Southwest Airlines & ‘The Souls of White Folk’

March 3, 2008

Southwest Airlines & ‘The Souls of White Folk’”

By Tamara K. Nopper
March 2, 2008
In his 1920 essay “The Souls of White Folk,” African American scholar and activist W.E.B. Du Bois raised the question: “‘But what on earth is whiteness that one should so desire it?’” Answering his own query, Du Bois responded, “Then always, somehow, some way, silently but clearly, I am given to understand that whiteness is the ownership of the earth forever and ever, Amen!”
A recent incident I had while flying on Southwest Airlines demonstrates Du Bois’ point. I therefore detail the situation here both to document it and to theorize its relevance for understanding contemporary white supremacy.
As is practice with Southwest, I had boarded the plane when my category of seating was called. Having been lucky enough to download the boarding pass for category A, I was among the first to pick my seat. Shortly after sitting down, an older white man sat in the seat next to mine. He then proceeded to spread his legs wide open as if, to quote a wise person I know, “he thought he had balls the size of pumpkins.” In response to the uninvited pressing, I requested room for my legs. The man then proceeded to imperiously point his finger to the floor to emphasize that his feet were within the boundary of his seats. He never addressed the fact that his legs were spread beyond them so as to invade my space and press up against my body. Instead, he said to me, “You’re a big girl.” Talking on my cell phone, I interrupted my conversation to calmly tell the man “Don’t fucking talk to me that way.”
With his right hand, the man reached across himself to grab my left arm. With my arm in his grip, he looked me in the eyes through his glasses and replied, “I’m going to slap you in your mouth.” I freed myself from him and then stood up. I called out to the steward at the front of the plane that I needed assistance since I had just been grabbed by the person sitting next to me. Hurriedly, the man bolted out of his seat, muttering that he would move. As he exited the row he made it a point to emphasize that I had cussed at him, neglecting the fact that he had made the comment that initiated our negative exchange.
I turned around to be met by a young, white woman steward named Crystal G. Webb. When I told her that I had been assaulted by the man who was now making a mad dash for a seat a few rows back, she began to laugh. As she bit her lip, a smirk escaped. I informed her that I did not appreciate her laughing and that I did not pay to be assaulted on a plane. She then asked me if I wanted to speak to her supervisor, to which I said yes.
Ms. Webb returned with an older white woman named Ms. Terri Parker. Wearing a Southwest uniform that was more official than that worn by Ms. Webb, she led the two of them as they approached my seat. Before she reached me, another older white man had sat down in the seat that had been vacated by my assailant.
I repeated my story to Ms. Parker, adding that Ms. Webb had laughed at my concerns. Ms. Parker asked me if I would like to press charges. I said yes. However, I changed my mind when I learned that it would require me to get off the plane with the man who had assaulted me and be placed on a later flight.
That should have been the end of it since I should have been able to choose whether or not to press charges. But, as Du Bois pointed out, the nature of white supremacy requires that white people own everything, including the last and final word. True to form, Ms. Parker made it a point to remind me that I had cussed at the man, an issue I never concealed when describing the situation. I reminded Ms. Parker that the man had said to me that I was a big girl. Notwithstanding the fact that I am a grown woman in my thirties, I am also an Asian American. And I am an Asian American woman who does not meet the racialized and sexualized body expectations that is omnipresent in the white racial imagination. Overall, as I mentioned to Ms. Parker, I thought that the man had felt comfortable pressing his leg into mine and then defending his actions with insults because I was a non-white woman.
Nevertheless, white supremacy does not yield to rationality. Instead, appeals to rationality will often make white people angrier. It appears that my incident with Southwest was no exception. Throughout the conversation, Ms. Parker rebuffed practically all of my concerns. For example, when I pointed out that the man had made a comment about my body that I thought was racist and sexist, Ms. Parker responded that she did not know what he meant. I pointed out to her that she did not have to think very hard to imagine what he meant since his comment was fairly explicit. When Ms. Parker continued to emphasize that I had cussed at the man, I asked her if this gave me license to grab, and threaten with another assault anyone on the plane who might cuss at me. Appearing to grow angrier with my appeals to her rationality—which was simply an act of bad faith, or a lie to myself—Ms. Parker repeated that I had cussed at the man. I asked her if she thought that I “brought” being manhandled and threatened “on myself.” She said no. I then told her that I did not need her to lecture me regarding my language since no one was addressing the man who had assaulted me.
Perhaps unable to watch a fellow white person being held accountable by an Asian American, the white man who was now sitting next to me jumped in the fray. He interrupted us to tell me that he did not think that Ms. Parker was lecturing me. She thanked him. I calmly turned to him and replied, “This situation does not concern you.” Ms. Parker, perhaps encouraged by—but not requiring—the support of this white stranger then told me that she would have me removed from the plane for attacking him. I had never raised my voice, pointed a finger, or laid a hand on this man. But somehow, telling the man to mind his own business when he was defending a white woman constituted an attack.
At this point I was not only stressed out, I was very scared. I was aware that I was on a plane that had, as I had estimated, about five non-white people on it. And this included the racially ambiguous individuals that I included in my count just so I didn’t feel so isolated. But isolated I was as I watched Ms. Parker apparently grow more livid and confident. At one point, she told me that I was “cussing at her,” to which I tried to explain that I was merely repeating what was said during the initial exchange. At another point she began to yell at me that she wanted to see my “ID.” To keep myself calm, I thought of Du Bois’ sage reflection: “I see these souls undressed and from the back and side. I see the working of their entrails. I know their thoughts and they know that I know. This knowledge makes them embarrassed, now furious!” Humiliated, I nevertheless calmly asked why she needed to see identification. She told me she wanted it for my “Southwest file.” The thought of having my name added to a mysterious file was obviously unattractive, so I just looked at her blankly and kept repeating to all of her comments, “Yes, Ms. Parker.” She appeared to grow more incensed the more I called her Ms. Parker. She then reminded me that I was the one who had wanted to press charges and therefore should not have a problem now with showing my ID. Remembering that earlier in the conversation Ms. Parker had mentioned that she had police waiting outside, I tried to diffuse the situation as it became apparent that I was now the accused.
I was, in my mind, morally accused of going outside of the boundaries expected of me as an Asian American woman. While Asian American women have become, as scholar Susan Koshy describes, the desired partner of white heterosexual men due to racist and sexist perceptions of being both appropriately submissive and sexually deviant, my behavior was probably viewed as similar to that racistly associated with Black people. Consistent with white supremacist images of Blacks, I was taken as loud, unwilling to compromise, unapologetic, inappropriately masculine, and making stuff bigger than it is.
A Black person would have most certainly been arrested and forcibly removed. I was, most probably due to being Asian American, not. I was nevertheless racially guilty of transgressing three boundaries. First, I had demanded parity with a white person. Second, I had attempted to hold a white person accountable for his actions. And third, I had the nerve to describe my situation and critically assess it within an understanding of anti-white supremacist racial and gender politics. Indeed, it appears that transgressing the second and third boundaries was perhaps what invoked the most hostility. For example, while she chastised me loudly, Ms. Parker dealt with the white man who had assaulted me quite differently. Now hunched down in seat 12a, the man was approached by Ms. Parker who asked him if he had grabbed me. I did not hear his reply but I did hear Ms. Parker ask him if he apologized. Apparently he said yes because Ms. Parker returned to my row to inform me that the man had apologized, as if that was that. Perhaps angry that I was still not arguing with her, this conversation concluded with Ms. Parker threatening to take down my identification unless I promised to not talk about the situation with any other customer on the plane. Not knowing what else to do, I simply said yes.
As I resigned myself to a long ride next to the white man who had chastised me on behalf of Ms. Parker, I began to weep. My body shook with the stress of that experience and the knowledge that this was not an isolated incident. I have, as have many of my friends, indeed, the majority of the world, experienced this type of situation so many times: having white people tell you that what happened to you does not matter, that it is your fault, or that it did not even happen. I also wept because I was scared. I knew I had no way out because in the end I could not win against white moral authority because they owned what is taken as true. While I could write out the facts of my case, it made no difference. Indeed, consistent with various U.S. court cases that restricted non-white people’s ability to testify on their own behalf or on behalf of their kin, I was basically reminded over and over again throughout the incident that I had nothing to say that was legitimate. Indeed, I was threatened with further discipline if I spoke at all.
Yet the white man who had defended Ms. Parker continued to talk to me, even as I sobbed. He tried to get me to stop crying, perhaps because it made reading his Dean Koontz novel less enjoyable. Engaging in another act of bad faith, I pathetically tried to appeal to his sense of white ownership by asking him if he had any daughters. At that point I was just trying to make peace with the man I would be forced to sit next to for the next three hours. He told me he had several. I asked him if he would like his daughters to be talked to the way I was. He told me no, and that the man was clearly sexist in talking about my body. Yet this did not stop the Koontz reader from repeatedly pressing his leg against mine throughout the flight, a gesture I felt afraid to address for fear that I would be accused of causing more problems.
Additionally, the man felt it necessary to reiterate that Ms. Parker was not lecturing me. I explained to the man (another act of bad faith) that if he had disagreed with Ms. Parker, she may not have been so angry at me for asking him to not get involved. Perhaps my comment was what compelled him to paternalistically say that he knew that this could not go well for me. This assessment was coupled with the conclusion that Ms. Parker was simply doing her job and was just trying to make things as easy as possible. An excuse that I have heard given by many apologists of white supremacy, such an assessment did little to ease my anger or fear. Nor was I comforted by his revealing that he was a civil rights attorney and therefore “knew” these things. The thought of people relying on this man to defend their legal rights in court only made me feel worse. Well, perhaps that is an overstatement; I felt pretty shitty when, before the flight took off, Ms. Parker addressed my tears by asking, in a soothing voice, if I was okay. In the blink of an eye, Ms. Parker had gone from white cop to white mommy and I had to accept both positions.
Demonstrated by my experience, whiteness, as Du Bois pointed out, is defined by its ability to own everything. In this present stage of white supremacy marked by an explicit and ubiquitous fear of white loss, this ownership hinges on two political claims: white suffering matters most and whites have a monopoly on moral authority. As white people express more and more dissatisfaction with their lives—a dissatisfaction that is often guided by the physical and symbolic presence of non-whites in spaces from which they had previously been restricted—their claims of white suffering grow more pronounced. Related whites often feel that they have no reason to be held accountable. Thus, holding them accountable for anything is translated as oppressing them and in turn, causing their suffering.
This conclusion is generally coupled with the belief that what whites say is true simply is. Indeed, moral authority is something that whites never seem to lose control of, even when conceding their own limitations or fears. Described by scholar Yen Le Espiritu as the “We Win Even When We Lose Syndrome,” this variation of white supremacy acknowledges white vulnerability in the face of “defeats” caused by the resistance of non-whites to a white supremacist agenda. While this notion of white vulnerability is driven by racist, sexist, and homophobic fears of competing with or being held accountable by other races, it is nevertheless one that allows whites to “win” even when they “lose” by retaining moral authority. This form of white ownership means that Rocky Balboa can lose to a Black athlete but nevertheless walk out the victor in the end, Chinese manufactured goods may be vilified but recalls of U.S. products ignored, and I can be threatened with being forcibly removed from a plane for raising my concerns regarding being assaulted. What all of these examples have in common is that they centralize white suffering and use it to buttress white moral authority.
While white supremacy does not require any rational basis for its moral authority, the notion of white suffering is, and has always been, a stated reason for white violence and disciplinary actions against non-whites. In my experience with Southwest Airlines, I was punished for not simply taking what a white man gave me. A gesture that again is associated not with Asianness but with Blackness, I apparently caused this man to suffer by not keeping quiet when his leg pressed against mine. Instead, I was assaulted and threatened by him, laughed at by a young white woman, chastised and disciplined by an older white woman, and then forced to listen to another white man next to me basically try to say he was helping me out. My situation, along with those that mirror it, shows that in the end white moral authority or appeals to it are the only politically recognized truths. The way in which the notion of white suffering informs contemporary white moral discourse therefore requires a looking backward into the souls of white folk that Du Bois interrogated over 85 years ago.
Tamara K. Nopper is an educator and writer living in Philadelphia , PA. She may be reached at tnopper (at) yahoo.com.

