Allow me to tell you about the racist Qantas Airways flight I just took.
Fifteen hours is a long time to be wedged into the iron maiden known as a modern airplane economy-class seat. That’s how long it takes to fly from Los Angeles to Australia, where I’m doing shows this month. It feels even longer when for thirteen of those hours you have to stifle the urge to pull a racist flight attendant (pictured above) into the galley and “enlighten” him.
And now, the tale of the Q Qlux Qlan:
Usually, I pay no great attention to the menus handed out on flights. I scan the offerings for the important words: beef; chicken; pasta. The rest is superfluous. When people pile the adjectives on, it’s usually an attempt to charge you more for the noun (For example, dry-aged hand-cut beef. As opposed to what? The moist young cows that were cut by foot? Just give me the meat, Roget.) or screw you in some other way. So when it came time to order from the flight attendant, I asked for the beef.
That’s when I was greeted with this idiot Qantas steward’s loud response, “You don’t want the Asian chicken? What a disgrace!” (Emphasis added where he used it.) And when he got the chuckles of the other (white Australian) passengers around me, I glared at him and he moved on. Could I have started an altercation then and there? Yes. But I don’t like to sit in restraints in the lavatory under guard by an Air Marshall for thirteen hours. So instead, like Oran Juice Jones, I chilled.
In my silent rage, I reread the menu card and there they were, my two choices:
Ah, I see. So in addition to the fact that he’s a racist ass, he operates under the greater paradigm of racism that is his employer, Qantas. The menu says “Asian style spicy chicken,” but the other option is simply, “Red wine braised beef.” But why isn’t it “White people style beef”? Plus, what kind of Asian do they mean? Russians? Israeli? Laotian? If we are to understand Qantas correctly, the 4.4 billion people in 44 different Asian countries all cook chicken the same spicy non-white way. If it is based on a Chinese recipe, then why not just say so.
Here’s how you might know it’s not an isolated incident. I turned to Google to see if this was a thing, and all I managed to type was “Is Qantas” before Google suggested the end of my phrase “racist?”
Back in 2011, Qantas ran a promotion for tickets to the huge rugby union Bledisloe Cup. The winners were made to promise Qantas that they would show up in afro wigs and blackface as a tribute to their favorite Fijian-born player on the team. And they did. And Qantas tweeted to them, “Good work.”
So “good work” Qantas, for sticking to your colors. Most likely, the mouth-breather in charge of “customer service” on my flight will get a special commendation from corporate. After all, he went out of his way not to humiliate the white passengers for not ordering the “white people style beef.” For an airline that lost over $200 million in the first half of this year alone, you’d think they would try a little harder to please.
When I was 12, I rode my bike alone into the city, past the lumber mills, foundries, machine shops, barrel factory, and printing plants, along Washington Avenue and past a meatpacking plant where bare-chested men wrestled whole beef carcasses hung on hooks on little overhead trolleys along a rail and into the waiting trucks. I pedaled up Hennepin Avenue, past dirty-book stores, penny arcades, walk-up hotels, men slumped in doorways, to the magnificent old public library on Tenth across from White Castle, home of the ten-cent hamburger (“Buy ’em by the Sack”), and climbed up to the reading room, skipping the swimming lesson at the Y Mother had paid for so I’d learn to swim after cousin Roger drowned in Lake Minnetonka; but the Y conducted swim class in the nude and I was shy, so I went to the library instead and met the book that changed my life—transformed, enriched, diversified, turned it topsy-turvy too—Roget’s International Thesaurus, supplier of idiom, lingo, jargon, argot, blather, and phraseology that transformed me from nerd and nobody to visionary, sporting man, roughneck, bon vivant, and raconteur.
I come home and feel so well understood. I almost don’t have to say a word. I was not a good person. I have yelled at my children. I neglected my parents and was disloyal to loved ones. I have offended righteous people. People around here know all this about me, and yet they still smile and say hello, and so every day I feel forgiven. Ask me if it’s a good place to live, and I don’t know—that’s real estate talk—but forgiveness and understanding, that’s a beautiful combination.