Code Switch: What A Can Of Coke Has To Do With Racism

Jun 3, 2015

A photograph of Tahera Ahmad from her Facebook page.

An international debate has churned since a Muslim chaplain from Northwestern University complained about her treatment on a United Airlines-operated flight.

I talked with University of Illinois professor Stacy Harwood, co-leader of a project on racial  microaggression,  about whether that flight attendant’s action could be considered racist.  

Tahera Ahmad protested her treatment on a United Airlines flight to Washington, D.C., last week as being humiliating and discriminatory. Ahmad, whose Facebook post about the incident went viral, had asked for a diet coke but was told by a flight attendant that it was security risk for her to have a unopened can. Yet she could see a passenger next to her had an open can of beer.

In response to the outcry, Charles Hobart, spokesman for Elk Grove Village-based United Airlines wrote in an email, “United is a company that strongly supports diversity and inclusion, and we and our partners do not discriminate against our employees or customers. The flight attendant onboard Shuttle America flight 3504 attempted several times to accommodate Ms. Ahmad's beverage request after a misunderstanding regarding a can of diet soda. The inflight crew met with Ms. Ahmad after the flight arrived in Washington to provide assistance and further discuss the matter.

"Additionally, we spoke with Ms. Ahmad [the day after the flight] to get a better understanding of what occurred and to apologize for not delivering the service our customers expect when traveling with us."