This past Labor Day, an incident at Newark Airport resulted in one of the airport terminals being evacuated. Some of those who were evacuated described the panic over the evacuation, as many thought that there was a bomb or an active shooter in the vicinity. A chaotic scene followed, with passengers dropping their bags and attempting to get out of the terminal as quickly as possible. However, there was no real threat at the airport. Two men found themselves at the center of the incident, claiming that the real cause for the evacuation was racial profiling.
Han Han Xue and Chunyi Luo were both waiting for their flight to San Francisco when an Alaska Airlines employee approached them separately and began acting strangely and asking questions, such as "Are you nervous?" to Luo and "How much did they pay you?" and "Are you on an American visa?" to Xue. The two men had never met before, but the employee also insisted that they knew each other and continued to ask questions. Xue stated that the employee followed him as he boarded the flight and told him, "I'm onto you guys. The cops are already called." Soon after, she spoke to gate agents before calling an evacuation and turning on an emergency alarm. Xue also stated that after he and Luo went to talk to the police following the evacuation, the employee yelled, "We got them motherfuckers."
Alaska Airlines did not make a statement on the issue, although it was rumored that the employee had bipolar disorder and had not taken her medication. However, the employee's missing her medication would not have acted as some sort of on and off switch for racism. Her actions seemed to be motivated by racism more than anything else. Her asking Xue about his visa was especially telling, as well as her insistence that Xue and Luo knew each other. Their only connection to each other was that they were both Chinese (playing into stereotypes held about Asians, especially East Asians), which was likely the reason why they were targeted by this employee. Even so, there has been no apparent action taken against the employee's actions, despite her causing a mass panic among passengers in the terminal. Xue has stated that the medication explanation doesn't excuse her actions, as well as adding that although Asians aren't the most commonly profiled group, he does fear that current trade war with China may have shifted the public view of East Asian Americans.
Incidents like this one are inexcusable and need to be given more attention. Even now, Asian Americans still seem to have minimal visibility in discussions of racism and discrimination, and it's important that people know that these things do happen. In this case, racism had an impact on not only the two men who were targeted, but also the hundreds of other passengers who were fearing for their lives as they rushed to evacuate the terminal. The motivations behind such incidents aren't something we can ignore anymore. Acknowledging the continued presence of racism is the first step to preventing these incidents in the future.