124 Responses to Southwest Airlines & ‘The Souls of White Folk’

  1. Jackie says:

    Dear Tamara,
    Thanks for sharing your story, I am so sorry to hear what happened to you. I was similarly assaulted on a subway train for being queer a few years ago. It was horrible. What disturbed me most was the 2 young women who just sat there on the train watching and did nothing. To me their indifference was every bit as much of the problem. Have you talked to Southwest since or sent them this story? I hope you’ll post an update if you do. Good luck.

  2. Pingback: Feministe » Come on… why do you have to make such a big deal out of racist, sexist behavior?

  3. BabyPop says:

    Christ on a crutch. I don’t know what else to say except that I’m sorry this happened to you.

  4. Yes, and a fascinating analysis, too. In this instance, I think you were doubly punished for NOT adhering to a stereotype of Asian female docility–in short, you blew their minds with your assertiveness and scared them, so they made YOU pay for THEIR expectations and pre-existing stereotypical assumptions.

    I am so sorry this happened to you, Ms Nopper, but thank you for your witness.

  5. Trixie23 says:

    Tamara, I have tears in my eyes for you. Those flight attendants need some sexual harassment training!
    And Jackie, Rev Martin Luther King Jr, said, “In the end it is not the words of our enemies that we will remember, but the silence of our friends.”
    So sad and true.

  6. Christine says:

    Reading this story made me feel sick, literally. What a horrible experience. All the best, Tamara.

  7. Cherie says:

    The indifference and mocking behavior of the other passengers on the plane and the employees is disgusting. How dare you speak up? How dare you just not take it like a good Asian? He says he apologized, shouldn’t that be enough? I just can’t wrap my head around how awful that must have been. Thank you for sharing your story.

  8. Nicole says:

    Submit this to The Consumerist.
    That will definitely get Southwest’s attention.

  9. Katie says:

    Thank you, Tamara, for resisting harm against you based on your “identity categories” so valiantly.

    And thank you, Jackie, for reminding me of a subway experience where I used what valiance I had in me to supplement another woman’s–and reminding me that I should do it again whenever I see something like it.

    And thirdly, I like Nicole’s idea of submitting it to The Consumerist. It gives you a huge ally base and keeps your message at full power while diluting your chances of being labeled “no-fly.” (After all, consumer opposition has been, overall, unacceptable as a reason to ban people by the “mainstream” for a long time. Yet your message, in your words, as I said, would remain just as powerful–if not gain strength from having that site ally with you.)

  10. villiers says:

    I’m so sorry this happened to you. Good on you for standing up for yourself! I have been leg-and-arm-pressed by Prince Pumpkin Balls on airplanes, trains, and buses more times that I can count but I’ve never had the guts to do anything about it–I just try to take up less space like a good girl. I admire your courage.

    Your analysis is right on the money.

  11. Em says:

    It’s not much, but can I apologize for what you experienced? The people in that situation had no right to treat you that way, no reason to, and no acceptable excuse for their behavior. Good for you for standing up for yourself. I don’t think I would have had the strength to do that.

  12. Schade says:

    And that is one of the reason’s I’m racist against white people….
    and I’m 3/4 white

  13. human says:

    Jesus Christ, I am sorry, that sounds absolutely awful. I usually retaliate in such situations more subtly, some would say passive-aggressively — elbows can be used to good affect. I’ve never yet had one of the asshats object, and they usually make themselves a lot smaller after getting jabbed a couple of times. But then I am white. Ugh. Good for you for telling them what’s what.

  14. Sunny says:

    Reading this I assumed you were a Black woman until you stated your race. I am actually quite shocked that you experienced this especially considering the common theme that Asians are treated with equal respect to whites. However, this shattered that perception fully. You experienced exactly what it is like to be Black in America but in reality, you experienced what it is like to be a non-white person going against the majority. I can imagine your fear and frustration and I am outraged that this happened to you. I do wonder if you have reported this because this deserves some attention.

  15. Andrew Howard says:

    This is the most racist thing I’ve ever read.

    Your article, I mean.

  16. Kim says:

    Would you mind if I did this – I’d like to copy your essay and paste it in a letter to Southwest Airlines and tell them that is why I will never fly with them ever again. I’d take a bus first.

  17. huh says:

    Have you considered you have a chip on your shoulder the size of white man?

    srsly babe, you’re a dipshit.

  18. David Gerrard says:

    How can you say that this is possibly related to gender or race? It was just some ignorant fucking asshole who would have acted the exact same way no matter your gender or race. You are trying so hard to find a conspiracy against you here, and there isn’t one. You had the option: either stand up for what you claim to believe in, press charges against the guy and be mildly inconvenienced, or sit and stew for a while until you could vent about it from the comfort of your own home. You chose the latter option, and shame on you for doing so. How dare you claim to be some poor victim of an elitist culture here? Look at Colin Powell. Amir Khan. Ed Husain. Oprah Winfrey. Bruce Lee. Nelson Mandela. These are all people who said “Fuck the world, I have made up my mind to create my own future, and if you don’t like it, watch me walk on by!” Yes, dealing with being a minority is very fucking difficult, frustrating and humbling. I spent six months doing charity work in China, and my being white and near 7 feet tall made me stand right out. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t speak the language. Yes, I was the subject of ridicule. Yes, I felt excluded and alone. However, I realized that that is a fact of life. No one can be a member of every “cool” crowd, it just isn’t possible. What’s important to realize is that we do have a choice: we can stand up and be proud of who we are in the face of bigotry and injustice, or we can sit back in our comfy Southwest Airline chairs, bemoan the poor quality of the in-flight meal, and mash out a boring, meandering, hate-filled rant determined to find a hint of conspiracy in what is blatantly an innocuous situation.

  19. Erik says:

    It’s a terrible story, and not just for the treatment you experienced, but because in the end you gave up. All of the racist and sexist people involved got their way, and because of that their biases and prejudices are now reinforced. All of the White people on that plane saw an Non-White Female lose the fight for her rights.

    Not wanting to get on a later flight is a poor reason for not fully standing up for your rights as a human being.

    You should have pressed charges.

    The employees should have been reported to their superiors.

    You were headed in that direction, and then you gave up. Sad.

  20. Bob says:

    Sister, you did well and thank you for your analysis and for sharing. I too thought you were a black person, so the stereotypes are alive. I am a black man, and I would probably have been quiet, while plotting to get even, such as spilling my drink on his pumpkin balls.

  21. Heidi says:

    David, you really think this would have happened to a white man? You think this douchebag would have grabbed another white man and told him he was going to “slap him in his mouth”? Is that how white guys handle their arguments? I seriosuly doubt it.

    And Erik and David both, it’s easy for you to tell her after the fact what she should have done, but the fact is that you were not in Tamara’s shoes, you weren’t feeling her humiliation and powerlessness, so don’t try to tell her what she “should” have done in the face of all that. If everyone could deal with opposition as gracefully as Mandela or anyone on your list, those people wouldn’t be quite as noteworthy, would they? It’s hard to stand up for yourself with no support, and Tamara did an amazing job. Giving up would have been if she’d never challenged the white man at all, but by standing up even a little, she was brave.

    Tamara, I am impressed with how calm and rational you were able to be in the face of such hostility. Thank you for sharing your story. Talking about these things can be almost as hard as experiencing them in the first place. I’m sorry that it happened to you, but thank you for speaking up about it.

  22. It’s amazing how these situations are quelled whenever only white people are involved, and escalate the minute a non-white person enters the picture.

    I’ve seen it happen time and time again. It’s so familiar, that you start getting used to it. You start accepting it as some kind of norm.

    If you had been white, it’s likely that those flight attendants wouldn’t have dared to act the way they did. They would have taken you seriously. And there’s that.

  23. Kathy says:

    Absolutely outrageous and reprehensible. I’ve never flown Southwest, and I’ll be sure to never fly them in the future. Tamara, I’m so sorry you experienced this, but you handled it bravely and well (and better than I probably would have done in the same situation) and I appreciate you sharing your story.

  24. Maggie says:

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, but thank you for sharing your story with us. You’re a very courageous person, and anyone asking what this incident had to do with the your sex and race is a blind, poisoned, ignorant fool. I’m not surprised you gave up in the face of that wall of oppression and inhumanity when you were alone and scared.

    I really believe that there are people out there who would have stood with you in the moment and after, who would have rejected the systemic injustice. There just aren’t enough of them to go around.

  25. 1002things says:

    If I had not already vowed to avoid flying with Southwest come hell or high water, this would put them on the list.
    Wonderful analysis, I am a women’s studies major, and am fascinated by scholarly analysis of the personal.
    I would suggest filing a formal complaint with the airline, but in the past they have made a public mockery of women who have complained about the treatment their airlines provides. Why they are still in business I am unsure.
    Thanks for sharing your story and having the strength to analyze it in such a fashion.

  26. This doesn’t sound like a racist issue to me. Obviously the man sitting next to Tamara was sexist. He had no right to act the way he did. But Tamara didn’t press charges, and because she didn’t want to give her ID to the airline she let herself be intimidated. Sure, the flight attendants sound like they weren’t helpful, and might have been abusive. But Tamara re-tells the story in a sensational way, which makes me wonder what another person’s observations would have been who was there. At the least, some details of the story make me think she could have handled the situation better.

  27. David Gerrard says:

    Heidi, there is no way that you can honestly believe that white men never threaten each other with violence, or act on those impulses. If she was, say, a 90 pound white male with glasses and had handled the situation in the exact same way, you don’t think that the prick wouldn’t have reacted in the exact same way?

    Also, why do I get the feeling that if the roles were reversed in this story you would all still be supporting Tamara based on nothing other than her gender and race? “I was sitting in my seat, just stretching my legs, when the older white male next to me asked me to pull my legs in. I tried to show him that my feet were within the boundries of my seat, but he disagreed. While he spoke on his cell phone, probably to another white person, I mentioned the fact that he was a bigger man, and that there wasn’t anything I could do. He had the audacity to pull away from his conversation and say “Don’t fucking talk to me like that!” like only a white male would. Well I, as a member of the superior gender and of a noble, non-white heritage, was not going to take that sort of language lying down! I grabbed him by the arm and said “Listen you white bastard, I’m going to slap you across your mouth!” The prick got so scared, he actually talked to the stewardess and was talking about pressing charges! What a shining example of the depths of the white conspiracy.” You would all be cheering her courage in the face of adversity. This is blatantly racist, and you should be ashamed of yourselves for perpetrating such hate.

