Wednesday, September 5, 2012
"...will help recalibrate what young females of color believe is within their reach, while also influencing Western ideas and concepts of black womanhood, strength, agency and femininity—which has been historically objectified, sexualized and, it should be noted, feared."
The preceding quote is from one of those insidious Yahoo articles, you know, the ones you sometimes get trapped answering because there’s all of those responses people post at the bottom of the main article that begin with “I’m so sick of when color is an issue...” This one in particular is about Gabby Douglas, American Gold Medal Olympian, and apparently to some, unimportantly, the first African American Gold medal winner in gymnastics in all around and team competition.
My answer went like this:
" ... however, this is why it is important to recognize her color. Yes, how nice it would be to be colorblind and just American. But how naive it is to speak as if color doesn't matter, or never mattered."
I applaud folk's heartfelt colorblindness. However, please don't grow frustrated and impatient at what seems to be the "race card". Change for equality is hard to come by, not immediately accepted, and not but recently recognized. Remember, this young woman may still have a grandparent alive that can tell the story of being denied food at a lunch counter, shot with a water cannon, or lynched. This stuff wasn't centuries ago. People today remember.
My father, gone 11 years, said to me, "Well, water from the white fountain taste no different than that from the black fountain." He was the first Black Senior Stationary Engineer at the Philadelphia Gas Works. I’ll never forget that title.
I bet Gabby has a "first Black" list of her own.
We have come a looong way in this country, much has changed and there is so much equality. But we cannot act like our history just all of a sudden flopped over for the good - over night.
Can't we as Americans celebrate the "first Black" status of some individual or situation without feeling rubbed so raw? Does it hurt White America so much to recognize that as Americans there are still some *first Black* things - things that seemed unapproachable but 30 - 40 years ago?
It would surely say to me how far we've come when it comes to color - rather than acting like color it isn't there at all.
Color and United, One Year Later
I was cleaning out old e-mails and I came across the hundreds of missives concerning the whole United thing (make that a button to the letter). Hair on my neck stood up all over again. After a year of perspective, I think I have even greater clarity as to the whole situation. Here’s a few more things to consider that still have me shaking my head:
The flight attendant who apparently bent to the will of the frightened young white woman who saw airplane pictures over my shoulder was Black - quite urbane, for that matter, making plural words by adding “s” in her speech and such, very much a stereotypic “sistah”. This is as clear as I can say this, and sorry, it is apt to be viewed to be as racist as I believe they treated me, but maybe at this point in time I should worry less about being politically correct and more about how *I* was viewed. Please read on.
The second flight attendant was Filipino, Nepalese or something. Whatever. His ethnicity as such was not the issue but his command of language was so fractured that the whole “tray tables locked, buckle-up” speech was simply unintelligible. I couldn’t understand a single word he was saying.
The two previous people depictions are important because I received a substantial number of letters from pilots and flight attendants (remember, I fly a lot, make tons of friends, and have more than a passing interest in civil aircraft) that say that, to be blunt, they hate the smaller airlines that the larger airlines take under their umbrellas via buy-outs, DBAs, or as “holdings”. They assure me that these smaller airlines have inferiorly hired, trained, and educated personnel, and are a blight to the name and stature of the greater parent airline’s reputations. Here’s a sampling below from just skimming the top of a search of my old saved e-mails:
** ... "As a captain for Continental I had two similar incidents. They both involved passengers of mideast descent but the subtle prejudice was the same. In both occurrences, I went to the cabin and talked to the passengers myself. Both times, I apologized to the passengers for our poor discretion and we were on our way. I would never trust that sort of decision to the flight attendants...”
** ... "I used to hear complaints from my old school "stewardess" friends that the industry was going to hell in a handbasket thanks to the poor people skills of the newer "Flight Attendants", and that was 20 years ago. This certainly underscores it.”
