FBI’s Zeeko Zaki on Unconscious Bias: ‘We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet’

The FBI squad’s latest case will force them to look inward as they tackle racial profiling and unconscious bias.

The episode, titled “Walk the Line” and airing tonight at 9/8c on CBS, finds the crew searching for the person responsible for a bombing which left three people dead. The FBI’s leads point them to members of the local Muslim community and an informant  who is also Muslim and unwilling to cooperate because he believes his people are innocent.

In an effort to catch their suspect, OA (played by Zeeko Zaki) and Maggie (Missy Peregrym) pressure the informant to spill on his friends — a move that doesn’t sit well with OA’s lawyer girlfriend Mona. It’s a sensitive case that will find OA grappling with his identities as both a Muslim man and an officer of the law.

“He’s between a few different rocks and a few hard places,” Zaki tells TVLine. “He’s caught in conflict with his boss, his girlfriend, this informant. When I read the script, I was like it, ‘Can [Maggie] please be on my team?’ Because I can’t have my girlfriend, two girl bosses and my partner mad at me for this whole episode. I don’t know if I’d personally be able to handle that.”

“Walk the Line” hits close to home for Zaki, who is also Muslim and of Egyptian descent. Touching on his own experiences with racism while growing up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, the actor says the episode serves as a reminder that we shouldn’t become complacent with regard to addressing and eradicating Islamophobia.

“It was tricky, because growing up with all of the stereotypes and the racism and profiling, all of those things weren’t so in my face as it was for other people—especially living in New York and in these cities closer to 9/11— so it allowed me to have this position that a lot of people have, which is, ‘Why are we still talking about this? We can’t just go and arrest every guy named Ahmed every time a bomb goes off,’” he explains.

“But at the same time, I’m in this role as OA to navigate those waters appropriately, so I got to go on my own journey with it during this episode. At the end of the day, OA is written the way that he is and the way that I am, which is that lives are what’s important. The job is what’s important. It’s a shame that these things are circumstantial or are happening as they are. For me, it was a reminder that we shouldn’t get too comfortable when it comes to things like this.”

“I hope that after watching, people realize that we’re not out of the woods yet,” he concludes. “It’s no one versus anybody else. We’re all in this together. We’re all capable of making mistakes and being subconsciously biased. But in today’s world, I think it’s important that we identify those spaces, and then work to avoid them.”

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