The wife of a journalist in attendance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner last month claims in a Huffington Post piece that she had a racist encounter with security.
Seema Jilani was not allowed to attend the dinner itself. Like all spouses and guests, she could only attend the cocktail hour.
Once she parted with her husband, Jilani says she realized he had her keys. When she attempted to get into the ballroom, she was stopped by security, while other women, all Caucasian, passed by. Unlike the other women, Jilani was told she needed to have a ticket.
Jilani, a trained physician, was born in New Orleans. Her HuffPost biography says her work focuses on International Health Care, working in Israel, Palestine, Sudan, Lebanon, Egypt and the Balkans. Jilani says she stands no taller than 4’11’’ and weighs 100 pounds.
Jilani asked the security guard why other people were let through without having shown a ticket.
"Well, now we are checking tickets,” she recalled the man said. She says he then rolled his eyes and asked the next guest for her ticket.
"See? That's what a ticket looks like,” he taunted her.
When she then asked, "Why did you lie to me, sir?" security threatened to have the Secret Service throw her out of the building.
The April 27 dinner was held at the Washington Hilton Hotel in D.C.
Dressed elegantly, Jilani told the man she lost her ticket.
He chuckled and said, "I'd be happy to personally escort you down the escalators ma'am."
Meanwhile, she claims, the white female guests without tickets were being escorted downstairs to the ballroom.
Jilani questioned why those women were let through, while she was being threatened with the Secret Service.
"We have to be extra careful with you all after the Boston bombings,” the man told her.
Jilani says she explained who she was and who her husband was, but it did nothing to stem “this repugnant, infectious bigotry we have become so accustomed to.”
"'White privilege' was on display, palpable to passersby who consoled me,” Jilani wrote. “I've come to expect this repulsive racism in many aspects of my life, but when I find it entrenched in these smaller encounters is when salt is sprinkled deep into the wounds.”
She told security: “We are all human beings and I only ask that you give me the same respect you give others. All I am asking is to be treating with a dignity and humanity. What you did is wrong."
She said she struggled not to cry in that moment, before guards began accusing her of being a party-crasher. One guard claimed they saw her do this last year. Jilani wrote that he must have “assumed all brown people look the same.”