Years ago I was in an airport, trying to get to my next destination. It turned out that the weather was bad all up and down the East Coast, and many flights were being canceled, including mine. However, mine hadn’t yet been canceled as I sat in the area waiting to be called to board my next flight.


But the flight of the guy sitting next to me had been. He’d obviously already had kind of a tough day as his previous flight had been diverted, thus he was sitting in an airport that hadn’t been on his itinerary and unsure of how and when he was going to get to his destination.

He seemed relatively calm as he was petting the seeing eye dog for the woman a seat away from him and talking to her about his problem. Then suddenly he said to the lady at the counter “Hey China Lady, when are you going to do something to get me home?”

That opened my eyes wide; I didn’t see that coming. I’m not going to go into the stereotype of the good ol’ boy, as he was southern and, well, he seemed to be taking everything in stride, as I’d been doing for the previous 18 hours. But hearing that… I didn’t know what to do.

To her credit, the lady at the counter started talking to him as if she hadn’t heard the insult. She said she was sorry but couldn’t control the weather, and if someone ever developed a machine where they could there wouldn’t ever be anymore canceled flights. She said a few more things before walking away, but I didn’t hear any of it.

I was stunned. I felt like I should have said something. Illogically, I felt like I should have known it was coming, but of course I couldn’t have. Truthfully, I hadn’t paid attention to the fact that she was Asian. I was tired and just hoping that I’d have a flight, while betting it was going to get canceled; why should my flight have been singled out, right?

I’ve talked in the past about being alert, or having my shields up, when I’m out and about, to make sure I don’t react badly to things from people I don’t know. I’m not the only one who does this; minorities that life in areas where they’re a “minority” minority are always on guard in case something happens.

Trying to be prepared for anything that comes at me helps keep me on my toes and ready for almost anything. But there are times when you’re still going to get caught off guard, and that was me. I felt bad for this lady, even though I didn’t know her. He went about his business as though it didn’t mean anything to him, and I knew he hadn’t said what he said out of malice.

Yet I still felt bad, because I’ve always felt that if one sees an act of racism and does nothing that they’re helping it to continue. Yet, I thought about it some more as I sat there, and I feel that if she’d taken offense or he’d been more belligerent that I would have stepped in and said something, maybe tried to help. After all, one has to be careful what one does in airports these days… and as a minority, we always have to be extra careful.

Things like this will continue happening in this country, and I need to probably learn the lesson of this lady, who not only didn’t react but was as professional as one could be. Maybe with more reactions like hers we can take away the power of hateful words and phrases and, eventually, the words as well.

At least I can hope for that, since I was caught off guard, probably for the better.
 

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