Is there a problem?
June 22, 2017 10:11 AM   Subscribe

When people ask this question, what they mean is, “YOU" are being a problem. Gyasi Ross on flying while “being a big Indian” and the powerlessness of being asked that question.
posted by shoesietart (101 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
"Is someone sitting here?"

"Yes"

These people are gorwn-ups, with jobs and families and friends, and they can manage to interact most of the time as functional human beings, but under all that is a rude little fourth grader.
posted by Space Coyote at 10:40 AM on June 22, 2017 [20 favorites]


I hate people sometimes. This is one of those times.
posted by davejay at 10:49 AM on June 22, 2017 [8 favorites]


It's easy to imagine what you'd do in that situation as a bystander. Would you speak up to the couple? Would you speak up to the captain? Would it have improved the situation in the moment at all? If you were white, would it be too white-hero-y?

I know it's not the point of the article, but I would like his perspective on whether or not he felt the Hicksville guy could have said something at that time.
posted by knownassociate at 11:01 AM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


(also great first post, shoesietart!)
posted by knownassociate at 11:01 AM on June 22, 2017 [9 favorites]


“As you know, our Pilot did not hear any other Passengers, which is why he only addressed his question to you. [...] We realize that sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it, and we apologize that you feel as if our Pilot could have used a more patient and professional tone when intervening in the exchange between you and the Customers in question.”

Hamilton : 2016 tonys :: this email : the annual condescending bullshit awards
posted by Emily's Fist at 11:04 AM on June 22, 2017 [19 favorites]


It's easy to imagine what you'd do in that situation as a bystander. Would you speak up to the couple? Would you speak up to the captain? Would it have improved the situation in the moment at all? If you were white, would it be too white-hero-y?

I know it's not the point of the article, but I would like his perspective on whether or not he felt the Hicksville guy could have said something at that time.


I've done active bystander training and the basic principles included:

1) Deescalate; never do anything to make the situation more intense
2) Only give help someone wants, don't force your assistance on them
3) Engage with the target instead of the harasser

So instead of talking to the attacker or attackers, which can make the target feel embarrassed (because it feels like they can't stand up for themselves) and also moves the attention to the attackers (this is where "white-hero-y"-ness can kick in; if you, as a white person, start interacting with other white people it becomes about whiteness) and can potentially raise the emotional temperature, you can ask the target something like "do you need help? What kind of help do you need?" to make sure you are engaging in a way that feels helpful and productive to the person who actually needs your support. It also means that you're not making this about white people standing up to other white people or men standing up to other men or whatever, you're still centering the target and making it about them.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:12 AM on June 22, 2017 [68 favorites]


I've done active bystander training and the basic principles included:

I'm curious how many of these principles the pilot believed he was practicing.
posted by pwnguin at 11:18 AM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


Mrs. Pterodactyl, that advice doesn't seem practical at all for the specific situation of a plane where the captain is standing in the aisle speaking to seated passengers.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:22 AM on June 22, 2017


Oh i don't know -- a passenger who saw the incident could have said to Mr Ross, "Excuse me, but i heard what you heard, would you like me to speak up in your defense?". It gives Ross the opportunity to accept the help or decline.
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:31 AM on June 22, 2017 [21 favorites]


"I know that this situation is BS, but in the interest of everyone getting to their destination on time, I would be more than happy to offer you my seat, and I'll sit with these shitheads. Presumably, they won't be afraid of me; I'm white."
posted by tippiedog at 11:34 AM on June 22, 2017 [43 favorites]


“Look, you know this plane ride is going to end at some point, right? You have to get off this plane.”

...was the perfect not-a-threat threat.
posted by BrotherCaine at 11:34 AM on June 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


I like to think I would have asked Mr. Ross to switch seats with me so the couple could have a nice older white lady to sit with. A nice older white lady who would cough in their direction every thirty seconds, fart as often as practicable, and vomit at least once into the flight.
posted by sageleaf at 11:35 AM on June 22, 2017 [36 favorites]


But that's the problem in this situation: you can't easily bypass the captain and address Ross. Passengers can't get up once seated at that point, and even if they could are they going to push the captain aside in the small plane aisle? So the choice is to, what, yell at Ross from wherever you're sitting?

If the first principle above is about deescalating, there's really no option here that's not going to make the situation more tense. Unlike most situations, the physical restrictions of the plane, and the fact that the captain has ultimate authority, changes things. In this situation the best option would have been for someone to speak up to the captain and say they heard what really happened.
posted by Sangermaine at 11:36 AM on June 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


Indeed. The silence of surrounding passengers was deafening. People just don't want to get involved.
posted by Roger Dodger at 11:38 AM on June 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


I'm honestly surprised that a flight attendant didn't step in and deescalate right at the very beginning. I have seen Southwest attendants tell people to take their shit off the middle seat and let someone sit down, that there is no seat-saving, and that passengers should take the first open seat. To me that is the shocking bit of aggression (micro or otherwise) - the passengers and the captain are predictable.
posted by muddgirl at 11:42 AM on June 22, 2017 [21 favorites]


People just don't want to get involved.

I think there's a lot of calculations going on in an incident like this. And once an authority figure arrives, the scene gets even more complicated. As much fun as it is to monday-morning-quarterback all the people around this scene, the story really is about inherent bias and white privilege as evidenced first by the seat-saving couple (Can you imagine if they had been of color and the person who walked in was a white guy? They'd be thrown off that plane so fast! Probably by the passengers!), and second by the pilot, and third by the silent supporters and fourth by the snotty response he got from the airline. It's a system.
posted by amanda at 11:45 AM on June 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


Sangermaine - arguably that could have been applied before things got that far?


“Look, you know this plane ride is going to end at some point, right? You have to get off this plane.”

...was the perfect not-a-threat threat.


