Last week, I happened to wear a scarf tied tightly around my head for a day. The reason isn't important. But I noticed something. Everywhere I went and in everything I did, people were extra polite and nice to me. Cars let me cut into their lanes. Clerks in stores were extra cheery. Now, I'm a friendly sort and usually get treated well, but this was noticeably better. And then it hit me -- people must have assumed I was a Muslim and were determined to show that they bore me no ill will.
My friend Danielle Crittenden really did perform an experiment. She donned a Saudi-style full burka and went about her daily life wearing it for a full week. Her account is available here. She, too, found that Americans were extra friendly to a black clad shadow.
Showing nothing but her eyes, she even showed up at National Airport with a one-way ticket and no baggage. To be sure, they pulled her aside for extra screening, but the female TSA agent assigned to wand her asked tentatively if it was "culturally okay" to ask her to remove her face covering. "'When women like you come through, we don't know what's 'correct.' Like if I want to see that your face matches your ID, can I ask you to show me your face?'"
Crittenden was dumbstruck: "It's a good thing I was wearing a mask so the guard could not see my astonishment. The security agents at the airport serving the nation's capital--bare seconds of air distance from Capitol Hill, the Pentagon, the White House--did not feel entitled to check the identities of veiled women. Clearly, they hadn't even received any special sort of instructions about it."
One can easily imagine Mr. and Mrs. Obama chatting about xenophobic, narrow, hate-filled America over their toast and coffee in the morning -- he lamenting their attachment to religion and guns, she decrying their fear-mongering hatred of The Other. It's enough to make one decline her invitation, offered that afternoon in Council Bluffs, to "help us change, transform this country in a fundamental way."