White and Yellow: Overcoming Racism

By Grace Ji-Sun Kim

 

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I was heading home from speaking at the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Synod of British Columbia meeting when a short incident on the plane ended a rather wonderful and fruitful trip on a sore note.  It was a long flight home from Vancouver to Philadelphia.  My eleven year old daughter, Elisabeth, and I had to get up at 5 am to catch the early morning flight back home.  We left Vancouver around 7 am, transferring in Dallas to get to Philadelphia around 9 pm. It would be another hour’s drive before we got home.

On the flight from Dallas to Philadelphia, I was seated in the second to the last row with Elisabeth.  There was an elderly white couple seated behind us in the last row of the plane. I have traveled enough times by plane to know the etiquette of deplaning. The first rows begin to move down the aisle, and everyone else waits their turn to follow them. It is important that this is a unique situation. There are no choices. There is only one way out for everyone, unlike lines at a supermarket or doors in a sanctuary.

One person violated this rule when the plane opened its doors in Philadelphia due to more than thoughtlessness or rudeness. Thoughtlessness is based on oversight. Rudeness is asserting oneself in a situation just to feel a momentary state of power over another. This case was more hurtful in that it invoked the notion that this person was fundamentally better than us.

As we got up from our seats and stood in place to enter the aisle, the white woman behind me stood next to me in the aisle and was determined to gain the place in the line ahead of me. Elisabeth was standing by her seat in the row beside me, and the woman’s husband was standing behind us in the aisle.

We stood a long time, as it seemed to take longer than usual for the passengers ahead of us to file out of the passengers’ cabin.  When it became closer for our row to exit, the elderly woman beside me started walking ahead and somehow got three rows in front of us.  I am not sure how she managed that, but she did, leaving her husband behind us. So far, we have simple rudeness.

As she left the plane, she was about eighteen passengers ahead of me on the ramp.  So, when it was my turn to walk out, I asked her husband if he wanted to go ahead of us, and he politely said, “Please go ahead.” So, my daughter and I stepped from the passenger cabin.

As we passed the elderly woman on the terminal ramp, she had an angry look on her face as my daughter and I emerged from the door ahead of her husband.  She was waiting for her husband in disgust.  Her displeasure was written on her face, and as we walked past her, she said aloud to her husband, “I can’t believe you allowed the Chinese to get ahead of you!”

 

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