Which smells not at all of testosterone poisoning. No, it does, it's totally implied violence, as is the mention of his size: fuck you pissant is the message which I guess I feel is out of line despite these people perhaps being terrible.

Ross does not paint a great picture of his conduct in the encounter :/ I find his story sort of upsetting in a "I believe you but you are also a jerk and maybe a bully in your own right."

Shit is complicated in America.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:46 AM on June 22, 2017 [48 favorites]


“Look, you know this plane ride is going to end at some point, right? You have to get off this plane.”

Right, and after the flight ends, the white guy fetches his concealed carry gun out of his checked baggage, shoots the guy outside, and uses "Stand Your Ground" to get off scot-free.
posted by Slinga at 11:52 AM on June 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


(Not that I don't think this is still an issue, but the original story was done in January 2014).
posted by gudrun at 11:52 AM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I notice we're still arguing over how the brown guy could have done a better job of being inoffensive to racist shitheads.
posted by klanawa at 12:12 PM on June 22, 2017 [61 favorites]


Ross does not paint a great picture of his conduct in the encounter :/ I find his story sort of upsetting in a "I believe you but you are also a jerk and maybe a bully in your own right."
I was (still am, actually) troubled by that, too, but after my initial reaction I had a few additional thoughts:
  • Ross is the person who is telling us this story and he's clearly a skilled writer. He could have chosen to leave that part out and paint himself in an entirely sympathetic light. It's an act of honesty that he didn't.
  • Over and over again the pattern we see in reaction to such stories is "Well, but he shouldn't have _________." It's part of the problem of privilege that we are practically pre-programmed (hell, I have to stop and check myself to keep from doing it) to diminish or invalidate the claims of victims of racism if their response is anything less than 100% correct. I'm pretty certain my response if I had been placed in his situation wouldn't be 100% polite or proper, why must his be before we can accept the painful truth of his story?
So yeah, maybe he is a bit of a jerk. I think he tells us he might be a bit sexist, too, judging by his description of his different reaction to the husband compared to his reaction to the wife. But he doesn't have to be a model victim in order for us to take a lesson from what he's saying.
posted by Nerd of the North at 12:15 PM on June 22, 2017 [53 favorites]


I've had a husband/wife pull that same crap on a flight. I'm.... not a small person. 6'4" and 210, and all arms and legs. Airplane seats are what, 18" across ? My shoulders are 25. I have to lavaball - absent a hinge in my femur, it is not physically possible for me to touch my knees together. Airline seats to me are like a grownup sitting in a kindergarten chair - its as ridiculous as it is uncomfortable.

Anyway, they pulled that "we're saving this seat" crap, and then the steward says I need to take that seat. Which means, with a smirk, I took both armrests. Ordinarily, I try to make myself as small as possible, because I am roughly twice the size of any "normal" toy sized human. Not this flight - I took no pains towards unobtrusiveness. Fuck those people.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:21 PM on June 22, 2017 [30 favorites]


Gyasi writes about the incident very well and perfectly explains both racism and white privilege.
posted by biggreenplant at 12:55 PM on June 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


I've told too many stories like this here on MetaFilter. I don't know that I can reshare them again because it just opens up an old wound. It feels both physical, emotional, and mentally draining. I don't have the energy for that. Sharing stories like this, it can be helpful, but it's also really hard on the body/mind.

I'll just say that I know how this feels and that it is not acceptable and I'm glad he stood up and asserted himself.
posted by Fizz at 1:21 PM on June 22, 2017 [10 favorites]


This article seemed to me to be more about authoritarianism than about racism or white privilege.
posted by serena15221 at 1:30 PM on June 22, 2017


I don't think I could separate authoritarianism and racism/white privilege in America. Ross makes the same point when he ties in the way he was treated with the way that cops treat minorities.
posted by muddgirl at 1:32 PM on June 22, 2017 [24 favorites]


> This article seemed to me to be more about authoritarianism than about racism or white privilege.

How do you explain the actions of the couple, then?
posted by desuetude at 1:39 PM on June 22, 2017 [13 favorites]


An ugly incident indeed. But I really enjoyed his writing.
posted by davidmsc at 1:44 PM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


There are convenient headers at the bottom under "ANALYSIS" that read "Racism" and "White Privilege." Maybe you meant that the incident seemed to you to be more about authoritarianism? But the article is quite clear on what the writer thinks it's about, and I'm inclined to agree.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:50 PM on June 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


shoesietart, thanks for posting this.

For every high-profile airplane incident that makes headlines, there are doubtless a bunch of conflicts like this.
posted by brainwane at 1:58 PM on June 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


"Do not piss off those bitches in airports." I'm a 35-year-old white-passing woman who hates interacting with strangers and I found myself repeating that to myself a couple weeks ago as I had to go through a patdown and complete bag-swab and then got crammed onto a plane with someone's elbow in my ribs for two hours. I don't know where I would have found the energy for any kind of supportive resistance, and the risks involved to my finances and my getting back to my job on time would have been substantially more than if the same thing had happened on, say, a city bus. I haven't seen anything like this, but I've definitely witnessed people getting away with being quietly-terrible before, because they seem to know they can get away with murder so long as they aren't actually the ones who Made a Scene.
posted by Sequence at 2:03 PM on June 22, 2017 [11 favorites]


I don't understand why anyone is saying he's a good writer. I mean, everything is spelled correctly and the words are in the right order but it's not good writing. The "recruit" (the woman who refused to take the seat in the front of the plane) "saw more fertile ground in the back of the plane"? What is she growing back there, either literally or euphemistically? "The man scooted over chivalrously" - who was the man chivalrous to, the writer? Men being polite to other men is not normally described as "chivalry" and if it is there should be a good reason for it. Words mean things, they should be thought about and selected carefully. He's sorely in need of a brutal editor. I shudder to think what his books are like.