    Race and gender simply aren’t the factors that you all wish they were in this modern society. I’ve been working construction since my time overseas. I work in a crew with two other white guys, three persians, a filipino, two vietnamese, and four black guys, all under a female foreman. Yes, race is bandied around and joked about, but we all have a strong communal bond. I certainly have more in common and share more opinions with the rest of the people on my crew that the rich whites whose homes we’re building. There is far more distrust and anger at people of higher economic classes than of people of different races. Tamara is seeing things as you want to see them, an ivory tower intellectual of the most dangerous degree, who if she could quit smelling her own odor of self satisfaction for one second would see that the real world is really quite different than she believes it to be.

  28. Will says:

    As a white male, I have not had this type of experience and likely never will. But, I read this with tears. I wonder if this ” jerk ” would have done the same things if you were a white, 250 pound ” hells angel ” biker. The Southwest employees need to be put handling baggage instead of interacting with customers.
    I can can only hope this type of jerk in the world is on a rapid decline in numbers.

  29. Erik says:

    Heidi: In the end she gave up to the victimization that she decries. That is sad. Anyone here telling her that she was brave and did a good job standing up for herself is giving her no more than a latently patronizing pat on the back. “Nice try Tamara.” That is all that is being said. It is easy for me to tell her what she should have done, because it’s the same thing that she wanted to do, and almost actually did.

    She’s fighting the good fight. I’m not going to argue that. But those sorts of altercations are not the ones a person can afford to lose by forfeit.

  30. Maritzia says:

    David, your arguments are ridiculous. I don’t care what color you are, if you lay hands on a person and threaten them with violence, then you’re in the wrong, period.

    This matter wasn’t so much that the man assaulted and threatened her. It was that those in authority refused to do anything about it. They didn’t even approach the man until after they had finished chastising her.

    And I hate to break into your fairy tale world where prejudice doesn’t exist, but if that had been me (a white woman), it probably never would have happened. But she was Asian, and you know how docile Asian women are (that was sarcasm, in case you couldn’t tell). He thought he could get away with it. You could tell he understood just how badly he’d misinterpreted the situation by how fast he made tracks when she fought back. He only acted like he did because he thought he could get away with it. And because of the racist views of the stewards, he did get away with it, and even has folks like you defending him. Shame on you!

  31. rorie kelly says:

    …Wow. The more I read of this story, the more upset I got. I’m so sorry you had to be treated that way, and I’m so sorry that members of my race are responsible for this horrifying experience you had.
    Right on for standing up for yourself, anyway.

  32. Heidi says:

    David, I know that white men threaten each other and/or perpetrate violence against each other. But I think that they are far more likely to do such things to women, and particularly women of color. Most agressors attack those who they perceive as weaker — those who are different. And the word “slap” has very clear sexist connotations. Never in my life have I heard a man threaten to slap another man — “bitch-slap” maybe, but the implication there is that his opponent is a bitch, a woman, and therefore weaker than he is.

    Maybe this particular guy would have done the same thing to any person, regardless of gender or color, sitting next to him. Who can tell? (Though he probably wouldn’t have been able to escalate the situation by calling a 90-pound dude a “big boy”.) You could be right, maybe this man is an agressive dude who threatens violence to anyone who looks at him cross-eyed. But I don’t think that’s as likely as a white man in America having (perhaps subconcious) racist or sexist views.

    I completely agree with Maritzia’s first statement re: your reversal argument. I wouldn’t cheer on anyone who threatened or harrassed anyone else.

    Oh, David, you do have a good point about classism, but since race and class are so intertwined in this country, I don’t think it’s that easy to draw the line between the two.

    Erik, I don’t entirely disagree with you, but I think that any step in the face of adversity is valuable, whether it was carried through to completion or not.

  33. Lauren O says:

    That sounds like an absolute nightmare! It reminds me of the Gabriel Garcia Marquez story “Maria de mi Corazon,” where a woman tries to use a telephone in a mental institute, is mistaken for one of the patients, and is then stuck there for the rest of her life. I can’t even imagine the terror and disbelief you must have felt at being told some version of the truth so far from the facts.

    There’s a heaping dose of misogyny in there with that racism, too. The man originally next to you would never have called you a “big boy” if you were a man. He probably wouldn’t have commented on your body at all, and if he did, he would have referred to you as an adult, not as a “girl.” That comment about slapping you on the mouth is just unbelievable. It’s a thing that’s only said by parents to disobedient children (or, I suppose, by abusive husbands to their wives). He was thinking of you as a disobedient child in that moment, and that is disgusting. Absolutely disgusting.

  34. Oatmealz says:

    Sounds like that guy was a huge jackass. You were definitely treated unfairly, and you should have pressed assault charges, flight be damned.

    But I just can’t get on board with this article when it says things like “And I am an Asian American woman who does not meet the racialized and sexualized body expectations that is omnipresent in the white racial imagination. ”

    Statements like those accuse me of being a despicable person just because I am a white male, and that is equally racist, equally offensive, and equally unacceptable. You can’t fight racism with more racism.

  35. hannah says:

    What happened to you was awful, and the fact that you were treated that way by the staff is horrible; but your essay makes it sound like white people are holding clandestine meetings across the country trying to thwart people of different races or something else as grandiose. There are ignorant and hateful people of every race, religion, gender, etc. As a white woman, I’ve been talked down to and treated differently than my peers because of my sex as well as my body shape; it’s not like we’ve got the golden ticket either.

    What happened to you was wrong, and the fact that you attempted to stand up for yourself, even if you didn’t succeed entirely, is excellent; but please don’t hold the actions of some ignorant flight staff and two sexist jerks against an entire race; if I saw that man put his hands on you, the flight attendants would have heard from me when they bullied you.

  36. Goony McGoon says:

    YOU guyz!!! we can’t say anything or form an opinion we weren’t there!!!

    GOOOONSSS GOOONNSSS

  37. S. says:

    This is hugely upsetting. I’m so sorry that this happened and I applaud that you spoke out at the time and now. Whenever my kids tell me about some bullying action at school, I point out to them that it’s important to have a voice, to speak out the injustice (whether this involves themselves or someone else). I am always aware that this strategy is dangerous and I worry that I’m giving them bad advice. Your story confirms that simply speaking out the truth is both empowering and risky.

    The comments here — and elsewhere where this has been picked up — show how very important it is that you have spoken. There’s obviously a huge temptation to minimize and diffuse. (And, obviously, if this had been the aberration – the action of one jerk – it would not nearly be as threatening and attract excuse-making.)

  38. Púca says:

    Wow! that’s just awful. I tried to find an email address to complain but they seem to have no Email address, I wonder is this to prevent people asking them to account for themselves and their staff. A point to consider is that they have a tough union so perhaps there are staff members they haven’t been able to fire yet.

  39. Janaki says:

    Your story is terrifying and compelling. Many of the comments are just terrifying.

    Like Oatmealz, who, along with many of the other commenters, needs to gain an understanding of his immense white privilege. He objects to the statement about not meeting white racial expectations — well, first of all, it’s not directed at him personally, unless of course he has those expectations himself. Get a grip.

    I am a radical middle-aged white woman. I have had to try to figure out for myself the whole white privilege thing. I would say to the whites who posted and who read this: If this story makes you feel defensive or nervous or otherwise shitty, you need to look inside yourself. Because how you feel is just a small reflection of the powerlessness experienced by non-whites every day in this society. Understand what white privilege is and how you use it to your advantage every single day and how our society excludes non-whites on a very subtle level from societal power every single day. This is not racism — it’s truth.

  40. Centhalf says:

    I’ve been nearly where you were Tamala. When on planes, I fight for knee and elbow space against men every time I’m seated next to one. Usually, I just press back with my knee or work my elbow half-way onto the elbow rest, but one time, it backfired on me.

    Halfway though the flight, the man I was sitting next to and had been touching for an hour decided that I was attracted to him, so he spent the next half hour grabbing my hand (in a “friendly” way), ultimately trying to kiss me. He was European and didn’t speak English very well, so I had a hard time getting him to stop. There were no other open seats on the plane.

    I didn’t raise a fuss because we were still an hour from our destination and I didn’t want to risk the rage of other passengers if the stewards and pilots decided to land the plane early to sort it out. I finally just sat on my hands and leaned away from him to get him to stop, and he eventually got the hint.

    However, being that I am white, I have no doubt that my story would have been believed and that it would have been the man next to me, not me, that would have gotten in trouble. It would have been so much worse if I thought that anyone would blame or disbelieve me. I am so sorry that you had to experience that.

  41. Cinders says:

    Wow! That is a terrible thing that happened to you. I probably would not have had the courage to say something (being the type who is scared of conflict!) but I’m glad that you were strong enough to tell that guy off, and show him his behavior was NOT acceptable.

    That airline is notorious for it’s misogynistic staff and policies, so I’m not surprised that they would support abuse of that kind.

    However I think judging the entire conflict as a racial issue may be a little extreme? I’m a half English half Mexican woman (I look “white”) married to an Asian man. I would never judge a person due to their skin colour. However in this case, you would have looked around and judged me as the enemy due to my looks. Just because someone looks “white” does NOT mean they think you are less then them.

    In this situation in particular, I wouldn’t put it past that guy to have been a racist. But I also don’t doubt that he would have treated a white woman with the same contempt.

  42. GREG says:

    IF WHITE PEOPLE BOTHER YOU SO MUCH MOVE TO SOME NICE ASIAN COUNTRY SOME WHERE BECAUSE THE LAST TIME I CHECKED AMERICA WAS A MAJORITY WHITE. THAT’S WHAT I WOULD SAY IF I BELIEVED YOUR STORY BUT SINCE I DON’T AND EVEN IF I DID GET OVER IT. YOU SHOULD SPEND MORE OF YOUR TIME (AND BY THE LENGTH OF YOUR RANT ABOUT RASCIST WHITE PEOPLE YOU HAVE PLENTY) SAVING ASIANS FROM STREET GANGS THAT KILL A DISTURBING AMOUNT OF ASIANS EVERY YEAR. OH BUT WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT WHEN IT’S EASIER TO BLAME WHITE PEOPLE FOR EVERY PROBLEM YOU HAVE EVER HAD. LAST TIME I CHECKED BARACK OBAMA WAS GETTING A HUGE VOTE FROM WHITE AMERICA SO BEFORE YOU THINK FOR ONE SECOND IT’S ONLY WHITE PEOPLE KEEPING RASCISM ALIVE YOUR WRONG. BY THE WAY IF AMERICA IS SO RASCIST AND SUCKS SO BAD THEN WHY DO SO MANY PEOPLE MOVE HERE FROM OTHER COUNTRIES EVERY DAY. TRY BEING YOUNG AND WHITE. WE CANNOT DO ANYTHING TO CHANGE THE FACT OUR ANCESTORS DID SOME DUMB SH*T. YET EVERY DAY WHERE EVER WE GO THERE’S BLACK WHITE HISPANIC ASIAN NATIVE AMERICAN PEOPLE LOOKING AT ME LIKE I AM TO BLAME. AT LEAST YOU CAN NAME THE RASCIST INCIDENTS YOU HAVE AS FOR ME THERE’S SO MANY I CAN’T COUNT. I WISH THERE WASN’T RASCISM AND IN SOME INSTANCES THERE ISN’T. MY FAMILY IS DIVERSE AND REALLY CLOSE AS FAR AS FAMILY GOES. WE DON’T SIT AROUND AND DISCUSS ALL THE RASCIST THINGS THAT HAPPEN TO EACH OF US EVERY DAY. I THINK YOU WOULD DO YOURSELF SOME GOOD BY NOT BLAMING WHITE AMERICA FOR THE ACTIONS OF ONE WHITE DUMBF*CK’S ACTIONS BECAUSE IF THAT WAS THE CASE EVERY TIME I FOUND SOMETHING WEIRD IN MY SESAME CHICKEN I COULD SAY ASIANS ARE RASCIST AND THERE’S A CONSPIRACY TO OVER RUN AMERICA FROM THE INSIDE OUT.