** ... "I'm embarrassed to say my airline, United, is in any way associated with this fly-by-night outfit, Shuttle America (United Express). My airline has contracted out so much flying that our customers never really know who they are flying for. And they are often treated poorly. This would have never happened on my airplane. This was a young, inexperienced crew, perhaps a 'new-hire' flight attendant.”
The police report was finally released. Pretty much as it was save for one thing - the flight attendant claimed I was “resistant” when asked to place my fanny pack in the overhead as opposed to under my feet. Seriously? Resistant?
“Ma’am, I would rather...” as she was snatching it out of my hands, was resistant? I’ve heard passengers in a heated rage, flight attendants called “bitch”, and everything inbetween by people who were summarily ignored for the rest of the flight. But hey, it was 2 weeks before the 9/11 anniversary, I was looking at Polish Piper Cub pictures, and I am certainly browner and more Osama looking than your more stereotypical aviation engineering looking MIT grad. If you don’t think the last depiction was the lynchpin in being singled out, then I guess you're among the ranks of those Yahoo list responders who are “sick and tired of race being the issue when something happens to Black people”.
The following quote is from an article in my Earthlink newsfeed, referring to the mayor of Boston openly declaring Chick-Fil-A unwelcome in Boston:
"But neither camp has the right to try to short-circuit an important debate by trying to silence the other side."
Actually, either “side” has the right to attempt to "silence the other side" too, through debate, or by non-debate, thus making the thing a non-issue. Whatever it legally takes - that's what makes this free speech thing so wonderful.
Mayor Menino has the right to say what he had to say. Read very carefully - the right to "say". He says Chick-Fil-A are not welcome in Boston, yet that is well short of legally denying them a permit to put in a store. I grit my teeth saying it, but I have to defend their right to have a store anywhere they are legally able. I also support the KKK's right to speak publicly, and for mosques to be built wherever legal.
And let’s be clear, this kind of controversy isn’t new. Remember Domino’s Pizza and Cal Jr’s? I recall naively not spending money at either because of their respective pro-life stances at some point or another. Please pardon my cynicism, but the late night McNuggets and KFC strips I opted for to raise my personal cholesterol have probably...oh, well, depending on what you believe about conception and life, choice, social medicine responsibility, legislating against oversized sugar drinks in NY, you’ll probably be mortified and/or insulted by the following comparison, but here’s the stats:
2011 Abortions: 800,000
2011 Death from heart disease, stroke, diabetes: 600,000 + 128,000 + 68,000 = ...
Yeah, there’s the math. It’s pretty much a draw
And you can bet that on Wednesday, August 1, 2012, not a single greasy-assed sandwich was officially given away to the 650,000 that stormed the stores or voiced support. I’m betting few those stores ran out of chicken either.
Well done, Mr. Cathy. Praise the Lord, and pass the ketchup...
Color And Chinese Food
I was hungry that afternoon at the wonderful Great River Folks Festival. My set was all done, and there was this tent containing all kinds of foods by local victualers. To be honest, I could have Asian food at every meal. Every one. So I naturally gravitated to the section where these folks were selling an egg roll, vegetarian fried rice, and vegetarian lo-mein for seven bucks. I whipped out my phone.
Now, I have been told by various people of other cultures that said various peoples of other cultures do indeed appreciate when folks make some sort of effort to speak their language. I imagine there’s a greater feeling of belonging when someone replies “domo origato” as their thank you to a Japanese person, or “da nada” to a Latino or Latina when they thank you. You are at least trying. You recognize their ethnicity and you are making it clear that you want to participate in the richness they have brought to you in their service to you, or that you are thrilled to be of service to them.
So yeah, I whipped out my iPhone, the Notes section having a page filled with thank you’s, greetings, and familiarities taught to me by some patient ladies at my local Chinese restaurant, Jade Garden. Yes I eat there too much, there’s a buffet, and they know me by name. Still they take the time to lay common phrases on me that I proceed to document in the best phonetic English I can come up with.