Did the writer experience racism in this incident? He says he did, so I believe him. Did the woman experience an incredible amount of sexism, ageism, and patronising bullshit from the writer? Absolutely. Did the woman's husband experience threats of violence from the writer? As it's written, he certainly did.

Based on his clear contempt for women and his outdated, sexist attitude, he's not someone I'd want to sit next to, either. It makes me feel like the situation may have looked a bit different from the perspective of the woman and her husband. I don't doubt, however, that things got racist when the captain joined in. I'll always believe a person of colour when they tell me a white guy in a position of authority is racist. I'd be more surprised to hear the opposite.
posted by cilantro at 2:29 PM on June 22, 2017 [9 favorites]


Some of y'all just need to take a seat and be quiet. Your apologetics are not adding anything substantive to the conversation.
posted by anansi at 2:35 PM on June 22, 2017 [11 favorites]


I've been denied seats before because obviously a single woman with disabilities is far less important than the coats, bags, and toys of affluent couples and families, and management refuses to get involved. I've also been the one singled out by authority figures as “you're the only one I heard,” presumably because ladies are supposed to be quiet and not speak up for themselves like ugly space harpies.

And yet, even I can see the situation in TFA as racism. Whatever troubles I've had, I can only imagine how much worse they'd be I hadn't chanced to be born white.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:56 PM on June 22, 2017 [10 favorites]


This couple lies to him to prevent him from taking a seat next to them, act like dicks to him for doing so, and he's supposed to not think uncharitable thoughts about them for treating him like shit.

So, he is the problem.
posted by shoesietart at 3:12 PM on June 22, 2017 [13 favorites]


I think the writing was fine. The author clearly states that at one point he leans into the other man's personal space. Also includes that the pilot claimed he could overhear him, but not the others, but then the author challenges the pilot with the idea that he's engaging in selective hearing.

Those examples above characterize the 1st person narrative more richly. He's an active, real human being, not just a victim, and whether you as a reader empathize with him (he quips about Social Darwinism, so how much of that is being tongue-in-cheek?, Do I recoil from that? Etc.) and whether you believe his behavior could be different (in some alternate universe where Indians weren't subject to genocide and extreme, ongoing oppression) is really your action as a reader.

So I think that focusing on the author's flaws in order to discredit the idea that this encounter was profoundly racist, not merely slightly or specifically racist, but all of it from start to finish, given the context of race politics for American Indians, is just a meta-move that furthers the rotten ideology of racism itself.
posted by polymodus at 3:16 PM on June 22, 2017 [11 favorites]


“Look, you know this plane ride is going to end at some point, right? You have to get off this plane.”

...was the perfect not-a-threat threat.


Not trying to disagree, but can somebody explain the text of the threat here? I don't quite get it. When I read the article, I initially chalked it up as sort of a "this flight isn't for eternity, so let's just keep to ourselves and drop the issue" kind of statement, but it sounds like there's a different reading of it that I'm missing.
posted by Expecto Cilantro at 3:22 PM on June 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


Expecto Cilantro, I think the threat people are reading is "and when we get off, I won't be so civil/could easily beat you up, because we'll already be at our destination and I won't have to worry about getting kicked off the plane". Though I also read it the way you did at first.
posted by Illuminated Clocks at 3:27 PM on June 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


Not trying to disagree, but can somebody explain the text of the threat here?

I had thought about it, but the only way to understand what author meant by this:

Look, you know this plane ride is going to end at some point, right? You have to get off this plane

Was that it was a sarcastic remark to make a point that Husband was being silly and shortsighted about the problem. "You have to get off this plane eventually" is a kind of argument by contradiction, and people in real disputes say that. The problem is this sort of negative logic almost never works (even if technically correct) and makes people feel bad.

It was also at that point that the author leaned in to the other guy. So if you say something fairly snarky and critical while in the other person's personal space, that reasonably makes the other person feel threatened. But the distinction is that it was a snarky and clever point of criticism, I do not think it was not any of implied threat that author would drag the other man off the plane if needed. But under duress the other person could perceive it as a combination of threatening language and body language.

The further problem, though, is that goes back to the racist stereotyping issue. PoC say critical stuff, and they get accused of being threatening to be physical. Even if the correct interpretation is far removed from it.
posted by polymodus at 3:30 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Ross does not paint a great picture of his conduct in the encounter

I think he does. I wish more people acted like him and stood up for themselves when they encounter assholes who think that they can talk to anyone any way they please, but the minute someone responds to them, that's the line too far. "I don't want him sitting there" and "Don't look at me" are shockingly shitty things to say. "You need to shut your mouth!" is something that is shitty to say, and it's shitty enough to warrant a fight starting. Telling the guy “Look, you know this plane ride is going to end at some point, right? You have to get off this plane.”? That's a heads-up that the way he's talking is insulting in a way he didn't anticipate. It's a chance for the guy who had already said one shitty thing to not say even more shitty things. Yeah, it'd be great if a vague threat of violence wasn't necessary, but the couple already broke the Saying Shitty Things To Strangers seal, so I don't think what he said was too much, at all.
posted by 23skidoo at 3:30 PM on June 22, 2017 [8 favorites]


Not trying to disagree, but can somebody explain the text of the threat here? I don't quite get it. When I read the article, I initially chalked it up as sort of a "this flight isn't for eternity, so let's just keep to ourselves and drop the issue" kind of statement, but it sounds like there's a different reading of it that I'm missing.

Implied threat is that once the flight ends the man won't be safe inside the airplane anymore. Have you never been threatened? I think one of the more tedious parts of human interaction is that not everybody speaks the same language when they speak the same language. For some people this kind of threat might just sound like bluster for other people it might suggest violence of a potentially lethal sort. Was this appropriate tit for tat or was it escalation? I have no idea and find it all pretty Rorschachy.
posted by Pembquist at 3:36 PM on June 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


I know the world should be right and just for all folks, but in this situation an effective strategy is to imagine what a small portly english nanny would say, perhaps "would you mind so terribly much if we wait to see if your dear friend actually makes this flight? So kind of you, by the way, what is your friends name, perhaps we may query the agent?"