  43. Irish Nation says:

    Typical black always playing race as a factor when someone White does something you dont like. Also remeber that you said some degenerate named DeBois(definately an anglo name) said “but what on earth is Whiteness that one should so desire it”? Apparently alot of people!!! Especially blacks!!! They want the world given to them and are jealous of what we have and they wont try to get!!!! africa is the prime example!!! We need to stop funding anything black and watch the disease famine and MORE wars erupt!!! Thats not a White mans fault- Its the fault of a TOTALLY DISFUNCTIONAL RACE. Oh how the truth hurts. Next time you fly try an african airlines and pray you dont crash because they have a habit of doing that!!! Or just blame the White man as you always do for disfunctionality!!!!!

  44. watson says:

    I’ve seen this kind of thing over and over. And for those who think racism and sexism have nothing to do with it, perhaps this might make you think again:

    My sister has had many experiences like this, but with a twist. She tries to handle situations like this on her own, as a strong Asian American woman. She will be treated like Tamara on the Southwest flight. But then her white husband will step up behind her and say the EXACT SAME THINGS as my sister, and suddenly everyone is apologizing and offering them free drinks/plane flights/ cable/ cell phones etc, depending on which service industry they are dealing with.

  45. christen says:

    David,

    The distinction between your six month experience in China as an outsider and the experience of most non-white Americans in the United States is that you were a temporary visitor to another country. But for us, America IS our country. This is our home, just as it is yours.

  46. brownblackandqueer says:

    Wow. Thanks so much for this story. As a small figured young woman of mixed race/ethnicity, I am often taken advantage of especially in terms of space. All the time, people (especially white men, but also black men) seemed to think that my personal space and my body belong to them. Putting it so clearly in terms of white, male supremacy, you really helped me put words to something that I’ve struggled to explain.

    Also, because Kenyon put this up, I imagined him being in the situation, which changes only certain things. What remains the same is that white, male supremacy still determines how these interactions play out.

  47. christen says:

    Hanna,

    I don’t think anyone is saying that racism is the only form of oppression or that white people “are holding clandestine meetings.”

    Instead, I think the point is that the history, systems and institutions of our country have created and continue to perpetuate a culture where certain attitudes and behaviors are accepted or rejected, depending on who the actor is. To caricaturize people who protest this kind of systemic racism as holding something against the entire white race reflects, in my opinion, a shallow misunderstanding of racism.

  48. christen says:

    I meant to say, “shallow understanding of racism.” :)

  49. Tara says:

    Janaki, you said exactly what I was thinking. Before anyone jumps on you (because it’s happened to me), this does not mean non-white people get a pass to be racist. The point is it is impossible to empathize with something if you are not of that creed. However, not being able to empathize is not justification to ignore the reality. Prejudice is a reality, and just because you don’t like it does not mean it does not exist. I’m not really sure there is a solution, but we could start by not dismissing what Tamala wrote as reverse racism, or self-victimization. We could be conscious of our prejudices. Go see Avenue Q for God’s sake.

    David- you cannot know what it feels like to be treated as less than human if it has not happened to you. Accusing Tamala of whining is standard victim blaming. She does not think of herself as a victim, she is furious and sad, and rightly so. Telling her to suck it up is how white people displace their white-guilt. This modern society has not washed itself in the fountain of advancement as many of us would like to believe. There’s a whole lot of should going around, but just because it should not be about race or gender does not mean it isn’t. Just because we’re not sticking Japanese people in detention camps, lynching black people, or hanging women for not wearing a burqa does not mean we have overcome our differences.

  50. Corianna says:

    Did it ever occur to you that maybe the people you encountered were simply not good people? I’m white, female and have encountered the same sort of treatment, regardless of race. If there were only 5 “racially ambiguous” non-white people on the entire flight, if you are going to meet 3 awful people, odds are they’re going to be white. Correlation does not determine a causal relation. I AM sorry for the treatment you received. Lately Southwest Airlines has been getting a lot of complaints about treatment of passengers.

  51. and no, I'm not white says:

    I think a lot of good points were made in this essay, but there’s one thing I want to bring up for the sake of balance.

    The US has its initial roots in anglo-European culture, which shaped the white mainstream attitude. This includes certain values and anxieties that affect expectations in communicating. Some of the values of people from Euro/anglo-shaped consciousness are composure, politeness, and personal space. When I read your piece, I got the feeling that the flight attendants started out fairly neutral, but their service to you and effort to listen to you diminished as your explanations went on. I suspect this is because in some way your expression did not match their Euro-anglo standards for respectful speech. This could have been anything from tone of voice to sarcasm to repetition, etc.

    It sounds as though you had their perceived white supremacy on the surface of your mind and, assuming racism, was very readily enraged.

    Now, I’m not trying to downplay the initial incident, because it is disgusting, and I’m not denying that people of color aren’t targeted and marginalized and overlooked everyday, because we are, but I don’t throw around the term “white supremacy” for situations like this and here’s why: Every race or culture has a value system for communicating. Those with the luxury of being the dominant race or culture are always unaware that those values are relative. What you perceive as “white supremacy” they simply think if as “manners,” and it sounds like Ms. Parker wasn’t condescending to you because of your race or sex but because of your inability to calm yourself.

    The man who assaulted you quickly exited the situation and laid low, which is why he got off the hook. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t vile, just that he didn’t seem hysterical and therefore required no additional containing, which is, of course, the preferred situation for the flight staff. By being defensive and prolonging the incident (however justified you were), you made life harder for the flight staff and that’s why they lost sympathy. At least, that sounds most probably according to your account.

    A lot of white people are racist and elitist, but many aren’t. If you treat all white individuals like they are the embodiment of their races flaws, they will perceive it, be offended, and react.

  52. Jackal1994 says:

    Oh god come on.
    When this guy elevated things by laying hands he was totally 100% wrong.

    But A) you also elevated things by swearing (probably loudly), B) you were talking on your cell phone (probably loudly).

    Now understand, he was wrong for touching you. But the simple fact is that you aren’t totally blameless yourself.

    Your bad uncouth actions make his actions only incredibly rude and vulgar, compared to the insane and violent actions it would have been if you hadn’t been talking on your cell phone or sworn/yelled at him when asking him to move his feet.

    C. You take about 4 sentences about your personal experience, and transform it into a nine paragraph dissertation about whites.

    I think it’s incredibly hilarious that you are talking about white-held stereotypes and perceptions when you go on for PAGE after PAGE of your perception STATED AS REALITY on whites and their reprehensible prejudices and preconceived notions of “white authority”.

    Who’s stereotyping who?

    D) If you really felt you were being victimized then you SHOULD have pressed charges! Good thing you weren’t in charge of the bus boycott in Montomery Alabama, because the blacks would still be in the back (of the buses) today!

    I don’t agree that you were the victim of discrimination, but if you really believe you were why didn’t you fight it? You’re no HERO if you backed down. Oh my god you had to catch a later flight–so what?

    E) Everyone posting on this board knows that if YOU had been a young white male, and your assailant an elderly black woman everybody on this board would have stood up and cheered when the elderly black woman grabbed your arm and said:”I’m going to smack you in your mouth”.

    Violence from women and blacks is cheered as long as the target is a PC-approved target.

    The only thing I do like about you is that you quote WEB Du Bois instead of farrakhan or Malcom X.

  53. Jackal1994 says:

    Heidi // March 5, 2008 at 2:19 pm

    Most agressors attack those who they perceive as weaker — those who are different.

    I disagree. Maybe in crowd mentality a mob will attack somebody different (like when the angry black mob dragged the white trucker out of his truck in the LA Riots and stomped on his head and neck they put him in a coma).

    But considering that men are the victim of 75% of violent crimes (even when you roll in r@pe) violence IS perpetrated against the weak, but different-ness has nothing to do with it.

  54. Sue says:

    David,

    Yes, people confront each other inappropriately all the time. However, due to the historical contexts of racism and colonialism that still pervade race relations today, it is simply not the same thing. A white man treating a scrawny white man disrespectfully has none of the colonialistic context of a white man treating an asian person disrespectfully.

    You feeling out of place in Asia is also simply not the same as a person of an ethnic minority feeling out of place in white-dominated areas. I’m guessing that white people who find themselves in Asia being stared at by Asians get a sense that they are “different.” Asian people in America who find themselves being stared at by whites get a sense that they are “inferior.” This has nothing to do with the stereotypical idea that Asians are “docile” and “meek.” Instead, it has to do with the cultural conceptions of power distribution.

    I am also Asian-American. It is incredibly insensitive to insist that the problem is all in our heads. I am not one to fly off the handle because some punk on the street corner calls me a “chink.” But when white people in authority marginalize our reactions to violation, it only cements for me that institutionalized racism is alive and well.

  55. evilbunnytoo says:

    It’s not much, but I just called Southwest to inquire what they have done about this. I need to call back and talk to customer relations (too late in the day). I don’t expect anything to happen, but at least they’ll realize that others think this is completely unacceptable.

  56. Danielle says:

    I can’t believe she laughed at you! What gave her any reason not to take your assault seriously?! Any valid reason, I should add.

    This piece almost made me ashamed to be white, until I remembered that I am not like that, and white people do not have to be like that. Yet many of them choose to be so.

    What annoys me is when the media picks up on some incident where black people have “cried racism” for no apparent reason (or so they say) and then use these examples, which are very few and far between, not to mention dubious, to excuse racist behaviour. “It’s just PCGM”

    Political Correctness Gone Mad- the ultimate tool to avoid any responsibility for your actions. A multi-purpose excuse, for sexism, racism, homophobia, sizism, ageism, etc, etc…

  57. Danielle says:

    Greg and Irish Nation are f*cktards!

    Oatmealz: “Statements like those accuse me of being a despicable person just because I am a white male, and that is equally racist, equally offensive, and equally unacceptable. You can’t fight racism with more racism.”

    She’s not accusing you of being a despicable person because you’re a white male! Unless she sent you an email telling you this?

    My understanding of Nopper’s article is that she is describing sort of macro-structure power relations (sorry I can’t articulate this better!) rather than referring to every individual white person.

    On the surface it might seem like a subtle difference, but it is a difference, and if more people understood this then we wouldn’t have to suffer the whole “pendulum has swung too far the other way” crap.

  58. Butch Morton says:

    My only comment is that I’m sorry for what happened. But please do not blame an entire race for the racism of one person. It was most significant that MLK chose non-violence. At this point in history we need to understand that we are ‘joining together’ and not flying apart. It takes a bigger person to be be bigger and that is what Dr King knew. When violence erupted with his assassination, all of the gains he made nearly vanished with the violence of retaliation. This time we are one. If you would like to make it personal then make complaint formally then do so, but do not transpose the acts of one to the whole of others. That in of itself is racism.

  59. David Gerrard says:

    First of all, to Greg and Irish Nation: shut the fuck up. You aren’t helping anything, and are giving credence to her arguement. By allowing yourself to be baited by her racist writing, you are becoming the very demons she is painting us as.

