Racist On A Plane

Click click. I give my seatbelt a gentle tug.

The tone of the in-flight intercom chimes throughout the plane on its way from Munich to Newark. I stretch my right leg into the open space between myself and an old woman who has her wide eyes glued to the window. When the engine springs to life, she groans and white-knuckle-grips her arm rests. I would later discover that this is her first time flying overseas.

I give her a smile, deciding that a little conversation could soothe the trembling threads of her intricately knitted sweater. A flight attendant passes us our drinks as we speak. Although we’re from totally different backgrounds, I’ve worked in some of the same places where her daughter used to teach, and granddaughter now hangs out.

At cruising altitude, she explains to me that it’s been several decades since her squad got back together: she’s going to see her best friends. Grandma jokes that since a few of the group have passed away, they should meet before there’s nobody left to hangout with.

As the cabin lights dim, Grandma tells me how she hopes her granddaughter finds a suitable career path, that she stays healthy, chooses to do what makes her happy but stays away from dark-skinned people in the summer?!?! I give her a confused look, trying to pretend I didn’t hear it. Regardless, grandma takes it further and tells me that she knows how ‘they’ get in the summer heat.

“What are you trying to say?”, I ask.

Several people turn their heads and one guy put’s his headphones on. Grandma explains that ‘they’ are from Africa and/or the middle east. ‘They’ don’t put any effort in to learn the local language. ‘They’ are violent and dangerous.

I tell myself, “Okay, this is your moment to politely use rational arguments and explain away some racism. Let’s do this.”

To begin, I point out that all of Africa and the Middle East can’t be lumped together into one group. Further, ‘they’ are people who deserve to be judged at as individuals.

She nods okay but then says ‘they’ have knives and that she’s seen things on the news about attacks all over Germany — all over Europe. According to her, ‘they’ have nothing better to do than to hangout at the train station because they don’t want to work. She then politely offers me a bite of water melon in a white plastic cup because she prefers grapes.

I politely decline the tasty fruit and explain that there are plenty of locals who commit violence as well. Check this out grandma, “ I‘ve met several migrants, some of them go to school, others have jobs and are learning German. One of which, was a young man who walked with his family from Pakistan to Europe — one of the most disciplined and hard-working people I’ve met.”

Grandma replies with a “mhm” then proceeds to tell me about a group of young migrants who assaulted an old man in her town. In the same breath, she confides in me that she knows it’s wrong to generalize but she can’t help it.

I look at the on-screen flight simulator showing our plane nearly ready to drop its precious grey-haired cargo off in Newark, knitted sweater and socks included. All around us, those who initially perked up their ears were dozing off or watching movies.

Excusing myself, I drag my feet towards the restroom. In the luxurious vanilla colored, airborne cubicle-potty, I see a baggy eyed man in the mirror.

I splash some of that delicious airplane water on my face to wake up. I tell myself that I’ve convinced people who were way more stubborn to change their minds. I’ve read enough books and seen enough youtube videos about interpersonal communication to give this one last shot.

I pop the restroom door open in a Z-formation, march down the aisle, look grandma in the eye and give her a nod in resignation. It’s not my job to right her views. In fact, it’s a bit pompous to think I could do what countless people in her life have already failed at. Instead of getting a few final points in, I sit quietly with my eyes closed and enjoy the shudder of the plane landing at my destination.


Mike is originally from New Jersey but is now living in Germany. He is a fan of cooking/ eating, mma, denim button downs, movies, outdoor activities, singing in the shower and pulp in his OJ. Along with the help of a few friends, he created this website for your personal enjoyment.
Mike contributed:Ten Lil Tings About Taipei, Marsala & Ramen, A Tribute to Anthony BourdainWhy You Should Get Your Ass Kicked

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