But the article was from a long ago time (5 years?) in a more gentile age, the last few months would have been rather more exciting with swat teams and airport shutdowns.
posted by sammyo at 3:48 PM on June 22, 2017


Oh and for various communities, if one can do the accent, well, golden.
posted by sammyo at 3:48 PM on June 22, 2017


There are times when I think the black heart of racism is simply that humans really like being rude, and it's fun to have an entire group of people you're allowed to be rude to with no consequence.

It doesn't matter how badly the author handled things. The situation should never have occurred. The couple should not have attempted to seat-steal. Upon attempting, they should not have been rude when caught. The pilot should have de-escalated instead of getting his dick hard at the thought of his Real Ultimate Power over his passengers.

There are many layers of fuckery to deal with before we get down to "yeah, but arguably, hanging around to prove the point and forcing the couple to 'fess up to their shenanigans was kind of a dick move." This assessment holds even if all parties involved are white.
posted by a power-tie-wearing she-capitalist at 3:50 PM on June 22, 2017 [28 favorites]


it's not good writing.

Sure it is, but your opinion as an unpaid writing critic is rather beside the point in an article about how small racist acts can quickly escalate.
posted by maxsparber at 4:20 PM on June 22, 2017 [35 favorites]


This is a really powerfully resonating article for real life circumstances right now.

I keep in touch with a lot of my former soldiers. One of them is a huge mixed guy, and he literally had nearly this entire incident happen, except on a train - some people said some racist shit to him, he reacted by getting pissed and telling them off and possibly offering to fight them - except they called the police and had him taken away because he didn't back down.

And it's kind of like - yeah, I know this guy, and my soldier, could have in a different world handled it better, but they don't live in that world, they live in this one, where PTSD from life circumstances is aggravated by people just making your life harder when there's no damn reason to. And it's not like it's ever the first time someone has said this stuff - it's always like the tenth or twentieth or hundredth time, and maybe they were good in most of the instances but nobody is perfect ever, and most people just don't have the hundred aggravating incidents that produces the few dick responses.
posted by corb at 4:20 PM on June 22, 2017 [41 favorites]


The way those of us who are more privileged can fix this is to carry out, to coin a phrase, micro-assertions. So when you're choosing your seat, never sit next to someone who's less visibly privileged than you are. And always choose the seat with the bag on it above the one that's been left empty.

Think of people who are blocking seats not as thoughtless jerks, but as generous people who are giving you practice in amicably resolving conflict. And next time they want to sit alone, they'll fortify themselves a little more subtly, and it'll be easy enough for more people to take that seat.
posted by ambrosen at 4:40 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


"How do you explain the actions of the couple, then?"

I think they are assholes, and that being assholes is a bigger factor in their behavior than the other things we are told about them, i.e. white, parents, bad dressers.
posted by ssr_of_V at 5:28 PM on June 22, 2017


It looks like the pilot could have ended the whole thing by just asking the author to take a seat, right now. That's all that was needed for takeoff and I don't imagine the entitled couple would/could have taken it any further if the author had sat between them. But whatever, from the pilot's perspective he just needed to take a seat: the problematic (and likely racist) bit was getting into the argument.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:53 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I think they are assholes, and that being assholes is a bigger factor in their behavior than the other things we are told about them, i.e. white, parents, bad dressers.

And the behaviour that identified them as assholes was their racist behaviour.
posted by dazed_one at 6:10 PM on June 22, 2017 [19 favorites]


Not trying to disagree, but can somebody explain the text of the threat here?
the husband – all 5-foot-5 and probably 125 pounds

he [ . . . ] turned what were simply words into possibly a really bad situation.

I got really close to him and said, “Look, you know this plane ride is going to end at some point, right? You have to get off this plane.”
I had to quit reading soon after this passage. The gratuitous comment about the puny unmanly size, boasting about violating the other guy's personal space, going on how it's the other guys fault if this moves past words, not to mention a crack about how the woman dressed . . . . if a friend or family member were telling me a story and using language like this I would have moved well past trying to be a supportive listener and trying to come up with how bluntly to say "geez, you were really being an asshole."

The other passengers were being assholes too and I gave up before I found out how bad the pilot's behavior was. But this part totally read to me as 100% not OK completely intentional physical bullying.
posted by mark k at 6:34 PM on June 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


In the wake of the acquital of the shooter of Philando Castile, author Marlon James writes an amazing article on Facebook, on what it means to be a "big, black man" in an environment that warns "get big, but don't get too close".
posted by Theiform at 6:48 PM on June 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


the black heart of racism is simply that humans really like being rude,

The asshole passenger couple make me ashamed to be white, but people like that exist and we have to deal with them.

The captain makes me ashamed to be a professional. He obviously had scary black man issues of his own and called it wrong at every step, and Southwest called it wrong squared on their response to his complaint.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:56 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


never sit next to someone who's less visibly privileged than you are

I am having trouble parsing how that is not an act of conspicuous rejection.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:09 PM on June 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


If you took race out of it, how is the author's behavior appropriate? Maybe I'm coming at it from a conflict-averse Canadian perspective, and also from the blind spot that I don't really understand the etiquette of air travel on budget American airlines, but there is no way that I, a large "white" male, would behave that way over seats on an airplane. It's not a way to get what I want, for example. And the flight attendant usually handles stuff like this.

I would have preempted the conflict (remember - I'm conflict-averse, in large part because in the past I have had anger-management issues) by just choosing a different seat.

