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Matter of survival
I dread being recognized

By Sepehr Haddad
September 27, 2001
The Iranian

I want to thank for the service it has been providing to Iranians over these two tragedy-filled weeks. People wishing to express their deepest feelings about what happened have been able to communicate to others in the form of features or letters. I'm no Kobra Khanom, but I do know that being able to have this type of web-based bulletin board for all of us has been therapeutic. Normally, I would have wanted to write a song to express my feelings, but somehow, right now, I feel like writing to you.

A few weeks back, I wrote an article on how I had decided not to change my name; that I wasn't going to hide my Iranian heritage just to make it easier for Americans to pronounce my name. Then the WTC tragedy occurred. I have received many emails from people asking if I would now change my name. My answer is still no. However, my life has changed in many ways since the attack.

It doesn't help that I look Middle Eastern and live in Washington, D.C. Like many of you, I have received the typical look you get after such incidents, especially when Middle Easterners are accused of involvement. It's happened to me at gas stations, grocery stores, even a bagel shop. I'm sure some of it is paranoia, but not all of it. When someone glances over towards you, and then immediately does a double-take glance and goes on guard, that's a sign that you have been "spotted".

In the past if someone kept staring at me in a coffee shop I wouldn't get nervous. Sometimes they would actually come up and ask if I was on TV the other night (a world music cable station continuously plays one of our music videos in the D.C. metro area). To be honest, it felt good being recognized; it boosted my ego. Nowadays, I dread it. I don't want anyone to look at me.

I haven't changed my name, but I have changed my appearance. The beard and mustache have gone. I rationalize it by saying I needed a change anyway. Also, I'm doing my patriotic duty to help the economy by buying those expensive shaving cartridges (has anyone checked the price of these things; they are worth their weight in gold).

Besides, at every gathering my parents and their friends used to ask why I don't shave. "You would look much younger," they'd say. Even one lady friend of my mom held my hand and said, "Ghassam bokhor, joone-man, een reesh-o-seebeeleto bezan." (Promise me you will shave that beard and moustache.) She looked at every facial follicle with utter disgust.

I don't think that by shaving I have turned my back against my heritage. I look at it as a matter of survival. I don't want some idiot punch my lights out before he realizes I'm a law-abiding, tax-paying, productive citizen, who also lost friends in this tragedy. I'm just trying to go about my business.

Like it or not racial profiling of Middle Easterners, especially men, is taking place and will continue for the foreseeable future. It's a hassle. So why not reduce the hassle by looking less "Middle Eastern". A lot of Iranian girls don't have this problem since they actually look really good when they dye their hair blonde. What can Iranian guys do? We can shave!

Events have also changed my life on a business level, obviously. How will our band travel by air to concerts in other U.S. cities? My synthesizer/sampler weighs at least 200 pounds with its case, forget about Shahin's guitars, the drum and percussion sets, amplifiers, and extra luggage. To top it all off, the band consists of five people, including our bassist "Moon" who's an Ethiopian Muslim. Talk about profiling. I'd be surprised if we are able to eat in the airport cafeteria, let alone get on a plane.

Whenever we did telephone interviews with radio stations, the DJs would look at our CD cover and ask, "So.... which one is you?" Before September 11, I would always answer, " I'm the one with the goatee and mustache." Now no one calls for interviews.


Sepehr Haddad is one-half of the Shahin & Sepehr musical duo.

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