I've been racially profiled. Based on my blond hair, blue eyes and pale complexion, a hateful man in a Green Valley McDonald's decided that I obviously agreed with his tirade against the Spanish-speaking teenagers behind the counter. "Stop talking Mexican," he told them. "We're in America. Talk American."
Now, based on the passage and signing of a bill that allows cops to demand proof of legal status from pretty much anyone, all Arizonans are being profiled. This law isn't just a "brown" or Latino issue. The effects of this wrongheaded law harm every Arizonan - even those who support it. We can all be stopped and asked for papers.
So, after his verbal abuse of the manager and the staff, this Green Valley man - who had been to church that Ash Wednesday because he still bore the ashes of the cross on his forehead - stormed toward the door, clutching the bag of the food prepared by the people he'd just berated.
"Buenas noches," I called.
He turned and looked. My husband and I were the only customers sitting in the restaurant.
He looked at our skin color and he concluded that we white folks were on the same page. We all think the same, you know.
This man launched into the tired rant about Mexicans, talking American, "these people," "illegals," blah, blah, blah. He leaned in and nodded to me. "It's people like you and me. We're the Americans. We and our ancestors, we're the ones who made this country great."
Which native American tribe did he belong to? None? Me neither.
My people on my mother's side landed in what's now New York in the 1600s.
On my dad's side, my grandfather and his twin were beaten up in kindergarten for speaking German - the language of their immigrant family - during World War I. They, too, were told to "speak American."
This man kept spewing his hate to what he thought was a friendly audience. He didn't listen to our objections, our refutations, our absolute rejection of everything he said. Reality had no business in this one-sided conversation.
We asked him to leave. We told him to leave, that he wasn't welcome at our table. The language got a bit heated, because a bully doesn't respond to the social contract of how civilized people act.
So this man this man decided that his America isn't big enough for anyone else. He heard Spanish spoken at a fast-food restaurant and came to the conclusion that those people weren't American. He looked at a table with a white man and a white woman eating dinner, heard me say something and decided that yep, we're Americans - and according to his contorted definition, the real kind.
In the several years since this exchange occurred, Arizona has veered scarily toward a world view promulgated by that angry man.
The people who made this country great certainly didn't do so only with other people who had similar complexions or who hailed from the same places across the globe.
Legislation, like the law Gov. Jan Brewer just signed, that devalues human beings and seeks to divide people threatens the fabric of our country and the American way of life.
The actions and rhetoric of some Arizonans cause the rest of the nation, and the world, to profile all Arizonans as racist, backward and out of control.
So, for those who believe that all Arizonans support these dangerous policies, please know this: Many Arizonans reject the divisive and harmful policies pushed by the Republican lawmakers in our state. Racial profiling will endanger public safety for all of us.
Don't profile all Arizonans based on the bad actions of a few.
Contact editorial writer Sarah Garrecht Gassen at firstname.lastname@example.org