So I go with the ones I know without the iPhone.
“Knee Howe!” - ”hello”
“Shay shay!” - ”thank you”, when change was handed to me. Nothing. Just the sound of egg rolls frying. A little giggling, so gosh, my pronunciation must suck!! So I pull out the big gun...
“Chen tien ten chi hung how ahh!!” - “Very nice day today!” Nailed it, I am so sure, and more giggling, then outright laughter from the 6 women working in this Asian food kiosk.
The younger one who gave me my plate spoke up:
“Dude, we’re Hmong. But thanks for whatever you said”
They nearly fell over laughing at my facial expression. Oh it was so very on...
I replied, “Well, you’re all short!!”
Good reply, Vance. That got them. Haha. No racist you are...One lady in the rear laughed “Not me! I’m the tallest!!” She was, by about 4 inches. That made her about 5’-4”.
We all had a good laugh. I slunk away. I had to go back 5 minutes later for soy sauce.
Color And The Cab Ride
So I took a cab from Logan Airport to my house after this festival. The driver was brown, light-eyed, had a pretty distinctive North African accent, and answered each of my directions with a “Yes, Sir”. I’d answer his “Yes, Sir” with a “Thank you, Sir”. I got out at my door, and Roscoe sounded off at me and the cabbie.
“He missed you...”
“I believe you’re right”.
As he hoisted my bag out of the trunk, I said, “Salaam, my friend. Please drive safely.”
Before he got into his cab, he caught me off guard, asking me, “Sir, why do you greet me that way? Was it my accent? I am indeed Moroccan. Can you tell I was from North Africa? And how did you know that I was Muslim? Why would you greet me with ‘Salaam’?”
I replied “Because of your kindness”.
He smiled, bowed his head ever so slightly, and said “God Bless you Sir...” and drove off towards Mass Ave and back to the airport.
Color and Scott Brown, Senator
So I've voted Republican a few times in my life. A Governor, some reps, some local politics. I'm no monolithic block, particularly the older I get and, God help us, the more that i know. I have been known to vote for the more conservative candidate that seemed like they really could be a "voice" for me in this administration or another, even though they weren't as left as I would have liked - like I thought they could speak the talk that needed to be spoken as representative of my state once in DC. So the race between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown, the most serious contenders, is not a Left-Wing shoo-in for me, as I am still doing my research.
Some of my research brought me to that commercial Scott Brown did with the oldest living Korean war Congressional Medal Of Honor Veteran, Naval Pilot Captain Tom Hudner
So I say to myself, "Lord, here we go - he's trotting out Old Vets that love a Conservative line." Yet there was something classy, and hauntingly familiar to Captain Hudner's story. To quote the YouTube caption: "Captain Hudner earned our nation's top military honor in 1950. A naval aviator, he intentionally crash landed his own plane in inhospitable terrain in order to aid his wingman, ensign Jesse Brown, who had been downed by enemy fire. Although Brown did not survive the rescue attempt, Captain Hudner's act of bravery and selflessness lives on in the annals of U.S. military history."
Then it dawned on me - Hudner's wingman was Jesse Brown, the first Black U.S. Naval Pilot. I read a great biography of this man. Remember this was 1950. The Armed Forces had only been integrated (by executive order 9981) in 1948. You wanna talk about race and racism? You wanna examine it through the eyes of a guy who also probably got called every name in the book for being as accepting as he was of Brown as his wingman? All this race stuff is never mentioned in the advertisement, which I believe to be part of a class act rather than an oversight on the part of the Brown re-election Committee. Yes I am a sucker for great stories about Blacks in aviation, and this is a great one. Yet Scott Brown left it to me - and you - to do the research and see just what this man did in his war service. I may not outright vote for Mr. Brown, as we stand on varied sides of varied issues. But this was a class move on his part, and I have never been happier to go Googling names and places as I was this week. Thanks, Senator Brown.