Last night I was on a flight from Virginia after having spent the weekend with my good friends at Sovereign Grace Church in Chesapeake. While on the flight, I observed an interesting, even sobering occurrence of the unintentional, non-malicious racism and prejudice that lies in the heart of the best of us.
I was sitting in an exit row. Across the aisle was lady also sitting in an exit row seat. As the flight attendant was giving her rote lecture (it seems everything these attendants do is by rote, you know, like many of our liturgies) on the responsibilities of those sitting in the exit rows, the aforementioned lady expressed her discomfort with the possibility of having to be responsible for the exit door in the case of an emergency. She requested another seat. The flight attendant was eager to oblige her. Therefore, she quickly began to scan the seats nearby to identify a likely candidate for the switch. She noticed, directly in front of her, was a black gentleman sitting comfortably with two white women. Thinking him to be a prime candidate, she asked him, "Sir, are you traveling alone?" Immediately he responded, "No, I am traveling with her," pointing to the white lady directly to his right. Realizing her blunder, the attendant quickly moved on.
The couple seemed no worse for the wear. They grasped hands and comforted one another with the knowledge that they indeed were together. Immediately, however, I began to wonder if they felt the slightest offended, or if they felt embarrassed for the flight attendant. I found myself experiencing both emotions. You see, there were other men seated in similar proximity whom she could have asked. There were white couples and black couples. Obviously she was not interested in, nor did she hope to, split up a couple traveling together. Yet, I wondered why she assumed that the man she asked was not traveling with the woman next to him. Actually, it was obvious. She did not think that the black man and the white woman were together. She demonstrated what is too prevalent in our society, and even worse, too prevalent in the church. Her question was prejudiced and racist. No, it was not malicious. I do not believe it was intentionally discriminating. Rather it was the racism and prejudice that is just under the surface of most of us, having been so conditioned by a racialized society.
Upon hear her words; I said to myself, "Man, she is so wrong and how inappropriate a question." However, as I was thinking these thoughts, I was convicted in my own heart. I thought to myself, "Would I have asked a similar question in that situation? Did I in first looking at the couple assume they were together?" Unfortunately, the answers I honestly gave to myself were not satisfactory. The attendant was undoubtedly wrong in her approach. Yet, my sin was in thinking that I would have done better. My sin also was that I was not confident that my thinking has been so renewed by the grace and knowledge of Christ that I would have not seen that couple through the same prejudiced eyes. I can not say for certain that I no longer have unintentional, non-malicious prejudice and racism in my heart.
This lovely young couple probably is used to such things. And if they stay together, they undoubtedly will experience more. However, I am confident that they will not experience it again from that flight attendant. I believe she learned a lesson. I also hope no one ever experiences a similar behavior from me. I too learned a lesson - one I pray God does not allow me to forget.