Or was the middle seat the only one available? It's not clear to me.
posted by My Dad at 7:15 PM on June 22, 2017


Oh man, I've seen so many white guys go into a snit about less, My Dad. So...I don't know. It may just be you. Plenty of people take the path of least resistance but sometimes, you gotta resist.
posted by amanda at 7:24 PM on June 22, 2017


Based on his clear contempt for women and his outdated, sexist attitude,

Huh, I didn't notice either of those things.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:33 PM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


If you took race out of it, how is the author's behavior appropriate?

Well, if you take out race, then he's just expecting to get to sit in an untaken seat on an airline that does not have assigned seats. The people who were being inappropriate were the ones who were trying to stop him from sitting where he was allowed to sit. There's nothing inappropriate about expecting to be able to sit in a seat that you should be able to sit in. It seems worth-it enough for how much effort he put into it.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:35 PM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


If you put it that way, it makes more sense, for sure. Were there no other seats, though? Once again, being conflict-averse, I would have just grumbled to myself a bit and would have moved further back.
posted by My Dad at 7:52 PM on June 22, 2017


I might have grumbled and looked for another seat too, but that doesn't make any of what the author did inappropriate.
posted by 23skidoo at 7:57 PM on June 22, 2017


If you took race out of it,

but ...
posted by philip-random at 8:05 PM on June 22, 2017 [16 favorites]


>I might have grumbled and looked for another seat too, but that doesn't make any of what the author did inappropriate.

Eh, the implied threat and the raised tone of voice were inappropriate. What makes this difficult is that this is an intersection of racism and toxic masculinity. It's not black-and-white (although in my opinion the other passengers here, as well as the SW pilot, did behave inappropriately as well).

As mentioned, I spend a lot of my emotional energy on airplanes struggling to defuse my own sense of male entitlement.
posted by My Dad at 8:07 PM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


Eh, the implied threat and the raised tone of voice were inappropriate.

Maybe we're using "inappropriate" differently. To me, "You need to shut your mouth!" is the first comment that raises the tone and that implies a threat, and once that's done, it's appropriate to respond to someone who talks that way in a similar fashion.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:18 PM on June 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


Actually I forgot about that. What an impossible situation.
posted by My Dad at 8:29 PM on June 22, 2017


I am having trouble parsing how [never sitting next to someone who's less visibly privileged than you are] is not an act of conspicuous rejection

To clarify: when you're faced with having to choose which seat you want from walking along an aisle, make a beeline for the one next to the middle aged white man in a suit who's put his newspaper on that seat. Because many people who aren't besuited middle aged white men won't feel able to put out the "why not sit somewhere else?" body language, so if there's seats that go free, they'll be next to those with most visible privilege.
posted by ambrosen at 8:31 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


when you're faced with having to choose which seat you want from walking along an aisle, make a beeline for the one next to the middle aged white man in a suit who's put his newspaper on that seat.

I might be old enough that I don't have to put up with smug suit-guy macking for the rest of the flight...
posted by clew at 8:46 PM on June 22, 2017


The man was holding a baby? I must have read that wrong.
posted by janey47 at 9:13 PM on June 22, 2017


I didn't read it wrong. Where did the man put the baby when he got up to threaten? If they are over the hill, is this their grandchild? Was the baby a doll?
posted by janey47 at 9:16 PM on June 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


I shudder to think what his books are like.

Talking about needing a brutal editor and then dropping this bomb two sentences later.. lol.

I wish i had waited until i was sober to edit the last bombastic screed I wrote that contained the hilariously overly dramatic phrase "I shudder to think..."
posted by some loser at 9:24 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


If you took race out of it, how is the author's behavior appropriate?

If you took race out of it they would have let him sit in that row and nothing else would have happened?

Maybe we're using "inappropriate" differently. To me, "You need to shut your mouth!" is the first comment that raises the tone and that implies a threat, and once that's done, it's appropriate to respond to someone who talks that way in a similar fashion.

"You need to shut your mouth" ends with an unspoken "or else." Or else what? Or else he will set white authority on an uncowed minority. Spoiler alert: that's exactly what happened.

I am not saying that YNTSYM Guy deserved to be assaulted for saying what he did, but guess what? The author didn't assault him. He just matched the previously raised tension and didn't back down.

Gyasi Ross has been putting up with this same bullshit for his entire life and people here are criticizing his literary merit, joking about the author getting shot, arguing that this didn't happen recently enough for them, that this wasn't really about race but something different that I want to talk about! Did you see what he said about her clothes, he's the racist!

I'm sure that each and every one of these is a completely valid point. The thread doth protest too much, methinks.

The white couple started it.
The minority defied them.
They claimed the next white lady who came along was their friend.
He voiced his doubts and next white lady moved on. (she didn't know them)
They escalated things.
He responded in kind.
The white captain came out, cowed the minority and put him in his place.

Oh yeah, some white allies came by to tell him that they spoke with the captain afterward. But no body said or did anything while it mattered.

But this guy raised his voice.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:26 PM on June 22, 2017 [30 favorites]


I must say, depending on how much of this I witnessed, there was a pretty fair chance I would potentially be following him to wait on the next flight. Race, gender, whatall notwithstanding, there is NO reason to be an asshat.
posted by Samizdata at 10:11 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Sounds like they all acted like assholes. The couple started it but Ross lowered himself to their level. I would like to think I would've handled better in his place but, based upon past experience, I almost certainly would not have because that couple - a special blue ribbon class of assholes.
posted by Carbolic at 10:40 PM on June 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I read this and was wondering how Southwest Airlines would have responded to this today rather than 4 years ago. I think they'd have a different take. And I favorited max and corb immediately because I think that they get me, they understand me.

