Row 10. Seat B.
Currently, I’m seated between two, for what my eyes can assess, individuals that would identify as cultural minorities in the United States. One is reading the paper, and exchanging endearing conversation with his wife across the aisle. They have a designated food bag, and, conveniently, a trash bag to match. Cute as kittens, they share one water bottle. Polite as manatees, they compliment me about how little I’m traveling with, and we both laugh at the amount of unnecessary things packed in the luxury of our checked bags. The other pulled out his laptop and opened two folder windows. One contained files with the word “Citizenship” peppered in their titles, the other, a copy of The Shawshank Redemption, which at two hours and twenty-two minutes long, will not allow him to complete the film while we are still on the plane.
As far as my immediate seating companions go, I won the lottery.
As the flight gets going, the two fellows seated behind me have become engaged in an animated conversation.
“You have no idea how much shit I went through in my first year as a manager.”
It began casually, it got louder, it continued to escalate with joyful and mutually-admiring verbal nods.
“I was like Donald Trump, NO FILTER!!!!”
There was nothing about their tone, or conversation content, that I wanted to waste my attention on. I kept trying to shut them out. I was trying to read.
“I had this gay guy. I mean, like had flowers in his cubicle, and laminated everything.”
Then, I stopped trying to read.
“Yeah, like laminated everything. He was the worst. And everyone knows I’m a Christian. I’m not shy about that. EVERYONE knows it.”
The story continues with our gay laminator, not only being peppered with ridiculous and absurd connections between his unique personal behaviors and sexual orientation, but eventually being fired for poor sales performance under the keen management eye of the orator. As the story concludes, our friend, White Guy Laughing #1, was eventually (and it seems shockingly?) investigated for discrimination against his gay employee. He assumes this investigation is solely due to society’s prejudice against his faith, while White Guy Laughing #2 lapped up his tale with equal parts sympathy and pre-breakfast bourbon.
“I ended up having to hire two hispanics and a black.”
As the conversation continues, WGL#1 elaborates on his difficulties in sales management, and how it was near impossible to do the job anyone wanted with all the challenging barriers placed in his way. He is genuinely convinced he is a victim of privilege. Actually more than a victim, a target.
“I went through everything you can imagine. Like all the rumors of an affair…..but man, was she smoking’ hot…young and flirty, heh…..I learned you ALWAYS have to leave the door open.”
At this point, it becomes clear to the listener, not only is WGL#1 unaware of…well, pretty much everything but his own experience, he is genuinely convinced of his own correctness. In all things. His work. His faith. His deserved status.
Lucky for the rest of us, he’s packing the truth for everyone else.
“I had an expense account, and I’d just shut it down on Fridays and take it to the bar!”, then to the flight attendant, “Sure we’ll have another drink! No reason not to! We’re just riding around working all day! Just meeting up with our bosses! YEAH BABY!”
It occurs to me how much time I am wasting listening to these jackholes, when I have work to do. Legitimate, paid, work to do.
“It was a lot of fun! HA!”
It is everything in me not to judge them personally.
They are idiots, plain and simple.
“I’m gonna be shitfaced!”
It is easy to reduce them to simple stereotypes, because they are. Half drunk before 9am, high-fiving each other in football jerseys, their wedding rings ready to reflect the sun of their existence, and the failure of their demeanor.
“I ended up stepping down, but I made more money as a sales rep anyway.”
They continued for the rest of the flight.
By the time we landed, I was done. I was done with privilege, attitude, volume, lack of consideration, and most of all, white guys laughing. My list could go on, and would have, had I not been interrupted my seat mate.
“Have you seen The Shawshank Redemption?”
“Yes, I have. It’s really good. Have you ever seen it before?”
“No. My coworkers said it is a great movie, and I had to see it before I came to visit them. Unfortunately, I must wait until after work to watch the end.”
“I think you will enjoy it, your coworkers are right. It is a great movie.”
His voice carried the simultaneous melody and precision that only a native Indian accent can provide. He continued to tell me how wonderful the film was, and kindly offered me exit first when our row was dismissed.
In theory, I would end this post with some terrific sentiment that punches you in the gut and hangs with you for days, but I won’t. I can’t.
I don’t have the words or patience to tell you what you already know. To explain how I felt when I walked out of the airport*. To understand what makes people think discrimination and prejudice are not just ok, but elevating. To make some humorous-but-deeply-intended anecdote to shift the discomfort, but I can’t. I don’t have it.
In other news, If you haven’t seen it, The Shawshank Redemption is a really good movie.
*in reflection: mildly guilty for being more excited about the sun shining than the gift of my own personal privilege, exactly what the stereotype of the self-centered, white girl with oversized sunglassses would think about in any given situation.