    Maritzia + Heidi: I’m not defending this guy. He acted like a beligerent, arrogant fuck and if I’d been sitting beside him when this situation was going on, I would have told him off. However, this isn’t some massive white conspiracy to belittle minorities. I work in a hotel, and I know that I’ve barely been able to stifle a snicker when I’ve been told of certain rather extreme situations. It’s a defense mechanism that some people reflexively use to reduce the tension. I don’t think that the stewardess thought it was hilarious that a white male was bullying an asian woman. I think she was most likely just shocked at the whole situation, and seeing as the chief steward gave Tamara the option of taking the matter further and she refused, I say that the onus is completely on her. Also, could you really say with a straight face that it is more plausible that all whites are out to get all minorites, rather than just this guy is just a hyper-aggressive asshole? Yes, he wouldn’t have told a 90-pound white guy he would slap him, but he would have most likely still threatened him with violence if he talked back to him. Is it really so hard to believe that sometimes, people act aggressively towards people of their own race?

    Also, for the record, I question whether or not her calling herself “asian” was an attempt to cover up the fact that the term “white people” is, in itself, racist. Was the man who bullied her Welsh, like my family? Was the steward she talked to a nervous, giggling Swede? The chief steward a German, the pilot a Russian, the co-pilot a Scot? I don’t think of everyone who looks a certain way as “Asian”, and neither does anyone with half a brain, just like we don’t want to be called “white people.” With African Americans, it’s a little different and difficult, as the Arab slave traders who sold their ancestors deliberatly wiped out any trace of their tribal history, but going into Africa I’m pretty sure that a Hutu and a Tutsi wouldn’t be overly impressed and being lumped in together. Tamara is nothing but a whining, nasty little bigot, who is bound to see racism in every situation if it’s all she’s looking for. I personally think that it wouldn’t be unjust to compare her writing to the warped, hateful ponderings of Kenneth Eng, Louis Farrakhan, David Duke, and Fred Phelps.

    Christen: The situation would have been the same, even if I had lived their fifty years. I stand out in a crowd, and I accept the fact that I will sometimes receive bizarre treatment wherever I go. For instance, I couldn’t ever find clothing to fit my near 7-foot frame over there. Could I expect a big-and-tall store to open in a rural Chinese village even after fifty years of me living there? No, chances are it wouldn’t happen. Is this an “heightist” policy, discriminating against those who are genetically predisposed to be very tall? No, it’s just a situation that I will have to deal with. I can either be constructive about it (try to enact change, find some way to have clothing shipped to me, try to start my own business that caters to the height advantaged) or I can be idiotic about it (ranting about a racist conspiracy holding me down in a nation where I have received a PHD and have the freedom to do, say and write about whatever I want).

    Watson: Funnily enough, I have experienced the exact opposite situation. Despite my height, I’m pretty damn scrawny, and don’t much care for confrontation. As such, I’ll usually back down in situations like this. However, my friend Dominique from Peru is an absolute firecracker, and there has been many a time where she has dragged me back into an establishment just to give the owner a piece of her mind of my behalf. Usually, she ends up getting me my way. It isn’t about race, it’s about personality type.

  60. hannah says:

    Christen,
    I’m, not saying everyone who rebels against the system (which I agree is often biased towards whites) thinks all whites are evil, but the wording of her essay is very general and tends to lump all white people together, which I find insulting; being grouped with people who would treat her that way. What they did to her was wrong and the only thing I have in common with them is their skin color, not their attitudes.

  61. Sarah says:

    David, there is a fundamental difference between spending 6 months as a white person in China and living your whole life as a racial minority in the U.S. As a white male living in China, you know that you can always leave and return to home in which you do not constantly feel like an outsider. You can feel reasonably certain that when you return to the U.S., you will never need to wonder if a negative experience you had was a result of your race (or gender). You probably grew up surrounded by positive depictions of of people of your race & gender. Most likely, you have never been told that you “do credit to your race,” or have otherwise been asked to speak for your entire race or gender. You can be certain that when you go into the hair salon, someone will know how to cut your hair. You haven’t grown up with having people suddenly become awkward when they remember that you are a different race/religion/gender than them. You don’t have to worry that if you go jogging at night someone will think that you’re a criminal simply because you’re running in a park.

    Seriously, please please please read this article about white privilege. Speaking as a white person, I can say that it is the responsibility of every white person who does not wish to contribute to a racist system to at least understand and identify the privileges they have been unfairly given.

    http://seamonkey.ed.asu.edu/~mcisaac/emc598ge/Unpacking.html

  62. silverkris says:

    This is really disgusting. And the condensceding comments from others like Greg and Irish Nation are incredibly infuriating.

    Folks who are telling Tamara to get over it need to walk a mile in her shoes.

  63. Sarah says:

    Also, David, just to clarify: I’m sure it’s possible that you experienced some of the things I mentioned while you were in China (i.e. wondering if negative experiences had to do with your race, etc). However, the important difference, as christen points out, is that you grew up in a system in which you had the power. You did not have constant messages being sent to you about the inferiority of your race or gender. When you went to China and experienced discrimination, you experienced it from a position in which you still had X many years growing up privileged, as opposed to a lifetime of oppression. And when I say oppression, I don’t mean “individual acts of meanness,” I mean a systematic—somewhat unconscious—pattern of society consistently valuing white men over anyone else.

  64. silverkris says:

    David Garrard,

    You’re totally barking up the wrong tree on this one. Tamara’s point is that institutionalized attitudes in society tends to marginalize grievances or complaints of people of color, and women (of all backgrounds).

    Your condescending comment of Tamara “playing the victim” actually proves her point.

  65. silverkris says:

    Greg,

    Go fuck yourself. I am a second generation Asian American, and your tired rejoinder of
    “go back to your own country” is nonsense. I’ll bet I speak, read, write better English than you and know more about the history of this country — given your ignorant rant.

  66. Lara says:

    Tamara, when you described your feelings of fear, anger, and humiliation, feeling cornered in, I could feel it all through my bones, I almost shook at one point reading the story, almost shaking like you did on that plane. I am a young woman of color (although I look kind of “white”) and let me tell you I deal with asshole men taking up all of my leg and arm space on planes all the damned time. Taking up physical space, as well as being deemed moral authorities, is something white men assign to themselves as the oppressors. In addition, I am glad you brought up the fact that you were racially and sexually oppressed on many levels because those oppressions are interconnected: Asian women are thought to be docile and “sexpots in disguise”; Black women are thought to be “too loud” and “demanding”; and women in general are infantilized and seen as sex objects – so when you objected to your infantilization, to the abuse you received, you were thought to be simultaneously not “Asian” (re. docile) enough; not “feminine enough” AND that you were an Asian woman that acted like a black woman. That’s a triple offense against the inflated white ego that dominates American politics and society.
    For any white people here that use more than two capitalized words in their posts, that get defensive and aggressive towards Tamara, that blame her for what happened to her, that deny the existence of white and male privilege: you have only made Tamara’s arguments stronger. You are prime examples of the way white people deny their privilege and instead try to make the victim out to be the “real oppressor.” As soon as your property of “whiteness” is barely threatened you raise fucking hell to defend it and spit down on non-white women to remind them of “their place.” Disgusting morons.
    Argh, if I were on that plane I would have probably been scared shitless, but the whole time I read about your experience I wanted to punch that abuser’s head into the floor and tell off those wretched flight attendants. I FEEL your righteous rage and sadness because it is so connected to a larger picture of sexual and racial oppression.
    Thankyou, Tamara, for being so brave as to write about this, especially online, where you have a few privileged oblivious jerks able to make abusive comments online.
    Rock on woman, and know that if people like myself were on that plane I would have done just about anything to defend you. I wish I was there.

  67. christen says:

    Hi David,

    I should have explained my point more clearly. I wasn’t making the distinction to assert that people who live in a country for a long time deserve to be accommodated for every single outlying variable. I was speaking to the fact that, while our country was built by the blood and sweat of various cultures and ethnicities, whiteness confers the most powerful “birthright” to a select portion of Americans. All Americans, whether or not they have this particular legitimized privilege, deserve to live in their country with the feeling that it truly is “their” country. And that’s why both white and non-white anti-racists continue to speak out. I’m sorry you see this as “idiots complaining about a racist conspiracy.” I invite you consider that we are not seeing a racist conspiracy, but something more subtle. Having these kinds of conversations are painful and frustrating for all of us.

  68. christen says:

    Hanna,

    I do not doubt that you don’t share those hateful attitudes. If I understand your point correctly, people of color should not assume that, because you’re white, you’re racist. Fair enough.

  69. Del says:

    Tamara I’ve been reading your pieces for years and I was horrified to hear about this incident happening to you.

    I’m also not surprised that so many of the comments to this piece reaffirm the existence of the racism and supremacy you talk about.

  70. secretrebel says:

    Tamara, I don’t know if you’re reading this comments or have given up because of some of the comments above but I salute you for standing up and I hope that you will document this chain of circumstances and send them to the airline.

    Too few people understand their own privilege. David Gerrard has plainly no conception of the “othering” that non-whites experience on a day to day basis. Racism isn’t always obvious enough to carry a card or wear a hood, it’s invidious, unpleasant and sly. Suffice to say that if you had been white or appeared to be white you would have been treated differently.

    You know that, of course. But I wanted to post to add one more person to the list of those who also know it.

  71. hannah says:

    christen,
    i’m not saying everyone has that assumption. in this spicific case, her wording gives that impression at times, which is what i took offense by.
    (by the way, there’s an h at the end of my name :) )

  72. Black Woman says:

    I won’t fly Southwest again after reading this story. My treatment wouldn’t be any better than yours.

  73. Chris says:

    And the Debois quote? Proven all the more true by the comments here. It’s not enough that you eat shit and smile, in your experiences, you’re not even allowed to talk about them without being attacked.

    All these people who claim reverse racism? I’ll give them a point when I see them campaigning against neonazis and klansmen- surprisingly, their race criticism ONLY seems to show up when it’s people of color, and not when it’s people who’ve proven a history of murder and terrorism.

    Naturally though, “danger to society” depends on if you value human life, or simply white supremacy.

    Tamara, I’m sorry you had to go through that. Until white people wake, we have to protect ourselves, and that’s all there is to it.

  74. lizadilly says:

    An unfortunate incident, and only one, I’m sure, of the innumerable offenses that go unwitnessed. I would never make any excuses for the institutionally anglocentric, patriarchal, and heternormative structure of the US (and, apparently, Southwest Airlines), nor would I ever attempt to deny the conscious and unconcious existence of white entitlement.

    Many points have already been made in the comments and the essay itself, but I would like to make one more without detracting from the veracity of Nopper’s general thesis:

    White people are people, and like people of any color, they don’t like to be treated as a symbol of their race. They would like to be treated with the benefit of the doubt in mind, rather than every bad racial stereotype.

    Now of course this is something they are used to BECAUSE they are white, and often expect it without acting in kind. But I think all interactions between races would go smoother if we all tried harder to do this. When our personal behavior is unbecoming, that’s when a lot of racist stereotypes flood to the forefront of the mind. The way to prevent that on both ends is to strike a balance among sincerity, courage, and manners.

    And by the way, I am SICK of ignorant pr*cks flaunting their Irish roots while being disgustingly racist. Racism is not an Irish characteristic. And if the Irish did not have a shade of skin tone that allowed us to assimilate into white culture, we would still be singled out and treated like sh*t today, too. So STFU Irish Nation.

  75. Del says:

    I wonder if all of the people insisting that Tamara metamorphize into Nelson Mandela or MLK are themselves candidates for the reincarnation of JFK, FDR, or Saint Francis of Assisi.

