Friday, June 19, 2015

The Two Americas

Here I am, sitting at LAX, one of the busiest airports in the country, and possibly the world.  My one-hour flight has been delayed by about three hours, so I have some time to sit around and people-watch while I wait.  Two Los Angeles Airport Police officers just walked by.  One had a massive rifle.  So that's a thing.

I have been on dozens flights in the past year and a half or so, and I've been to at least fifteen different airports. One thing I see in just about every airport is a class divide that is almost always along race lines.  People of all races travel.  But the majority in most airports are white.  Not surprising, given our country's population demographics.  But the majority of people doing seriously hard work, likely for low pay, are people of color.

I stopped to get a pizza and soda here today.  The woman scooting by with a cart of water and soda bottles to replenish at the counter was Latina.  All the cleaning workers and food service workers and various attendants here and there have skin much darker than mine.  This is something we are accustomed to.  Perhaps too much.  Because when the caucasian gentleman sitting near me finished his beer and pizza, he got up and left his mess for someone else to pick up.  He had to walk past multiple garbage cans to leave the little food court area.  But his assumption, likely, is that it's someone else's job to pick up after him.  (For the record, I bussed my own space, thankyouverymuch.)

I see this at supermarkets too, and it's a pet peeve of mine.  People bring their shopping carts out to their cars, empty their purchases into their trunks, and leave the carts where ever they damn well please.  Yes, it is someone's job to come out and get the carts.  But can't you make someone's day at work a little easier and smoother by putting your cart in one of the designated places for them?  It also helps keep everyone else's cars from getting dinged.

On that note (helping others have a nice day at work), what about treating people with respect, kindness, and dignity while they're doing their jobs to serve you and your needs?  I smiled, made eye contact, and spoke with the woman who was carting all those beverages in to restock.  I made way in the line for her cart to get through.  The young lady ahead of me helped move some water bottles to their intended location in the cooler before I could reach them.  Am I telling you this because I feel I deserve accolades?  No.  I just think it's common sense to be nice and help people.

The airline worker who checked in my bag was super helpful to me today.  She woke up this morning, I am sure, being Black in an America where people are still getting shot for looking like her in the year 2015.  I couldn't locate my email with my confirmation number, although I was already in the express bag check lane, and she politely took my ID and got me all set in mere moments.  I thanked her twice, called her ma'am, and wished her a great day.  I've seen people in my many travel experiences forget such basic manners because THEY'VE GOT PLACES TO GO, DAMMIT.

And let's not forget to dress comfortably when we travel.  Don't think I haven't noticed, white teenaged girls of America, how you fly in pajama pants and a skimpy tank top, rolling your eyes, and keeping your earbuds in, when young black men are wearing chinos and a polo shirt and smiling and thanking and calling everyone sir and ma'am, maybe just so they will be shown some respect.  If that ain't white privilege, I don't know what is.  White youth can do pretty much anything in this country, it seems.  But if a young black man sags his pants, we get national news media asking "where are the fathers?"

White people can pierce and tattoo the hell out of themselves (present company included on the tattoos), but a Mexican dude gets his baby's name on his arm and he's a banger.  White guy dresses scruffy and grows an out-of-control beard, and he's a hipster.  Black or brown guy does it, he gets arrested and/or assumed to be homeless.

No lie, a blond girl just walked by in blue socks (no shoes) with pot leaves on them.  Would a Black girl even dare?

This is what I am saying.  We live in two Americas.  And they happen parallel, side-by-side at the same time, everywhere you go.  Sometimes they are separate.  Do you think I will ever find myself in the neighborhood where many LAX food service workers live?  I wonder how often they find themselves at some of the nice restaurants I got to eat in while I've been in LA this week.  But more often than we realize, we find ourselves sharing the same space.  Too many people who look like me just seem to breeze through airports, supermarkets, shopping malls, movie theatres, seeing right through the people who work hard to make their time there clean, pleasant, and convenient.

We have certainly come a long way in this country, but we still have so far to go.  White privilege is a thing.  It doesn't make white people evil.  It means we've had it really good for a really long time.  Usually on the backs of people with darker skin.  We don't have to stop being white.  We just have to stop acting like it hasn't done us any favors.

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