Flying for many people including yours truly is not a comfortable experience, in many cases it is a necessity. Yet for many infants and small children it is truly an uncomfortable experience especially when it comes to takeoff and landing. Such was the case for a two year old child who was traveling with his mother on February 8th, when their plane’s descent into Atlanta’s Hartfield Airport caused the tyke to express himself in that way that kids are prone to doing…he started crying. Yet what happened next to this precious babe is something that while shocking isn’t really surprising. Joe Rickey Hundley of Idaho, a passenger on the plane decided that he just wasn’t in the mood to hear the child’s screams so he told the mother to “Shut that nigger baby up,” and if calling an innocent child a nigger wasn’t enough, Huntley leaned over and slapped the child in the face with an open hand.
Other passengers heard the assault and quickly came to the aid of the mother. Hundley is facing charges and apparently has a history of smacking people who annoy him. Hopefully justice will deal swiftly with Hundley and give him a year’s vacation in one of Georgia’s fine jails, so he can meditate on his actions and rethink his approach to dealing with minor annoyances.
Of course as news of this story spreads, everyone is outraged at Huntley’s audacity but for those of us who live daily with micro-aggressions, there is no surprise. A long time reader and online friend relayed to me that many years ago in a store a white man called her child a nigger. While not every Black person in America will ever be called a nigger at some point in their life, the truth is it happens more often than most non-Black people realize and even in post racial America with a Black man as president; little black kids are still just niggers to many people.
Stories such as this one make us recoil because it is so incomprehensible and so vile that any person with an ounce of compassion is disgusted. Yet the attack on this innocent child is simply the more extreme end of the spectrum when it comes to race relations in this country. We get uncomfortable when our friends of difference talk about their struggles for acceptance never realizing that on some level when we downplay what happens to them and when we don’t truly listen, in the end we are on the same spectrum as the Hundley’s of the world. You may not be calling me or anyone else a nigger but when your actions or even inaction towards a person of color causes them to feel less than, the end result is the same. It’s simply dehumanizing.
This story is uncomfortable; my decision to use the word nigger rather than the more polite n-word is uncomfortable but maybe if we as a collective get really uncomfortable maybe just maybe real change can begin on the racial front. Until we all get uncomfortable though, change will only happen in small bite size morsels.