  76. “Sir, please keep your knee/leg in front of your seat.”

    “Sir, if you continue rubbing against me I will make a complaint.”

    Being grabbed, regardless of the accompanying verbage, is more than sufficient reason to press charges.

    Rationally, your use of offensive language was the same sort of aggression (of a different degree, to be sure) as the man grabbing you. Acknowledging that you contributed to the weakness of your position is not the same as admitting that you were wrong. Clearly, the man was wrong. You can’t expect civil treatment if you can’t be civil.

    My version of Erik’s point is this: you perceived an assault, and you failed to elevate it to the proper level of authority to deal with it. Consider, for example, the very likely possibility that the man would have been asked to apologize to you and be required to take another seat. His assumption of space privilege has the same motivation as your assumption of time convenience, but specifically because you had the appropriate channel to resolve the situation at that point and declined to use it.

    Racism, sexism, whatever you want to call it, is a social dynamic. It is most effectively handled in a social context. You want to mitigate the inequality of power — and I’ve spent many an hour trying to do that — but you didn’t want to follow through with it.

    That being said, if I’d witnessed this incident, I would have intervened on your behalf and implied a dire result if the man refused to apologize and move. That is what was lacking in the social dynamic of the situation, and the Southwest employees bear the blame for not providing it.

  77. Donna M. says:

    Thank you for sharing this story.

    I wish I could say I was surprised, both by the actions of Southwest and the ignorance of the replies here. Unfortunately, I’m not. How frustrating and reprehensible that even in the face of this kind of assault, there are still those who blame the victim.

    As a friend of mine once said, it’s hard to see white priviledge when you’re soaking in it. And yet, here it is. Plain as day, and still being brushed off.

    Just so you know, Tamara, I see you. I hear you. I believe you.

  78. Pingback: Christian Leftist » Blog Archive » This Week’s Obnoxious Examples of Racism

  79. GREG says:

    Silverkris I highly doubt it. That however is not the point but you did a suprisingly good job of making yourself fall into the catagory of somebody who cannot control there temper and has no choice but to attack whoever doesn’t share your view. Moving on. If you read my whole response you would have realized I wasn’t taking shots I was making a point. If you feel so discriminated against and haven’t the will to do more than write a blog that comes off like a rascist then move away. Once again I will state I wish there was no such thing as rascism but if you think white people aren’t on the receiving end of rascism than you should stop reading this and put on a helmet so you don’t do any further damage to your already fragile brain. Open your eyes. How old was this man who you say assaulted you? Was there an odor of his favorite alcoholic beverage coming from his mouth? Did he have a piece of paper signed by every white person in America with him that stated he was to do the talking for all of caucasion America? Just wondering. Also, I was saying wouldn’t it do more good to be proactive in gathering support for a cause involving but not limited to putting and end to rascism.How about donating money to Africa to stop hunger,aids and malaria. There is also Asians killing Asians every day in gangs in just about every major city in the United States. Couldn’t you focus your time on helping save your own race from genecide? It isn’t to the extent of the tribes in Africa but the killing of a race by it’s own people is genecide. If I was in your shoes (hypothetically) and I was so offended to the extent that I would spend time writting a blog about it, thenI would have gotten off of the plane no matter what and made a complaint. You seem intelligent but yet you didn’t write your local paper or post flyers telling people to steer clear of that airline or go to a television station. Protest, boycott or other wise stay off of that airline.

  80. Corianna says:

    Lara, you and several others stated that by objecting, white people were being defensive and perpetuating the system of white supremacy. So, because we are white, we can no longer have an opinion that differs, without it being part of a racial conspiracy? That in itself sounds like so much nonsense.
    As I said before, correlation does not determine causal relation. If the plane has only five “non-whites” on it, chances are if you’re accosted, you’re going to be accosted by someone who is white. That’s just the odds.
    Was she accosted and taken advantage of and wrongfully dismissed? No question. Was it because she was Asian? Not necessarily. As a “white” woman, I’ve received THE SAME sort of treatment. There goes the argument that a white person wouldn’t get treated the same way by another white person.
    I was offended by the assertion that all white people are part of some conspiracy to keep everyone who is “different” down, but I was much more offended by the statement declaring that those who protest that just maybe her treatment was because she was in the company of less-than-sweet people, instead of because of her race, are simply trying to defend and perpetuate a racist conspiracy. That is simply not true. People object because they disagree. I have no intention of subjugating any other race, creed, or culture, and find the practice inherently abhorrent, but I object to her assumption that it was a racial attack, and not simply an attack that could have happened to anyone in her place. I object to her wording (and that of several commenters) that places all white people in some white-supremacy-conspiracy. I object to the implied slurs aimed in all directions (this includes people whom you seem to think I’m agreeing with, who cannot seem to make a point without childish insults).
    I do NOT object to her standing up for herself.
    I object for the same reasons feminists object to the idea of “man-hating feminism”: you cannot achieve equality of any sort by pulling down someone else. Claiming all whites hate Asians (or blacks, or whatever minority label you choose) is not going to make the system any better, only make you look worse. The fact is, most white people would be/are appalled at the treatment Tamara described, and many (especially smaller women, which includes myself, when it comes to personal-space invasion) suffer the same treatment, regardless of race.
    If you see or experience wrongful treatment, I encourage you to speak out, but be aware of the implications of your words: What one, or two or three, do does not necessarily apply to the whole.

  81. Artemis says:

    I am so sorry that happened to you, and even more so because of all the assholes on here who think it’s ok to respond by telling you that you are wrong and actually the one at fault rather than those who assaulted and belittled you on the plane. There is no excuse for that kind of behavior. And it’s quite clear that it was due to racism and sexism, and the socialization of white men to believe they do own the world and are entitled to whatever they want- especially when what they want is from a woman of color.

    And I think it horrible that you are being blamed for not pressing charges because of a mere “inconvenience”. I didn’t see any comment in this story that would indicate there were no reasons why taking a later flight may be far more than just an “inconvenience” of arriving some place later than expected. Furthermore, as you stated this is not an isolated instance. It is unreasonable to expect those who are already fighting against an oppressive system to always rearrange their lives with no notice even further because of a white supremacist system.

    I too am impressed with calm and rational you stayed for so long, I don’t think I would have been able to last even that long in the same situation.

    And btw, there is a huge difference between privileged and “cool”, between oppressed and simply left out.

    Also, is it really a common thing for elderly black women to sit with their legs spread so wide they infringe on other people’s space? I doubt it. And I know it is very, very unlikely that any black woman would have managed to grow up with the socialization that she was entitled to take that space from a white man. I’ve never seen elderly black women behave in this way. I’ve seen many young white men (even the generally non-assholey ones, who simply don’t consciously register this aspect of their socialization) sit in this way that takes space from women.

  82. Dabney says:

    ^^^^
    Somedays I find myself enjoying it when white people circle the wagons (e.g. defensiveness, rhetorics, making excuses, role reversal, tone, lessening strategies, etc.). It’s just a fun and funny thing to watch.

  83. aririsama says:

    I appreciate your sharing this despite the massive waves of people who want to negate your experience and tell you what you experienced didn’t happen in the way you know it did. I find it intensely interesting that the very people who claim that whites are not a monolith are the same ones seeking to blame you for the actions the white man took and to excuse the actions of the white flight attendant and other white passenger. Must be a coincidence.

  84. Erin says:

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, and I’m sorry you’re getting some of these comments.

    People, if condemnation of white supremacy makes you feel insulted and defensive, you might want to think a little harder about why.

  85. Jackal1994 says:

    Franklin Evans // March 6, 2008 at 1:53 pm

    “That being said, if I’d witnessed this incident, I would have intervened on your behalf and implied a dire result if the man refused to apologize and move.”

    Such as? You don’t have any legal authority to be “thumping” anybody any more than the idiot had to grab people by the arm.

  86. Having read some (but not all) of these posts, there is a part of me that wants to somehow respond to everybody and at the same time have some kind of radiant truth shine through to explain contrary responses with a heavenly clarity…

    A peachy, warm’n fuzzy idea, huh.

    I just want to say that some of these responses I thought were interesting contributions to a complex discussion, while others were just plain mean and aggressive, no two-ways about it.

    (And, as has been noted by plenty of people already, not at all unsimilar to the aggression related in the Article itself. In fact, very much the same.)

    As a young, White male, I thought Tamara’s article did much more than to relate to me a confrontation she faced as an Asian-American in a white-supremacist society. Most of the posts focus on the confrontation, who’s to blame, and where to go next. No doubt these are important issues. But there’s obviously something much larger at stake:

    “I have, as have many of my friends, indeed, the majority of the world, experienced this type of situation so many times: having white people tell you that what happened to you does not matter, that it is your fault, or that it did not even happen.”

    The real point is that this incident is happening everyday, right here and now, to those who are perceived as being “not white”, and that there is no simple solution (sue ‘em!) to an issue that’s been around… definitely longer than me, anyway.

    Thank you Tamara for writing this piece with heart, and for an incisive analysis of white-supremacy in flight. It definitely gave me something to think about.

    pS: damn, i hope you get your blog back under control soon kenyon ……………………. ben

  87. m says:

    1) Irish Nation, Tamara is not BLACK. She is ASIAN.

    If you’d read anything she wrote before jumping into your angry racist conclusion-leaping rant, you’d know that.

    2) Ben -

    If your last name is indicative of what I think it is, you may be pale, but you’re not white.

    Don’t fool yourself.

  88. a says:

    reading this story makes me want to punch that white man in the face. maybe not a PC non-violent response, but i can’t BELIEVE he said he would slap you???!!! that is so appallingly inappropriate… guess good girls aren’t supposed to make a scene, then we turn into threatening bitches (all women but *especially* racialized women)

  89. Mohani says:

    I wish I was there to comfort you. I understand the fear.

  90. sigh says:

    When I got to “and no, I’m not white”s comment, I told my girlfriend “This is a genuinely great post, filled with thoughtful, rational and intelligent points. I assume it will be thoroughly ignored for the rest of the thread.”

    I’m glad my lack of faith in humanity is justified. “and no, I’m not white”, you win this evenings Pearls Before Swine price.

  91. hannah says:

    erin,

    I’m not excusing anyone’s behavior, what they did to her was just plain wrong, and she had every right to stand up for herself, and that man deserved to be dragged through court; but being grouped with people like that is offensive, no matter the justifications. It would be as if I were mugged by someone hispanic, and then wrote a blog about how all hispanics see white women as weaker and feel that it’s okay to rob them. The ignorant and aggressive actions of some people don’t dictate an attitude as a whole. I’m horrified that she was treated with such disrespect and aggression, as I would be if she were white, black, hispanic, etc. And being accused of having something to feel guilty about because I don’t want to be lumped with two idiot flight attendants and two sexist assholes that happen to share my skin color doesn’t make sense. Every person, no matter their skin color, deserves to be seen as an individual, not as a representation of their race.

  92. Artemis, while it may be an assumption to label Nopper’s feeling as “inconvenience”, her use of invective was certainly convenient for her. I am not blaming her for being a victim; I am chastising her (gently) for being willing to stoop to the man’s level but being unwilling to stand up for her rights by having him removed from the plane.

    Jackal, I am a reasonable man. If I see emotional violence taking place, and I see my intervention as appropriate, I will act to difuse the emotions. In Nopper’s case, the man grabbed her and verbally threatened her with physical violence. I would be, in fact, appropriately informing him that he would be physically prevented from carrying out his threat. It’s called being a responsible citizen. I was raised to be courteous and respectful, which does not include the modern “value” of minding my own business when one person bullies another. If that gets me injured or in court, so be it.

