If you’re anything like us, the 4th of July holiday was met with mixed emotions. But things were particularly tough for a black professor and blogger who experienced racism firsthand on the plane ride home to Louisiana for the holiday weekend.
Brittney Cooper shared her story via Salon.com, which we’ve excerpted below:
As we boarded, I noticed that this mom and I would be sitting in the same row, I in the window seat, she in the center. As we sat awaiting takeoff, I finished a text conversation and signaled to the flight attendant for a seat-belt extender, a fat passenger’s best friend. Then just as the call came to shut our phones off, I glanced over at her, and she was still texting, rapidly. I caught a few words of the end of her text that made me look more intently: “on the plane, sitting thigh to thigh with a big fat n***er. Lucky me.”
Immediately I was hyper-aware – looking around, feeling marked, wondering if others find my large, dark-skinned body as distasteful as my seatmate did.
Even so, I was acutely aware, at least intellectually, that the problem lay with her and not me. But what would my recourse be. Though she was no toothpick herself, she is a white lady, a mom, with children and a husband – all the trappings of American middle-class respectability. Moreover, she sent those words in a private text communication. I am a fat, dark-skinned black woman. Had I gone off and set it off as she deserved, in all probability I would have been seen as the terrorist threat. Especially on the eve of the Fourth of July.
I started by sharing her words in a status update on Facebook — in part because in recent days, I have seen one too many friends, both black and white, readily defending Paula Deen, and arguing that her use of the N-word was an understandable byproduct of her Southern roots and most assuredly a relic of a bygone era.
However, as far as I could tell, this young family, in which the parents looked to be mid- to late 30s, were Northerners. So after waiting awhile and getting a handle on the tears that started coming steadily after I saw her words, I simply got her attention and asked her to read the Facebook status from my smartphone.
She saw it, kind of grunted her assent, and then said nothing. So I pressed forward, in a low voice: “I just want to let you know that your words were hurtful. And I hope you don’t pass that kind of ignorance down to your beautiful boys.” She replied curtly, “I don’t.”
What would you have done if you were Brittney?