“I have never felt more humiliated and belittled in my life” - Omaya Zein opens up about her racist experience
On August 29, my husband, sister and I decided to take a trip to Lisbon, Portugal for summer vacation. We absolutely loved the trip and had an amazing time. The people were very welcoming and treated us with much respect which made it very hard to leave such an amazing atmosphere.
What seemed to be a perfect trip, actually ended in a bizarre way. On our way back home to the United States, we had to make a stop in Frankfurt, Germany. Unfortunately, the aircraft was fully booked and therefore my husband was not able to sit next to me and my sister as someone else was assigned to sit next to me. As we were all getting ready to board the plane I noticed the passenger who was assigned to sit next to me was walking slowly and confused while approaching my row. The man kept looking at his boarding pass and looking at me as if there was a mistake. At first, I didn't think much about it as he was an older man and I assumed he probably couldn't see the aisle number clearly. But later on, I turned out to be completely wrong for assuming such thing.
As he approached my row he called the flight attendant and started to speak loudly in German while looking at me. They stayed talking for a few minutes to the point that I started to get curious of their conversation. I then assumed he was uncomfortable sitting on my row because space was tight and he was a bigger man. "Perhaps he wanted to move towards the front of the aircraft to get more leg room", I said to myself. As the flight attended left the man quickly turned to me and my sister and asked what language we speak. My sister told him we speak English. He then said to me that he will not be able to sit next to me because of my faith!
At this point, I was very shocked and confused as I have never had anyone tell me to my face that they can’t sit next to me because of my religion. After I gathered my thoughts and emotions, I asked him, "what do you mean by that?" He then answered, "well aren't you Muslim?" I said, "yes, I am" and he replied, "Well I prefer not to sit next to you. Anyways, you're not allowed to sit next to me as I'm not part of your faith." I then answered, "You have it completely wrong sir. You are allowed to sit next to me. This is an airplane, all seats are pre-assigned. However, if you are uncomfortable sitting next to me then simply say that instead of making an excuse." He then looked at me and started to shake his head with a smirk on his face and said, "Well don't worry about it, I have talked to the flight attendant to fix this problem." I replied with, "Honestly at this point, I'm not comfortable with you sitting next to me because of your views and if you want to sit somewhere else than it's fine with me."
As we kept going back and forth my husband noticed there was some sort of problem going on and walked towards my row to ask if everything was okay. The man who was still standing up & holding up a line behind him asked if Muhammad was my husband to which I answered," yes". He then said, "okay good, we can trade seats,” which we obviously agreed upon.
What was more disappointing than this experience I went through, was that not one passenger or flight attendant stood up for this obvious hateful act. Even after the man switched seats with my husband, the flight attendant acted like nothing happened.
I have never felt more humiliated and belittled in my life. "Did this man just say he didn't want to sit next to me because I'm Muslim?" This was the only thought going through my head for the rest of my flight home.
It's unfortunate as years go by, some people stay with their closed minded mentality. I can only share my story to bring awareness of such hate. Despite this unfortunate situation I went through, I will continue to bring light into my work and still believe, "United we stand, divided we fall."
Follow Omaha @omayazein