I'm Sicangu Lakota, I've told y'all this before but I have 2 really big, really brown brothers and this article sounds like everything they've ever told me. I'm small, round and Brown but Mr Ross's experience sounds exactly like my brothers experience.
posted by blessedlyndie at 10:42 PM on June 22, 2017 [13 favorites]


The pilot - probably tired of dealing with assholes. I don't expect they were the first set he'd dealt with that week or possibly that day.
posted by Carbolic at 10:44 PM on June 22, 2017


Very likely, but that doesn't mean he acted appropriately. Granted that he had to resolve the situation, but he didn't need to pick sides or get in a fight himself. I think that's where the question of race cones in: even if the author was being a jerk, would the pilot have acted this way with a white passenger?
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:30 PM on June 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


I didn't read it wrong. Where did the man put the baby when he got up to threaten? If they are over the hill, is this their grandchild? Was the baby a doll?

I've been wondering how long it would take for anyone to mention the baby. I think it changes the situation a bit, but I'm finding it hard to tease out how.
posted by Azara at 4:35 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


I've been wondering how long it would take for anyone to mention the baby. I think it changes the situation a bit, but I'm finding it hard to tease out how.

My immediate reaction is that they sound insane but they're probably just really entitled. Who goes around telling people "You need to shut your mouth!" while they're holding their baby? How safe do you have to feel to provoke a stranger when you're holding your tiny baby?

Even if you wanted to argue that they were feeling protective of their tiny pure helpless newborn infant baby (based on racism and prejudice but protective nonetheless)... In that same situation husband holding baby in aisle, wife in window seat, suuuuper scary man appearing, who doesn't just hand the baby to the partner in the window seat, move to the middle, and let the guy have the aisle? That's the normal sane reaction, you castle, and fortify the space you're allowed, the space you paid for.. you don't attempt some whole-row land grab.
posted by yonega at 5:00 AM on June 23, 2017 [5 favorites]


White privilege is a hell of a drug.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:15 AM on June 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


If you took race out of it they would have let him sit in that row and nothing else would have happened?

Not exactly. So this is actually one of the most difficult parts, I think, of interactions between different races and cultural groups: because most people, at least on some level, use violations of societal norms to determine who is dangerous and will be willing to further violate societal norms, but those norms are not universal, and they don't understand that.

So even though I'm Hispanic, I grew up in NYC taking the subway, so I know the unspoken principles of subway space, which happens to align with what I'll call "white norms around space". The idea is essentially that appropriate space is found by dividing the existing space by the amount of people in it. The easy example is that in an empty subway car with one person sitting on the very end, it's a weird and somewhat boundary violating act to go sit next to that person, even though as the train gets more crowded, it wouldn't be boundary violating to essentially be smushed next to someone. It gets more complicated from there, of course.

So under those white space norms, it is weird and unsettling to walk into a plane, where you don't know the seating towards the back, and immediately choose to take the seat that is guarded by societal norms. They have their stuff on the seat and are trying to save it, presumably for the baby. I would not personally take that seat, because it is guarded by cultural norms and is confrontational- you take the seats that are unguarded before the seats that are guarded.

But the author and the couple are operating on different cultural norms. He sees the guarded seat, and the couple with the baby, and doesn't think "oh, they're hoping to get a seat for the baby", but "oh, they don't want people like me sitting here, in the front, in the best seats, next to them." And so it immediately ratchets up the confrontation, because sometimes it IS "they don't want people like me sitting here." And now the couple is ratcheted up as well, because here's this guy that is violating cultural norms and they don't know why and that's usually a danger sign and they have a baby, so the woman tries to do the thing women do when they are afraid of men and draft another woman to solve the problem. And that just conforms to the author "they don't want me here", and he gets loud - which is within his cultural norms, but not within white middle class ones.

And that's kind of the problem, because white middle class social norms have been treated as the default and only for a while, so they can't switch understandings to "okay, this guy is being loud at us, but it's not actually a problem, he's just operating by a different playbook on noise but still has his own social norms against harming babies, etc, the ones that are common to all humanity."
posted by corb at 5:49 AM on June 23, 2017 [16 favorites]


So under those white space norms, it is weird and unsettling to walk into a plane, where you don't know the seating towards the back, and immediately choose to take the seat that is guarded by societal norms. They have their stuff on the seat and are trying to save it, presumably for the baby. I would not personally take that seat, because it is guarded by cultural norms and is confrontational- you take the seats that are unguarded before the seats that are guarded.

But the author and the couple are operating on different cultural norms. He sees the guarded seat, and the couple with the baby, and doesn't think "oh, they're hoping to get a seat for the baby", but "oh, they don't want people like me sitting here, in the front, in the best seats, next to them."


To some degree, but "white space norms" don't allow that couple to claim extra space indefinitely. Up until about 50%* maximum capacity, white space norms allow people to claim extra adjacent seating. But at some point between 66%* and 75%*, the expectation is that you should start moving your stuff, because someone's just going to ask you to move your stuff anyways.

*I made the numbers up, but basically, when it starts seeming like seating is getting scarce, people on public transit should expect to get called on their seat-saving
posted by 23skidoo at 6:07 AM on June 23, 2017


So under those white space norms, it is weird and unsettling to walk into a plane, where you don't know the seating towards the back, and immediately choose to take the seat that is guarded by societal norms. They have their stuff on the seat and are trying to save it, presumably for the baby. I would not personally take that seat, because it is guarded by cultural norms and is confrontational- you take the seats that are unguarded before the seats that are guarded.

He'd already determined that he was going to get a middle seat because he was at the end of the boarding queue so why not take one at the front? That is reasonable and not against "societal norms" at all. And while people can and do try to "discourage" folks from taking a 'possibly' saved spot, the universal response to that is, "is this seat taken?"

These people violated "societal norms" by not moving the fuck over and making room for him.
posted by shoesietart at 6:09 AM on June 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


basically, when it starts seeming like seating is getting scarce, people on public transit should expect to get called on their seat-saving

I think this is totally correct, but the presence of the baby changes things by virtue of being a third person - probably not a ticket holder, which is why they didn't just plop the /baby/ in the seat, but enough so that I would take any other seat not obviously being saved for a baby.

