”
    “Excuse me?”
    “Nothing. Have a happy Ramadan — um, I mean holidays.”
  • Last but not least: “You’ve got a few visas for Saudi Arabia in here, what are those for?” I went as a journalist to document things happening in the country.
    “Those (started saying “turban” but probably saw I had a keffiah on my bag) people are just so damn rude when they come through here. They won’t even speak English; you know they can! I’m glad you speak English like an American. You’re a credit to your race.”

Written by Mike B.