  93. silverkris says:

    Greg,

    You’ve simply reinforced your America-love-it-or-leave-it (stop complaining) and repeated the logical fallacy of the “why don’t you go help your community” comment to change the subject, as well as putting up “all whites are racist” strawman. Nice try but that dog won’t hunt.

    Frankly, you’ve told me to stop complaining (and by definition, Ms. Nopper) and if you don’t like it, move away. Well buddy, it’s my country too and I will NOT move away, and my speaking out on this is a step in improving it. The fact that it makes you uncomfortable has nothing to do with it.

    AFAIK, Ms. Hopper does NOT blame all whites nor does she say they are all racist. You’ve totally misread this. She does say that whites and non-whites are treated differently in society and that has a lot to do with the power dynamics in society.

    Ever hear of the old Racism = predjudice + power? It’s an explanation of how race and power works in this society. Your comment about how whites also are on the receiving end of racism or racist comments ignores the basic power structure of this country. Sure it’s uncomfortable and unpleasant for a young white guy to be on the receiving end of some hostile comments from a black man in the street, but the gist is that black man is less likely to affect whether that white kid gets a job, is able to buy a house in the neighborhood where he wants to live, receive acceptable service in a store. This is because that hostile black mans’ views or impact isn’t as great.

    Now you compare, let’s say, a black person trying to get a loan from a bank, or even get a taxi in a big city….

  94. Heidi says:

    I’m a little late getting back here, but I wanted to reply to a couple of the comments directed at me:

    Jackal1994 said: “But considering that men are the victim of 75% of violent crimes (even when you roll in r@pe) violence IS perpetrated against the weak, but different-ness has nothing to do with it.”

    Those men who are being victimized are primarily being victimized by other men, as men are also the majority of perpetrators of violent crimes. By different I didn’t only mean race, I meant any visible difference that an aggressor might categorize as a weakness. In this case, arguably race and gender, but David’s example of a white guy roughing up another smaller white guy would also apply. Race, gender, size, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, whatever. Usually a sane person does not initiate physical violence with someone they believe to be physically stronger or superior. Common sense.

    David Gerrard said: “Also, could you really say with a straight face that it is more plausible that all whites are out to get all minorites, rather than just this guy is just a hyper-aggressive asshole? Yes, he wouldn’t have told a 90-pound white guy he would slap him, but he would have most likely still threatened him with violence if he talked back to him. Is it really so hard to believe that sometimes, people act aggressively towards people of their own race?”

    Okay, I think it’s more plausible that he’s a hyper-aggressive asshole than that ALL whites are out to get ALL minorities. But I think it’s more plausible that people are subtly influenced and prejudiced by living in a sexist, racist society than that this dude is a hyper-aggressive asshole who’d assault or threaten anyone, anywhere, who pissed him off. If that were the case, he’d be in jail, not on that airplane.

    And of course people act agressively to people of their own race, all the time. No one ever said they don’t. That doesn’t mean racism couldn’t be a factor here.

  95. GREG says:

    Silverkris I am starting to think you can’t actually read. When did you become the mouth piece for every race in America? Is it just me or are you trying to get me to apologize for white America? It isn’t going to happen. I’ll leave that up to you. I have better things to do. I’m going to go out on a limb and say your in your first year at your local community college. Which is good for you but unlike you I don’t have to dissect every race I feel responsible for. To me that is exactly what Tamara is talking about except your not a white man. You really should quit trying to own everybody and get a hobby. You are not in charge. I don’t know if you know this or not but there are more white people living in poverty in America than any other race. Look it up. Also, most cab drivers in big cities are not white. What I don’t understand is why you argue like what your saying is fact and internet stalking me every time I type something. You don’t have to change my mind I don’t wake up and spend every second of my life thinking about race. Once again again I wish there wasn’t rascism but you typing me doesn’t do anything to change the fact black white hispanic asian and native american people all have factions of rascism in ther community and sometimes it’s against there own color. So do I think white men pretend to take ownership of things because there white? I’ve seen it. Me personally I think that would be a little harsh considering my brother in law and nephew are black, my daughter her mother my niece and all of my daughters mothers family is native american except for the aunt’s that are asian which makes all of there childre mixed between asian and native. So when we have our family barbeques the last thing on my mind is how much I hate all of them for not being white and to prove it when there not looking I take there cornbread. I wonder what my friends would say if they could read this. Oh I forgot they won’t be able to because by silverkirss’ calculation there to busy being jobless, homeless and trying to catch a taxi.

  96. mpowell says:

    The difficulty for me, is that it’s impossible for me to assess how plausible stories like this are because they are outside my experience. I have no way of knowing, based on the facts of the story, what actually took place.

    The question that jumped into my mind is, why Tamara engaged in a lengthy conversation with the flight attendant? Either you’re going to press charges or not. Are you looking for some other kind of redress? Did you ask for one? When you initially indicated that you wanted to press charges, did the attendant try to encourage you not to? Did you continue the conversation after you had decided not to press charges? If so, why?

    Look at things from the flight attendant’s perspective: two customers have an altercation. They are expected by our employer to resolve these kinds of disputes quickly, fairly and without any more disruption than is necessary. One of the passengers makes a claim that she can’t ascertain the validity of, but she ask if Tamara wants to press charges. If she declines, then the attendant probably just want everyone to find agreeable seats and allow the flight to continue as normal.

    This is the part where it’s hard to know what happened. Did the flight attendant decide she needed to lecture Tamara for acting out of place? Or was Tamara pressing the issue, looking for conflict or some kind of reaction after declining to press charges? Maybe she felt like she deserved a more gracious response from the flight attendant, but it’s not just a racial thing- if you get disruptive in the wrong environment, it will be poorly received by the authorities. Remember: “don’t tase me bro!”. If you think someone is treating you incorrectly and press them on it, they may get defensive. I’ve been in airports. I’ve seen plenty of heated discussions between customers and employees of all types of ethnicities. That doesn’t mean the initial response was justified, but it can explain their ongoing response.

    Finally, if every post like this one is answered with, “well, that just confirms Du Bois’ point” then all you have done is created a self-confirming argument.

  97. Katherine says:

    The comments here are a lot like the turn a lot of discussions on racism take online–digression into tone. It’s interesting that the flight attendant digressed into tone as well.

    By “tone,” I mean the emphasis on, “But you cussed at him!” People insist that it’s okay for a wronged party to point out a white person’s racism as long as they have the right “tone.” What they mean is, “As long as you’re not angry.”

    Well, you know what? Of COURSE Tamara’s angry! Someone grabbed her arm and threatened to strike her! Isn’t the natural reaction to someone insulting you, laying hands on you, and threatening you anger?

    But part of the way white privilege, racism, sexism, homophobia, et al work is that anger is only allowed to travel down, not up. The boss may chew out his secretary. The secretary may not chew out her boss.

    So, those of you who think Tamara was wrong to cuss, I just have to ask: Is there a tone in which it would be acceptable for Tamara to criticize this man? And why is the burden of politeness always upon the wronged party?

  98. idyllicmollusk says:

    Tamara- Your situation was unacceptable and it is an injustice that you had to experience that crap.

    You are not alone in feeling targeted as an Asian woman. Check out what’s going on in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood: http://www.komotv.com/news/local/16260236.html

  99. silverkris says:

    Greg,

    It seems that you’re the one who can’t read or have the annoying habit of trying to put words in my mouth and attributing silly strawman arguments to me, judging by your clumsy attempts to denigrate me.

    I really don’t care about your background, and I am not trying to get you to apologize- only poking holes in your reasoning and argument, which I have done.

  100. silverkris says:

    My point is -

    Racism is not merely gauche interpersonal behavior which flows every which way on unstructured terrain. Racism is an institutional system of power and exploitation, consisting of an interlocking set of economic, political, cultural, and social structures, beliefs, and actions which systematically ensure the unequal distribution of resources, privilege, and influence in favor of the dominant racial group at the expense of all other groups. My concrete suggestion is to begin by internalizing that definition.

    In response to the constantly asked question “Where’s my white privilege?!” one need only point at society’s institutions of power: banks, police, courts, schools, textbooks, mass media, government offices, healthcare facilities, zoning laws, placement agencies, employers, landlords, etc. That’s where racism and privilege live, built right into our society’s very functioning.

  101. Katherine, my first post offers sample statements that answer your valid and important challenge. However, I would replace your use of “polite” with “civil.”

    Your general point is what I find most important: we have become a culture that is more interested in not rocking the boat in situations where rocking is called for. I have often run into situations (and borne the brunt) where reacting to rudeness is, itself, considered rude without any regard to how the reaction is expressed. I would not be surprised, Nopper having been as “polite” as anyone could ask for, that she would receive the same treatment she described.

    Tone is a two-way street. If I refuse to buy into the initial tone — my reason for criticizing Nopper’s incivil word choice — I have that much more of a chance to invalidate the tone used by the other person. Incivility just makes the person look ridiculous, and being incivil in response makes both look equally ridiculous. Ridiculous does not change that man being wrong, or Nopper being right, but it becomes a handy excuse for all and sundry to invalidate Nopper.

  102. mpowell says:

    This question of tone: I am more interested in Nopper’s tone with the flight attendant. One guy grabbing your arm is repulsive, but hardly demonstrates a pattern of racism. And if Nopper maintained a very civil tone in dealing with the attendant, and then the attendant went out of her way to reprimand Nopper for cussing at the man, that would go quite a bit farther to support Nopper’s general claims. On the other hand, if Nopper started complaining about how inconvenient it would be for her to press charges, and the attendant got defensive and started looking for excuses, even if they were poorly reasoned, that’s a lot different.


    Racism is an institutional system of power and exploitation, consisting of an interlocking set of economic, political, cultural, and social structures, beliefs, and actions which systematically ensure the unequal distribution of resources, privilege, and influence in favor of the dominant racial group at the expense of all other groups.

    This is one way to look at racism. But if you find yourself in an incident like Nopper did and you start to challenge the attendant on how she is handling the situation, she is liable to defend herself. And we expect her to do so stubbornly and irrationally, in all likelihood. That is just human nature. But this view of racism encourages us to regard all such induced acts as casting a special view on the perniciousness of this social structure. But she would probably do the same if she were defending an act that you regard as part of this racist social structure or if she were defending some other misstep with regards to a white customer. So I just don’t regard it as that interesting or enlightening.

  103. Erin says:

    Hannah:

    >> but being grouped with people like that is offensive, no matter the justifications.

    She never says all white people are exactly alike — she says we have access to the same privilege. Which we do. That’s a description of the social system we live in, not a criticism of our individual moral worldviews.

    Granted, she also talks about how many white people feel the need to claim the moral high ground, but given that many white people in this thread are demonstrating this need in their rush to imagine ways in which the white flight attendant and the white men on the plane were justified — to empathize with the white people in this situation to discredit the experience of the Asian woman whose account they actually read — and their rush to complain about her insensitivity to white people, I think that’s valid.

    >> It would be as if I were mugged by someone hispanic, and then wrote a blog about how all hispanics see white women as weaker and feel that it’s okay to rob them.

    No it wouldn’t, because that’s untrue.

    Everyone does deserve to be seen as an individual, but if we can’t at the same time acknowledge that there are larger trends, we’d be in the very special position of arguing that sure, many black people were slaves in the US and many slave owners were white, but there was nothing *racial* about it — they were all individuals!

