Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's Too Quiet on this Plane

I just watched an episode of one of my favorite television shows, "30 Days." I'm planning to show the episode about a Christian who lives as a Muslim for 30 days to my students for an assignment that intersects with their history unit on faith. I was forming my questions about the show and was fascinated by the changes the guy undergoes. In the end, he realizes that he cannot sit by quietly the next time people knows make assumptions about Islam and Muslim people. He says that he will have to speak up and correct the negative preconceptions. What an experience this must have been, huh?

So, maybe I should go somewhere for 30 days. Last weekend I was on a plane with an older gentleman who thought he was really cracking me up. I laughed some, but it was a very small plane. I couldn't sit stoically for an hour while he gave me his best misanthropic material. And his endless talking kept me from grading the stack of papers on my lap. He talked about politics and his children and schools and his job and everything else. Then the flight attendants came by with the drinks and this guy starts in on how flight attendants used to all be pretty ladies. Then, he says, they became ugly women. Now, they are a bunch of "f" words. Then he continues to fuss about the male attendants, dropping the "f"word about a hundred million times. I told him, "That's not nice!" But I didn't let go of the tight smile on my face. But I started to think about who might be sitting around us on this very small plane. Who's feelings might be hurt by this inflammatory language? Then, I started to think about how I didn't want anyone sitting around us to include me in his diatribe. I was NOT like "this one" over here. Right?

Well, I'm not like him. I have learned to call out disrespectful language and inflammatory rhetoric in class when it crops up in our conversations about Biblical stories or personal relationships or other provocative topics. And yet, sitting in that little seat on that little plane, I stifled my own voice. I laughed politely and avoided eye contact. I didn't say, "Look dude. I'm not going to co-sign on your mean-spirited, humanity-denying othering."

I wish that I had said something. I wish I had mentioned the really smart and wonderful people I know who happen to be homosexual. I wish I had, at least, said that it's not okay to say that anybody deserves to be shot (as he suggested) as a matter of policy. Or that maybe other people's personal lives are basically none of our business. I wish I had said something. I mean, even the minister wearing the clergy collar in the airport managed to find his voice when he heard the announcement that his flight's gate had been changed. He shouted the "s" word. Loudly. Ha! My lovely seatmate heard him and relayed the story to me. Then he told me about the tall African American guy who also heard the minister. That's what he said, African American guy. I thought, "Do you seriously expect me to believe that you routinely use the term African American when referring to black people? Really? After you just dropped the "f" word without a bit of shame?" I felt even worse. No way would I have been quiet if he were using racial epithets.

So, I'm confessing my silence, my shame. I really should have been more brave and more vocal. But, I will do better. I, like Dave, will be changed and next time, I won't be quiet.

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