I'm not saying the author was wrong to not be aware of these things that are all kind of nebulous, or even to ignore it if he was, but I think that it probably would have seemed weird regardless of race.
posted by corb at 6:17 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


I read this and was wondering how Southwest Airlines would have responded to this today rather than 4 years ago.

They probably would have a better response, but until I read Mr. Ross, I didn't think about how fraught the Southwest boarding procedure is for PoC. As a brown person (regardless of size) choosing a seat after a white person is already seated in the row must have some amount of anxiety to it. I'm glad I read his piece.
posted by gladly at 6:19 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


I thought about the idea of saving the seat for the baby but I don't think that holds water in an airplane environment. I think the baby is a lap baby, if it is not a doll.

Also, it makes 100 percent perfect sense for Gyasi to go for the first seat he sees. It's not just the first seat he sees, it's the first row, it's bulkhead seating. It is by definition roomier. It's actually the best seat for him, better than an exit row.
posted by janey47 at 6:23 AM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think this is totally correct, but the presence of the baby changes things by virtue of being a third person - probably not a ticket holder, which is why they didn't just plop the /baby/ in the seat, but enough so that I would take any other seat not obviously being saved for a baby.

Sure, and I would too if I encountered these people on a subway car, but the nature of plane travel makes it so that the easy-outs of subway travel ("Oh, we can take this extra space for the baby. There's other seats in other cars, there's another train 5 minutes behind, and there will be tons of room in like 3 stops...) don't apply to plane travel, plus, taking into account it's Southwest, they don't give away free seats to babies, so the only way that baby gets his own seat is if it's literally-literally the only free spot on the plane - otherwise, the couple is going to have to hold that baby on their laps either way, so what's the big deal in making them hold the baby if they were going to be holding that baby anyways? I think at some point, especially if you were one of the later people to board, it just becomes obvious that a Southwest flight is going to be completely full.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:28 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Although tbh I can't think of a worse seat on any flight than one next to a baby and this is coming from someone who has sat in the middle seat between a couple who had taken the window and the aisle and declined to consolidate but instead talked (yelled) across me for the entire flight from SF to DC.
posted by janey47 at 6:28 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


Although tbh I can't think of a worse seat on any flight than one next to a baby and this is coming from someone who has sat in the middle seat between a couple who had taken the window and the aisle and declined to consolidate but instead talked (yelled) across me for the entire flight from SF to DC.

I'd only take the seat next to a baby if it was the last one on the plane, because the possibility of being right beside a screaming baby for a couple of hours is enough to make me steer clear.

I can see how someone with a baby might want an aisle seat, to allow them to walk around and to have easy access to all their baby paraphernalia in the overhead locker, but then the obvious thing for the couple to do was to take the middle and aisle seats and leave the window seat.
posted by Azara at 7:17 AM on June 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


I have been flying Southwest for like 15 years. Saving a first-row seat in hopes that no one would sit there, whether for the legroom or for an unticketed baby, is very much in violation of the norms, both spoken and unspoken. That's why I expressed surprise that a flight attendant did not step in and resolve the situation swiftly and decisively by making the couple clear the seat.
posted by muddgirl at 8:23 AM on June 23, 2017 [6 favorites]


It's very weird that people think that somehow Ross's words implying a physical threat cross a line that wasn't crossed by "you better shut your mouth."

I mean, I think we've all agreed that words can be violence, and in that context "you better shut your mouth" is already an aggressive enough act that I wouldn't hold someone terribly responsible for hitting the man who said it in the mouth immediately.

Deescalating is better, yes, but insisting that people are obliged to deescalate is a big part of how we keep people in their place. Fuck that.
posted by 256 at 9:01 AM on June 23, 2017 [9 favorites]


If you don't fly Southwest a lot, there is unspoken stuff here you're missing about how the seating works and the implication of him being in a full flight but boarding in group C. It's fully expected on SW that the middle seats will be the last to fill, randomly around the plane, and that the final boarders will ask, "Anyone sitting here?"

Then the seated people say no, and the aisle person quickly gets up so the middle seat person can quickly sit down. It's all about the fastest boarding and turnaround possible, and "saving" seats with your clutter is not cool, as is not letting someone sit down quickly or lying that you're waiting for a friend, as is thinking you have the privilege to decide who sits next to you. If the couple had paid for the third seat they could've said so. If they hadn't, everything they were doing was violating SW culture before they even got to the overt racism.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2017 [8 favorites]


I would say it's not even "random about the plane." In my experience they fill up in the very front (as savvy travellers figure a forward middle seat is better than betting on a window or aisle seat further back) and from the back (as gamblers reach the back and find no window/aisle seats. It's pretty clear to me that Ross is very familiar with the norms of flying on Southwest (like the ol' window-aisle couple ruse - incredibly naive to try this in the first row).
posted by muddgirl at 9:22 AM on June 23, 2017


Oh and I think it's also strange that anyone is confused by the meaning of “Look, you know this plane ride is going to end at some point, right?”

That instantly and obviously translates for me to "There are practical reasons why I'm not going to punch you in the mouth right now, but there will be a point in the future where those practical reasons will dissipate. Consider that carefully before deciding what you do next."

It honestly baffles me that anyone would fail to get that meaning. But maybe I have just spent more time around threats of violence than some of you.
posted by 256 at 10:31 AM on June 23, 2017 [3 favorites]


Also, mark k:

I think the man's size is very relevant because it illustrates the point. If it were a large musclebound man with prison tattoos, then "you better shut your mouth" would be transparently a threat of physical violence and we would have no problem saying that the guy was being a dick for using the threat of his physical bulk to win this point.

When a white person, who would be incapable of winning a physical confrontation, says the same thing to a POC, it is still a threat of violence, it's just that they are using the privilege of knowing that authority will come down on their side as a stand in for having to do the work themselves.

