The White House Correspondents Dinner is a big to-do every year, drawing in huge names from across the country in almost every field imaginable. When one has the opportunity to go, one goes. But Muslim-American physician Seema Jilani may not be going back next year after experiencing what she says was blatant racism.
Jilani attended the dinner as a guest of her husband, a journalist; as the spouse of the invited guest, Jilani wasn’t allowed to attend the actual dinner, but instead would be spending the evening in a designated cocktail area with others. Soon after they parted company, however, Jilani realized her husband had her keys. Upon realizing she couldn’t contact him on his phone, she approached a group of security officers and asked if she could go into the ballroom just to get her keys. That’s when the trouble started.
“They refused to let me through,” Jilani wrote. “For the next half hour, they watched as I frantically called my husband but was unable to reach him. Then something remarkable happened. I watched as they let countless other women through — all Caucasian — without even asking to see their tickets. I asked why they were allowing them to go freely when they had just told me that I needed a ticket. Their response? “Well, now we are checking tickets.” He rolled his eyes and let another woman through, this time actually checking her ticket. His smug tone, enveloped in condescension, taunted, “See? That’s what a ticket looks like.”
Upon pressing the security officers as to why they would let others in without a ticket, Jilani was threatened by the guards, who said they would escort her out. Outraged, Jilani wrote a seething editorial on Huffington Post, where she spoke about the injustice done to anyone with dark skin and a foreign name, now more than ever.
“I explained that I am a physician, that my husband is a noted journalist for a major American newspaper, and that our guest was an esteemed, Oscar-nominated director. They did not believe me. Never mind that the American flag flew proudly outside of our home for years, with my father taking it inside whenever it rained to protect it from damage. Never mind that I won “Most Patriotic” almost every July 4th growing up. Never mind that I have provided health care to some of America’s most underprivileged, even when they have refused to shake my hand because of my ethnicity,” she wrote.
As of now, the White House has had no response about the incident, though that is likely to change soon; Ms. Jilani’s story has gone viral.