Sitting on a plane next to, not only a bigot, but a preacher bigot.
Just as I sat down we had a brief discussion regarding his Bojangles Fried chicken which is really, in my humble opinion, rude to eat in the close confines of an airplane, what with the smell and the grease and the eating with your hands and chewing on bones and licking your fingers and all. His wife, across the aisle was just downright disgusting with hers – it was unbearable to watch.
Anyway, I began to read, working on a book with big enough words that I am having to take notes. I think that I appeared rather engrossed.
So he leans over and says, “Tell me something, you’re from Colorado, what do you think is the problem with the Indians?”
What is the problem with the Indians??????????
And who decided to show up at that moment to join the conversation? Suzanne the polite girl raised with proper manners, trained to not make waves in conversations with strangers.
I hate her.
First, I politely asked him to clarify what he sees as “The Problem.” I was hoping that I had misunderstood what point he was making.
He proceeded to talk to me about entitlement, lack of motivation to “improve themselves,” and cars in the front yard.
I fumbled with, “sweeping generalizations,” “it’s complicated,” and finally, “I’m a bleeding hearted liberal.”
I was livid.
I’m sitting in seat E, which means the middle seat. I was trapped by his large white self-righteous arse.
The man on the other side of me turned his entire body towards the window and buried his nose further into his book.
I picked up my pen and book and wrote something in the margins so I would appear very busy and important.
“Don’t they want to better themselves?” Can we not use the word “they”?
Or “Those people.”
He pushed, I wiggled, he pushed more, and I finally said, “Okay, I can only speak to my own experience, but what I’ve seen is that in order for a person to ‘better themselves,’ there needs to be opportunity and support. Not everyone has that.”
And have I mentioned poverty and racism?
“Well, let me tell you about my (white) German ancestors who came across on a boat and took a wagon to Arkansas and built lives for themselves. A wagon, I tell you. That was hard and intimidating. They bettered themselves.”
Implied – if they could, then those silly Indians can.
Wagon folks, have you met the handcart gang? They’re really badass.
“Well, it’s not really for me to say.” Back to book.
“And let me tell you, my wife is 1/8 Cherokee and she is proud of her heritage.”
Bully for her. She’s got grease all over her chin.
“You know, the coolies came over from India and their descendants are now doctors.”
Oh, those people.
“And the Chinamen built the railroad. First generation, rail workers; second generation, engineers; third, lawyers.”
By this time I’m white-knuckling the pages of my book, I’ve squeezed my pen so hard that it’s broken.
“So do you know the Sequoias? (I think that’s who he said.) You know, normally it takes 2500 years to develop or eradicate a language and (some dumbass do-gooder missionary) managed to completely erase their language in just one generation.”
And then the kicker…
“That’s God’s work right there. That is grace.”
Oh, bless me, Jesus. Give me patience. Help me to not commit murder. So I’m finally getting up the courage to put a stop to this conversation and then, bam, he leans in closer, I lean back against the guy in the window seat, and Preacher Bojangles says, “I know a missionary who has converted over a thousand Africans living in huts. Now one of those converts is my oncologist. That is a miracle.
Those people wanted to be better.” And there it was, “those people.” I want to scream. I want to claw his eyes out.
And I am being a total puss. I’m furious with myself, actually fully ashamed.
I think, I hope, that if I wasn’t trapped in the air somewhere above Oklahoma, that I would have the courage to shut this man down.
I would like to believe that I would stand up to this horrible human being. A goddamn Christian minister.
What about Love?
Oh yeah, Love means conversion, it means imposing your belief system on another person, another culture. It means ‘saving” people from themselves.
When he started in about his “negro custodian” who “came straight out of the bush,” I said, “Excuse me, I need the restroom, I might be sick.”
He jumped up, I ran into the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror, “Grow a set Suzanne.”
Instead of returning immediately to my seat, I made my way to the back of the plane where a friend of my kids was sitting.
“Help me!!! I’m sitting next to the world’s biggest bigot. He wants to talk about the Indian Problem.”
“Praise Jesus” she replied.
I returned to my seat and plugged in to Dr Dre. LOUD.
I left one ear bud hanging.
Then, inspired, I whipped out my brand new coloring book titled, “Color me F@#ing Calm.”
I know, not good enough, not standing up for what’s right, not putting this pompous lard ass in his place.
But not only was I raised with good manners, I also mastered the fine art of passive aggressing people.
We made it through the rest of the flight with no interaction. When the window seat man wanted to pee I was worried that it would provide and opportunity for Preacherman to jump back in.
I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep.
As we began our decent, I did unplug.
I actually wanted to hear what the pilot was saying in case he was letting us know that we were all about to die.
My favorite bigot saw an opportunity and grabbed it:
“Are you a believer?”
In your “God” ????????? You’ve got be kidding. “No.”
“No, thank you, I am really comfortable with my beliefs.”
“No. I’m good. Really.”
“Well, I’m sure that there’s a church in your community that would take you into the fold.”
“You know, I live in a predominantly LDS community,” and I was going to continue with something about how welcoming they are but he interrupted.
“Mormon? Oh. Ummmmm. Huh. Well, everyone makes their choices.”
And not another word was uttered.
Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos, Colo.