His uncomfortable experience in a coffee shop tells us a lot about race in America.

How everyday moments can become intolerable.

I usually work from a café. Every morning, between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., you’ll find me there, often writing, sometimes reading. I can usually walk, but sometimes I drive to the ones that are a little far. I park my car, walk in, drop my bag on an empty chair, and get in line for a cup of coffee. This is a routine.

About a year ago, I was in a coffee shop, writing.

Photo via iStock.


The place had a chair against the wall with small square individual table in front. I liked to sit there because I could sit upright and focus, instead of lounging on one of the comfy chairs.

Since I was a regular customer, a lot of the staff members knew me by face and some of them by name. When I arrived, I set my computer on a table and went to the counter to order a cup of coffee. The barista took my money and said, “You are Abdullah, right?”

“No, I am not.”

“Oh, sorry. You do look like Abdullah, the guy from Saudi.”

“OK, but I am Deepak, the guy from India.”

“I’ll try to remember that. Sorry.”

“No problem,” I said.

I got my coffee and sat down.

I noticed people’s eyes skipping around me as they passed by or waited in line.

Then I saw the person sitting on my left reading the news on his laptop. His computer screen had a picture of the couple who had killed 14 people in San Bernardino. It was a day after the shooting had taken place.

I looked at it for a few seconds and then went back to writing. I didn’t want to think much of it, but I looked at it again and then looked around. There was a woman sitting to my right wearing a hijab. She hadn’t been there when I came into the coffee shop. Somehow, I hadn’t noticed. She was busily chatting in English on her phone and typing on her laptop at the same time. Her white veil covered her head but not her face. Her long-sleeved top covered her arms and wrists. This was not the first time I had seen a hijabi girl in the coffee shop, but I didn’t remember when the last time had been. I looked at her from the corner of my eyes and then shifted to the picture on the laptop to my left. Tashfeen Malik, the female shooter, didn’t look very different from the lady sitting next to me. I thought that might be what people were looking at.

It dawned on me that I could be confused for someone who looked like Syed Farook, the male accomplice. There was an early morning rush, and there were more people in line now. A lot of them were looking at their phones and also looking at me. At least that is what I thought.

I was not able to focus on my work anymore. I was fidgeting.

Photo via iStock.

The lady next to me was still talking and typing. It seemed to me the more I tried to avoid attention, the more conspicuous I was getting.

“She’s not with me,” I wanted to say to them. “I’ve never seen her before!” Then I thought even if she moved away from me, the folks in the coffee shop could still think of me what they might have been thinking of her. A part of me thought that I was overreacting, but then I remembered all those times working a day job in an electronics store, when so many Americans asked me if I was from Syria or Iraq.

All kinds of thoughts were brewing up in my head as I sat staring at my computer, my fingers frozen.

I was irritated at the people looking at us. I wanted to move to a different spot, but all the seats were taken. The only choice was to get up and leave. Or just sit there and let people stare at me. I left. Later, I thought to myself that I was being worried for no reason. It was all in my head.

In February 2017, as I read the news in another coffee shop, the big story was about two Indians enjoying a few drinks at a bar in Kansas. Reports say that a prejudiced man shot them and killed one of them. They didn’t look much different from me — in fact, they looked exactly like me. Now their parents are mourning back in India. I could have been one of those men.

Photo via iStock.

I thought of my time at the coffee shop a year ago — how I felt threatened and uncomfortable. I can only imagine how Muslims are feeling now that Trump is president.

I came home and held my wife and my daughter and felt happy and lucky to be together and alive. And then I thought about the most powerful men in America who seem to be waging war on everyone who resembles me.

This story first appeared on Latterly and is reprinted here with permission.

More

If you're a woman and you want to be a CEO, you should probably think about changing your name to "Jeffrey" or "Michael." Or possibly even "Michael Jeffreys" or "Jeffrey Michaels."

According to Fortune, last year, more men named Jeffrey and Michael became CEOs of America's top companies than women. A whopping total of one woman became a CEO, while two men named Jeffrey took the title, and two men named Michael moved into the C-suite as well.

The "New CEO Report" for 2018, which looks at new CEOS for the 250 largest S&P 500 companies, found that 23 people were appointed to the position of CEO. Only one of those 23 people was a woman. Michelle Gass, the new CEO of Kohl's, was the lone female on the list.

Keep Reading Show less
popular

How much of what we do is influenced by what we see on TV? When it comes to risky behavior, Netflix isn't taking any chances.

After receiving a lot of heat, the streaming platform is finally removing a controversial scenedepicting teen suicide in season one of "13 Reasons Why. The decision comes two years after the show's release after statistics reveal an uptick in teen suicide.

"As we prepare to launch season three later this summer, we've been mindful about the ongoing debate around the show. So on the advice of medical experts, including Dr. Christine Moutier, Chief Medical Officer at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, we've decided with creator Brian Yorkey and the producers to edit the scene in which Hannah takes her own life from season one," Netflix said in a statement, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

At Trump's 'Social Media Summit' on Thursday, he bizarrely claimed Arnold Schwarzenegger had 'died' and he had witnessed said death. Wait, what?!


He didn't mean it literally - thank God. You can't be too sure! After all, he seemed to think that Frederick Douglass was still alive in February. More recently, he described a world in which the 1770s included airports. His laissez-faire approach to chronology is confusing, to say the least.

Keep Reading Show less
Democracy

Words matter. And they especially matter when we are talking about the safety and well-being of children.

While the #MeToo movement has shed light on sexual assault allegations that have long been swept under the rug, it has also brought to the forefront the language we use when discussing such cases. As a writer, I appreciate the importance of using varied wording, but it's vital we try to remain as accurate as possible in how we describe things.

There can be gray area in some topics, but some phrases being published by the media regarding sexual predation are not gray and need to be nixed completely—not only because they dilute the severity of the crime, but because they are simply inaccurate by definition.

One such phrase is "non-consensual sex with a minor." First of all, non-consensual sex is "rape" no matter who is involved. Second of all, most minors legally cannot consent to sex (the age of consent in the U.S. ranges by state from 16 to 18), so sex with a minor is almost always non-consensual by definition. Call it what it is—child rape or statutory rape, depending on circumstances—not "non-consensual sex."

Keep Reading Show less
Culture