    And of course not all whites were slave owners or pro-slavery, but *there was still an overarching system that privileged whites*, even abolitionist whites, and that is how slavery could exist. And we need to be able to talk about the subtler system we live in today without derailing the conversation to say, “But I don’t hate people of color!” Of course you don’t — but that doesn’t erase racism or white privilege.

  104. hannah says:

    erin:
    well it’s a given the system is flawed, everyone and their dog knows our entire government was built on the backs of people whites took advantage of, and in subtler ways it continues on today, there’s no question about it.
    but she doesn’t say “the system”, she says “white people”. the man who assaulted her was perpetuating the system, as were the stewardesses, no doubt. but there’s a distinction between the system and those who support it, versus people who are white. it paints us all with the same brush, which i feel is unfair, similar to the way the gentleman who assaulted her assumed she’d just sit there and take it because she was an asian woman.
    i believe that people of color do receive different treatment in many situations, and that the current system makes equality difficult, i’m not here to argue that, my problem was that she didn’t make the distinction between a flawed system and those who perpetuate it, and regular people who don’t feel any animosity towards people different than them, we’re just “white people”.

  105. GREG says:

    Silverkris go away and quit cyber stalking my responses. I challenge everybody to go back and read silverkriss’ comments and response. That is if you have nothing better to do. You make claims and then I prove you don’t know what your talking about and are simply attempting to sound like you do. So from here on out leave me alone and stick to the point which isn’t what I write it’s actually what Tamara wrote if you haven’t noticed. Silverkris If I wanted your oppinion on my oppinion i’d write my own blog.

  106. whatsername says:

    Three words Tamara, Better Business Bureau.

  107. Love Missile F-11 says:

    Greg: Please upgrade your English skills (hint: “your” and “you’re” are not interchangeable).

    And please stop being such a retard, you sub-literate prick.

  108. Katherine says:

    Franklin, I do hear your point on civility, and on incivility as an excuse to be dismissed. That said, I don’t think that any tone Tamara used would have had any different effect (a point on which we seem to agree).

    On the other hand, I stand by my assessment of anger only being allowed to flow down, not up. And I still feel that anger is a natural human reaction to the situation that Tamara found herself in. I also think we’re ignoring the way that women are conditioned to fear sexual violence, and how threatening his initial invasion of her space was.

    As an example: Imagine you’re sitting on a plane, and a very large, very well-dressed, obviously wealthy white man sits next to you. He intentionally invades your space–because you’re not conditioned to fear sexual violence in the same way, I’ll say that he lays a hand on your thigh. You politely ask him to remove his hand and he replies, “You’re a big boy.”

    If you reply in a situation like that with calm civility, well, I don’t think you’re typical. And that’s not even a perfect example, because one might argue that if you’re straight and he’s gay you’re more privileged than he is. Maybe it’s more useful to imagine the event takes place in a sports bar where everyone else is wearing jerseys and hats and related to their favorite team, and you’re wearing a t-shirt that reads, “Sports stink!” when some stranger in a sports shirt puts his or her hand on your thigh.

    I think it’s human nature to be angry in a situation like Tamara found herself in. And I still believe that tone is a red herring commonly used to derail conversations of racism. I’ll happily give you the benefit of the doubt and say that’s not your intent here, but it happens frequently and distracts people from the issues.

  109. Katherine, we are in agreement on the main points; I would not state them any differently than you just did.

    I had an ironic chuckle over your example; I was just a couple of weeks ago hit on by a gay man, who was drunk and got aggressive. I had little difficulty getting rid of him, with a couple of my gay friends coming to my rescue (and putting a bit of fear in him for being an idiot).

    I really am a bad example around this, no doubt of it. I’m a straight, white, feminist and gay-friendly male. ;-) But seriously, I do have the best of examples in my life*: a mother and two older sisters who did not let anger get the best of them, in situations much more intense than Ms. Nopper described. I know about anger, and I do not fault her for it on that plane.

    * I’m 52.

  110. Craig R. says:

    From the Southwest Airlines Website:

    “Important Note About E-mail:

    We are hard at work designing a system that will allow us to accept and respond to e-mail, yet maintain that personal touch that you have come to expect from Southwest.”

    Translation (to me): We don’t want to be bothered *by* the flying public who aren’t wealthy/influential enough for us to bother *with*”

    However, their snailmail drop is:

    Southwest Airlines
    P.O. Box 36647 – 1CR
    Dallas, Texas 75235-1647

    Good luck

  111. Micah says:

    I am so sorry this happened to you. I was recently at a Critical race studies symposium at ucla and seeing this just affirms to me how far we, as non-whites, have to go.

  112. Cath says:

    I am so sorry to hear about this incident. It is unfortunately a typical scene. Your race may have been part of the issue, but I assure you that this happens to folks of all races and ethnic backgrounds. Basically, if there is a loud confrontation between two people, there is a “pecking order” as to who is believed. If there are no witnesses to the incident that spurred the loud profanity, there is no way that anyone can judge what actually happened. The only thing that is a certainty in that case is that you are cursing loudly. You would have much more believable if you had firmly told the man to please move his leg, and that you found his comment offensive. If your attire and demeanor looked respectable enough, it might have been sufficient to have the man removed. Still, if he quietly but firmly denied doing anything other than accidently bumping you with his leg, and there are no witnesses to corroborate your account of the incident, there is not much that can be done. The person who “loses” and clearly acts inappropriately by cursing or hitting a person even if it is in retaliation for what was done, is going to be in trouble for what witnesses see and hear. In such situations it is imperative to keep your dignity and act with grace, as it is your only chance to be treated fairly. Even then you cannot expect that the other person is going to be “reported”, though it is very likely that a seat switch would be made.

    I tell this to my kids all of the time. Young men, particularly those who do not dress in coat and tie, even more so if they are dressed “dinghy” are going to be treated more harshly than older folks. The way you look and present is critical as to how you are going to be perceived. I think that any woman, regardless of race would have had the same problem as you did, given the perpetrator and the language use.

    I agree that getting off the plane and filing a complaint would not have resulted in much of anything. There is no proof that an impropriety occurred. At best, you would have seriously inconvenienced the man, at the price of inconveniencing yourself as well. If he should have turned around and firmly denied your claims, and filed a complaint about your language and reaction, you could have found yourself in a tough spot, as he could prove his complaints and you cannot prove yours.

    There are many such situations in life, particularly if you are a young woman. The color issue does not help your case either, but it is not the main problem. Hopefully, you will learn how to react to get the best possible treatment when someone pulls this sort of thing.

  113. hannah says:

    she shouldn’t have to “learn” how to react, that’s putting the blame on her. regardless of how she was dressed, that man had no right to talk to her that way, it’s giving him an excuse. and she said she only swore once, in a normal voice. people don’t make stuff up and then freak out over it, especially on a plane. and pecking order be damned, even if she had a purple mohawk and was pierced to hell and back, she should have been treated with respect by the flight staff, she’s a customer who was upset.

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  115. Jackie says:

    Tamara, I’m very sorry this happened to you. It seems Southwest keeps managing to kick itself in the shin. If it’s not their anti-fat policies, it’s this. Eventually they’ll just be seen as the worst airline ever, if they keep this up.

    I know how it feels to be disciplined by people like you’re a small child. I look younger than my age, 26. I think because I don’t wear makeup, and I haven’t starved myself. The latter I believe is now being seen as being adult.

    It amazes me how the people who seem the most adamant about pointing out to people they’re not being an adult, are the ones who are the most childlike. For example, I know you wouldn’t have done this, I most likely wouldn’t but would really have wanted to. Tell the flight attendant, “Listen, are you done throwing your temper tantrum now. Yes I said a bad word, why don’t you go cry to captain about the big bad scary word I said. Of course after you treat the man who threatened to assault me, threatened physical violence. Oh maybe I should say, he tried to inflict a boo-boo on me, do you understand that? Treat that man like a poor victim, like the school bully on the playground. That bully who starts crying once they get caught, and play victim. I seem to be the only one here remotely behaving like an adult!”

    I mean, I know someone would get into HUGE trouble for saying that, but when it comes to reading about the behaviour of that flight attendant. It reminds me of all the times I was talked down to in public school like a idiot. All the times I was told it was my fault, that I was being bullied by the schoolyard sadists. I finally realized the problem isn’t me, it’s them. It’s not that I’m immature, it’s that they are immature.

    I know you may know this already, but it wasn’t your fault. You just happened to board an airplane that also seems to have served as an adult-child daycare.

  116. Jonathan says:

    Did she have to use the F word right off the bat? I’ve been cramped on a plane before and had people get into my space before but I didn’t cause a scene over it.

    Everybody in the story is wrong in some way. But we’re all in this together and we all have to work together for peace and harmony. Stories like this perpetuate the problem.

  117. graylion says:

    Well, you are a male. and this is about grabbing and threatening. She had every right to be as upset as she was.

  118. Nae says:

    You should have yelled, “Get your hands off of me!” Then at least it would have caught the attention of more passengers that he was assaulting you. I had a similar experience flying back home on Delta. On a returning flight, I had first class seating and was forced to sit in coach because I had on jeans. I was 19 and unaware of the dresscode especially since I wore jeans on my departing flight without a problem. I was already seated and the stewardess made me give up my seat to a white man with a buddy pass. I resisted, showing her my ticket over and over again and she repeatedly threatened to get security and she did. They then made me speak with a security officer and he then told me about the dresscode and that I had to get off the plane if I didn’t cooperate. The reason I say it was about race is because the stewardess was polite with everyone until she looked up and saw a young, black female with a first class ticket. I was sitting in the window seat and from where she spotted me she couldn’t even see my pants at first. However, as soon as she saw me her face grimaced and she started asking me if I was in the right section. She then requested and promptly snatched my ticket from me to see if I was in the correct seating. When she couldn’t move me for incorrect seating she then and only then came to check out my attire. I ended up writing a letter to delta and they gave me a sorry apology letter.

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  120. WTR says:

    Sounds like you need to learn Krav Maga or something. People tend to take you seriously when you can hurt people.
    “You’re a big girl…five dollar?”
    *punch-to-the-throat*
    “..and that’s what happend Officer….I thought the shade of purple-blue would go well with his shoes.”

  121. Justc call 911 says:

    People if this happens to please please please call 911 from you cell phone tell them where you are and that an assault took place and the flight crew are not responding to you call for help. The 911 dispatcher is obligated to send a police officer to the scene. The flight will not be able to take off till the caller has been identified and interviewed by a police officer. If other bystanders try to stick up for the perp make sure you tell the people that they had not witnessed the incident. I have found that in a crowed place all sorts of human trash will come out to save the perps.

    Also please do not use profane words, keep calm take deep breaths make sure you tell the 911 dispatcher that you fear for your safety if you really do and if the flight crew does nothing.

    If this happens during flight make your call when the plane lands to 911 tell them which gate you will be getting out at. I went through this and the police were waiting at Newark airport.

  122. Caroline says:

    I’m sorry for your experience, Tamara. Yet people of color, especially women and queers of color, experience this shit every day. God knows how many times I could relate to this whenever I have to sit next to a white person, especially a white man. They think they have it all–and they do.

    I plan on not flying with Southwest.

  123. infamousqbert says:

    i’m so sorry this happened to you. i don’t know what to say, but i do promise to try that much harder to be sensitive to my own “white-power” and do my best to not allow this kind of thing to go unchallenged when i witness it.

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