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Vance Gilbert

resolution, race, and reality…

I’d like to thank everyone that Facebooked, Tweeted, contacted me thru my website, wrote me personally, wrote notes for me, called, stuffed notes in baggies through my door (Irene was raging and a neighbor wanted to make sure…) and just reached out to me in the last week. Your “co-indignation” around my recent travel event was both solace and fuel.

United and I spoke the other day, and we are in the process of discussion as to what, if any, reparations would be forthcoming, first on the list being a re-emphasis on sensitivity training to employees. Let’s be clear - this was never about making any money. Those pennies are like third on the master list. Anyone that knows me knows that.

There was a lot of “playing telephone” - one press report said that I was looking at “airline cockpit schematics”, a few bloggers concluded that I was gay...oooh boy, the list goes on...

As for the few (2) that told me to “get over myself” and to “grow a pair”, I have, I did, and I therefore wrote that open letter, cohones intact, operational, and consulted. You may both kiss a fat furry baby in the ass.

As with anything that grows legs like this issue has, there was a more respectful contingent that didn't agree with the assessment that it was racial profiling, and I respect all of your viewpoints too, as many in that camp were still very supportive. Still, there’s stuff you must know, and rather than me go on defending my assessment of the situation, I’ll just quote a few comments from folks (anonymously) from various blogs, emails, and articles that should explain a little bit of my reality:

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-----“But you know what, I too—a white man—have been profiled: 6 times out of 10 if I go to a discount store in a non-white neighborhood I get someone coming to me asking me questions as if I am the store manager. And when I stop them and say no? Sometimes they think I am security or a cop. Now, do they ever say “Sorry, I thought you were in a position of power here because you are white and this is a discount store so why else are you here…” Never. But that is what happens. Doesn’t happen to me in Chinatown or Little Odessa… Only in non-white neighborhoods. You know why? Because America still has some massive race issues to deal with. And it does go both ways. But as a white person in America the chances of me being negatively racially profiled because I am white are pretty much zilch.”

-----“There you go again, white folks (one of which you very likely are), demanding further proof of racism from someone non-white--from someone who has no doubt experienced at least 1000 times as many racist incidents as you have, and therefore knows very well just what racism feels, tastes, and smells like. Here's hoping that someday you'll see the constant white doubting of non-white declarations of racism as itself a form of racism. And that you'll see that non-white people already know very well that white people are likely to utter such doubts, or at least think them, and thus are LESS likely to openly declare something racist, rather than more.“

-----” I don't think white people are unable to understand racism--just less likely to understand it as well as non-white people do.

What they're more likely to do instead is say, basically, "Racism? Are you sure it wasn't something else, like say, what you were wearing that day?"

That's a kind of "derailment" that can get pretty infuriating.

Surely you can imagine how it feels to be told repeatedly, by a white person no less, that what you've worked up the courage to step out and identify as racism is probably something else instead? Or not quite as bad: that yeah, racism may be a factor, but have you thought about this factor too?”

-----” I'm concerned about the fact that many people seem to dismiss his assertion that his skin color played a part in the events. I don't necessarily expect everyone to accept what he states without thought. I wish, however, that there were fewer people simply dismissing the *possibility* out of hand as if "these things" don't happen any more. Is there "proof" that skin color affected the choice made? As the n-word is used more infrequently and cross-burning and hoods are out of favor (thank goodness), behaviors become more subtle. The unfortunate reality is that we still live in a society where people make decisions every, single day that ARE influenced by the color of a person's skin.

- The white woman who recently asked how much she should tip the skycaps since "the black men seem to have been replaced by white college kids."

- The middle class parent who had never made a racist/prejudiced statement to me before who states that she has chosen to move to a different school district "so the girls won't decide to date black boys."

- The co-worker who intimates that the black staff members don't work as hard as others "because, well, you know, they are just lazy."

So while not one of us is privy to the thoughts of those involved, eliminating race as a factor is shutting one's eyes to a truth in our society. The"race card" is a reality that people have to live with their entire lives. If you are a black person, things happen to you and around you because your skin color. Of course, every bad thing that happens to people with brown skin is not due to skin color. However, it is an additional filter through which groups of people who have been discriminated against must view the world. I wish this weren't true, but it is a truth we ignore at our peril.

If it matters to anyone, I'm a white chick….”

-----”Hi Vance,
I read your story and first assumed you were pulled out of your seat solely because of your reading material. Then I looked at your pictures, your bio pic especially. I assume they didn't pull you because you were black but because you look like a possible Muslim extremist based on the images we see on the news.”

-----Hey man, thanks for the blog post. Like most white guys I have a hazy imagining of the shit that small minded officialdom puts people of colour through. Pieces like your blog post help me remain aware of something its ask to easy for me to forget is broken in society, simply because I rarely catch a glimpse of it.

----- And finally, from the Atlantic Monthly:

A Different Kind of Security Theater Problem

AUG 25 2011, 10:15 AM ET
The singer-songwriter Vance Gilbert has put up a riveting account of a run-in with airline security a few days ago.

It's not like most of the accounts of pointless security-theater we've all read. When I see them, I often think: Yeah, I can imagine something like that happening to me.

My reaction in this case was, Actually, I bet that wouldn't happen to me. Not to spoil the surprise, but: Vance Gilbert and I are both middle-aged men over six feet tall, even born in the same city. But I am as you see above, (photo removed - ed.) and he is as you see (google a Vance Gilbert pic - ed.) And it is impossible not to think that this made the difference.

To spell it out, as he puts it in his note: he was Flying While Black. When we were living in Japan during its boom years, I noticed instantly the way women would grab their purses extra tight when I was coming down the other side of the street at night, or how parents would be extra careful with their children around us. The Japanese people weren't even aware of this involuntary tensing; of course we noticed every flinch. For now I won't go into my whole theory of where and in what circumstances people of different races are made to feel the burden of race -- the pressure of it playing so large a part in your identity. Or how hard it is for white Americans to really imagine that pressure, since to be white in America is in most circumstances to be able to forget about race (your own). I'll just say that the theme comes through very powerfully in Gilbert's account. [And of course in this famous Louis CK bit.]

As a side benefit, as you will see, the story shows how we have essentially criminalized being interested in airplanes. One of the many changes to note in our upcoming 9/11 reflections………


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I’m back...See, Black people not only live in the day to day world, but we live somewhere between total race paranoia and absolute to-the-letter stereotype. We people of color certainly aren’t done coming to terms with eons of inequality and racism, and we carry its residual madness, uninvitedly, everywhere. I’m first to admit that. We are no more totally realized individuals than you are.

And let’s be clear, I didn’t get snatched off of a plane because I was Black. Nor was I removed just because I was reading an antique book of aviation. It’s the combo plate that set this thing in motion. Paranoia needs a hook for its coat. That hook has historically been race, religion, and such, and we work like dogs to teach our children otherwise.

We will tell the truth to our children, and to your children, that there is no difference between people no matter their color, for as long as we can.

Then we will lie to our children, and to your children, for as long as we can about how people do not look at each other differently thanks to hue and shade.

Then at some point, these children will learn that we weren’t done, and that so much is up to them.

Tomorrow, I’m sure, truth will win, I pray that it does, and we all end up in a big old Teach the World To Sing Coke commercial:



My working fervently towards that day does not include letting paranoia and its coat be the ruler of me and August 14th, 2011.

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updated: 6 years ago