It's literally the crux of Ross's point. White privilege lets people who never start or win a fight act like schoolyard bullies and still pretend to have the moral high ground because the actual people backing them up with actual threatened violence are security guards and cops acting at one remove.

Sorry for the multiple posts, I guess this struck a nerve.
posted by 256 at 10:47 AM on June 23, 2017 [19 favorites]


These people violated "societal norms" by not moving the fuck over and making room for him.

And I think the reason that they felt they could violate them or at least push them was because of his perceived status to them. However unconscious that perception might be, they felt for some reason that they could push against this social norm. They did it in the most weaselly way possible by trying to pretend they had a friend coming but they were definitely trying to get away with something and somewhere their internal calculation was that they could get away with it.
posted by amanda at 12:33 PM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


As a fellow tall person, I would look on an empty front seat as a Golden Ticket, even if it meant sitting next to the screamiest baby in the US of A.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:40 PM on June 23, 2017 [4 favorites]


the actual people backing them up with actual threatened violence are security guards and cops acting at one remove.

This is kind of a longer tangent, but I totally agree with you. There's value in protecting some broader societal norms, but because certain cultural/societal norms have been encoded as default, violating even the smallest of them is always met with the threat of force even if the individuals aren't themselves threatening anything but the societal value of peace.

White norms privilege quiet peace. You see this all the time, from noise complaints in gentrifying areas over normal activity, to calling the police on homeless people who are peeing on the street. Yes, it's upsetting and ruins "quiet enjoyment", but at the same time, the implied threat is men with guns are going to come get you for things that you would not normally be able to pull a gun about.

So white norms privilege quiet meanness over honest outrage. The latter - raising your voice, talking about private issues in public- is Making A Scene. The former is considered just part of social interaction. So saying something like a quiet "You don't belong here " is considered reasonable, while "Fuck you" is automatically aggressive. Even though the former is more insidious and I'd even say meaner.
posted by corb at 12:53 PM on June 23, 2017 [13 favorites]


I don't understand why anyone is saying he's a good writer.

I agree. For instance, the article starts out with a number of seemingly pointless details — they aren't relevant or humorous or anything. In that space, he could have instead explained some crucial background info about how seating works on Southwestern flights works (instead of waiting till the paragraph, and not even explaining it clearly then). I've never flown on a plane with that kind of system.

Also, a single-article FPP should note if the article is years old. Otherwise it misleadingly creates the impression that this just happened.
posted by John Cohen at 5:22 PM on June 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yes, I read a few comments before reading TFA and so was expecting much more than I got.

I usually fly red-eyes so I can tuck my son into bed and spend as much time with him before I leave.


Wat? "As much" generally is followed by a comparison. As much time as I can. As much time as possible. As much time as it takes to boil an egg. Something.
posted by janey47 at 9:36 PM on June 23, 2017


I wanted to circle back to provide an likely unread thanks to a few folks to get me to consider my thinking.

* The virtuosity of the reporter is unrelated to the virtuosity fo their report - Valid. On
* Behavior metrics are contextual - 50/50. The action is understandable but I am conflicted in its retelling.

I love air travel but it gives me fits; This story hits a soft spot that few others are able to: Many of us in a can with no control. You can't just walk out. This scenario as a bystander is pure nightmare fuel. I have envisioned it many times with sweaty palms, feeling it out.

"The way those of us who are more privileged can fix this is to carry out, to coin a phrase, micro-assertions"

I am glad to be not alone in this idea though for me its problematic. I am exceptionally opposed to a number of bullshit prejudices; I worry about the welfare of those my fellow travelers may try to turn on and try to exude extra friendliness and goodwill should they look my way. Out in the world, man, there are a lot of hard looks that seem unbridgeable. From a point of privilege though it seems fucked up to rain my manna upon the less fortunate like its a gift they need from me. I feel that in the ugly modern world those who might fall afoul of Islamophobia are watching my reaction and I reflect neighborlyness.

I am also a big guy prone to conflict. At times I wonder if my big guy genetics are a throwback to a time when the occasional out-of-proportion assertion of self upon the situation with physical menace was a group survival trait , now culturally vestigal and unwelcome. My username reflects this. Disrepect flips me the fuck out too, some grace my way to Russ. I work on it and reflect, this unwelcome nature. My metric is not his metric bt his actions mirror a self I hate. My metric may not even be possible, assisted as it is by not having to deal with the smallest fraction of the constant ongoing bullshit he does.

Completely apart: contemplate the difference of assigned seating. Everybody could have probably kept their biases tucked away like we should demand of bigots and had a peaceful flight. I want to think at this red-eye hour that there are two bigoted-ass bigots, bigoted against each other flying red-eye right now and getting drunk and sharing pictures of their kids and having a right proper Christmas commercial. I find it exceptionally unlikely but aided by assigned seating, laughable as that is. Cattle-call seating a fucked practice with fucked outcomes, even if its theoretically democratic and optimal.


Thanks for the thinking...
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:23 AM on June 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


Can I gently suggest that people be thoughtful in reflecting on their reasons for criticizing the writing ability of a person of color?
posted by hydropsyche at 6:14 AM on June 24, 2017 [5 favorites]


You know, I've been wondering why his skill or lack thereof as a writer became such a big topic in this thread when it doesn't in other similar threads.

On the one hand, I'm not sure that the "he's a great writer" comments are really warranted, but on the other hand, people often comment that anyone they agree with is a great writer in situations like this.

On the other hand, when that happens, people almost never engage with it. Like, I feel like we all know that whether the blogger is a literary genius or not is besides the point in posts about issues-heavy topics like this, so why bother talking about it.

On balance, I'm not sure whether the people dissing his writing are being racist or just pedantic, and I'm not sure whether the people praising his writing are being racist either ("he's so eloquent!"). But either way, it's definitely a weird derail.
posted by 256 at 6:19 PM on June 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


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