Inspired to Write – prejudice from an American airline

Why have I been so absent from this blog for the past months? Surely it is not because I have nothing to write about; indeed, it is probably quite the opposite.

I watch, listen to and read the news daily and have been disturbed and often really shocked about some of the stories that have been broadcast. I could have written about the treatment of refugees on Greek islands and across Europe, global or local poverty, the continued lack of equality for women, the US presidential election candidates, the removal of benefits for disabled people in the UK or any of the multiple numbers of items about discrimination and prejudice, but I chose not to – why? I think I reached a state of inequality over-load and needed a break.

Having spent the last two day in the company of Malcolm Parlett, exploring his concept of Whole Intelligence, from his book Future Sense, I felt inspired again to write again. Malcolm teaches that there is a way, through the five explorations that underpin his work, for us to be hopeful about the future – though we must all play our part. Maybe writing is one of my responsibilities.

So, when today a news story came my way from the New York Times, I decided to write.

The paper reports that a college student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, was removed from a plane, owned by Southwest Airlines, after another passenger overheard him southwestspeaking Arabic on the phone and reported him to the staff. He had been sharing with his uncle in Baghdad his excitement of having just attended an event where the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, had spoken. Once off the plane, he was asked “Why were you speaking Arabic in the plane?”

From time-to-time we hear of people having been arrested for joking with airport security staff about having a bomb in their suitcase – clearly a stupid comment in today’s cautious society – but does the speaking of Arabic, a language spoken by 300 million people, constitute such a threat? Definitely not! According to the article, this is one of at least six cases where a Muslim has been removed from a flight in 2016, without any apparent legitimate reason.

Who is at fault here? Certainly not Mr. Makhzoomi, who has at much right to speak Arabic as I do English. Maybe the guilty person is the passenger who overheard and reported the non-incident definitely an over-reaction. In my opinion, the fault lies exclusively with the flight crew who responded to the complaint in any way.

What should they have done? Sure they have a responsibility to allay the fears of the concerned passenger, but if there was an issue it was with this person. Unless the staff had a concern themselves, any intervention, no matter how discreet, with Mr. Makhzoomi would have constituted prejudiced and been discrimination. After all, he had passed airport security to get on the plane in the first instance. In the event, they responded to a cultural characteristic, different to their own, with no regard for its normality. Their intervention work should have been exclusively with the anxious passenger.

Southwest Airlines, and other service providers, have to ensure all their customer serving staff are well enough trained to understand cultural differences and perhaps even learn to embrace them. In understanding more about their own identity and difference, behaviours of tolerance and acceptance are created.


This exemplifies the essence of “Working with Difference”, the project introduced by Equality Edge; learning to recognise and embrace personal difference, acknowledging the impact it may on behaviour in any given circumstance, communicating effectively with other people, whilst developing a tolerance and understanding of their differences. Perhaps this is also a demonstration of Whole Intelligence

About equalityedge

I run Equality Edge and its unique and creative "Working with Difference" project. It supports employers and managers in gaining a competitive and cost saving advantage from meeting equality and diversity best practice obligations. Coaching and workshops are used to deliver organisational, team and leadership development, assisting in improving communication and the understanding of the impact difference has on workplace behaviour.
This entry was posted in communication, discrimination, Language, management, Prejudice and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Inspired to Write – prejudice from an American airline

  1. Sunniva says:

    I can relate to the inequality overload, as well as the evil-deeds-around-the-world overload. I think we all need to push the “pause” button now and then, and then re-focus on what actually works well. Glad to see you writing again!

    Thanks for sharing this story, and your reflections. In these times there is a certain paranoia due to terrorist attacks, but it has gone completely out of proportion. Most people don’t actually die by the hands of terrorists, and just speaking Arabic certainly doesn’t make you suspicious! “Oh la laaaa”, as the French would say…

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