I’ve done a fair amount of traveling over the past year. In fact, I’m writing this on a flight; I going to visit my son and do some work on the rental house in Sedona. Our children are dispersing and we use travel both to see them in their new habitats, and to entice them to join us someplace else for a family vacation.
We have had generally good experiences lately and I don’t dread air travel as I have in the past. That got me thinking about one bad experience and the lasting effects.
When my daughter was 11 months old, we made arrangements to spend a week in the U.S. Virgin Islands with my parents and used my accumulated miles to book two first class tickets on Continental Airlines. We took off from Buffalo, NY, circled for nearly an hour over western New Jersey, and were diverted to Syracuse, NY because of fog in Newark, NJ. These things happen, but Continental didn’t handle the situation well.
We stood in the first class line and were told to stand in the coach line because we had “non-revenue tickets.” Eventually we made it to the USVI, but they had cancelled the rest of our itinerary and we had a difficult time getting back. We had to pay for a hotel in a scary part of town because our original flight was sold out, and we were told repeatedly that we had non-revenue tickets. Continental blamed us for the problem because we had not checked that they hadn’t cancelled the return flight arrangements. For nearly a year someone from Continental attempted to close our complaint by offering a small voucher for future travel. Eventually I told them to stop calling – the calls simply reminded us of the ordeal.
We never flew Continental again, nor have we flown on United since they merged with Continental. In this case, I can really hold a grudge. It’s part of my Policy of Low Expectations philosophy. Back then, we would take one vacation a year and we expected it to be great. Continental ruined our vacation and more than twenty years later, I recall it vividly.
Until a couple years ago, we only used our accumulated miles for first class upgrades. We started to dip our toes back in the water with a trip to Italy on US Airways. It went well. Since then we have used reward tickets on American and Delta to go to London and again to Rome. Everything went smoothly with these airlines and their codeshare partners, KLM and British Airways. No “non-revenue ticket” inferiority treatment here.
And that got me thinking about the lasting effects from disrespectful treatment.
I have a good life. I’m too busy, but I often bring that on myself. My wife and I are doing well as measured by most metrics and we have many more opportunities than most people. Despite all this, I am still bothered by how poorly we were treated by Continental over two decades ago and it still affects my purchasing decisions. It’s not a huge injustice in the grand scheme of things. We had to pay for a night in a scary hotel near the airport and it cost us some pride, but they did eventually fly us both ways.
What if it’s a different type of disrespect? What if it’s racism, or sexism, or antisemitism, or homophobia? What if you’re treated as if you were less than human because of factors you cannot change – skin color, gender, your ancestors’ faith, sexual orientation? What lasting effect would that have on you?
We went on the three hour tour of Aushiwitz and Berkenau last week. I tell people that I’ve hit the age where I no longer have to watch depressing movies – I just want happy things from this point on in my life. I’m half joking, but there really is a part of me who wants to know what’s going on in the world – the good and the bad – but my entertainment should be entertaining.
The concentration/extermination camps tour didn’t feel that way. I was there to connect with a horrible part of human history and people don’t come away from such things without some kind of scar. The Jews of Europe were treated less than human and were even “processed” in the way you would handle livestock or vermin. The extermination camps were the most important part of the Nazi’s “final solution” to the “Jewish problem.” It is a deeply disturbing tour and one that as many people as possible should make.
Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews and others they considered flawed is the extreme example of treating others poorly, but what about racism, sexism and homophobia.
The shootings of young black men, often by white police officers and citizens, has led to the Black Lives Matter movement. Many black people feel they are considered less than human and they have a point. The entire history of African and African-American residency in the Americas has been a progression from slavery to denial of rights to killings which felt like sport to reduced economic opportunities to crime-riddled neighborhoods to Stop and Frisk to a rash of shootings.
Sexism is a little harder for me to get a handle on. I am married to a very talented and successful women for whom I have always had the highest respect. I have also worked with other women and have never thought, “I’m better than they are because I have a Y chromosome,” or the appendage that results from it. It’s not disbelief that sexism occurs – it certainly does. It’s just that my mind doesn’t seem to work that way and I’m usually baffled by the thought process that must lead someone to judge a women as less valuable.
Homophobia is different. Notice how the other words are -ism’s. They are actions of denigration based on a clearly defined difference between the perpetrator and the victim. Homophobia is a fear. The perpetrator in this case doesn’t understand homosexuality, or fears that he/she may have similar “leanings,” or is feeding on lifelong religious teachings, or knows a gay man who is actually not like any of the stereotypes. No wonder there’s fear – it’s fear of the unknown or of not understanding.
What are the long term consequences?
One thing is proven time and again. Upward mobility in the African-American community is hard to achieve.
Women make about 70% as much as what men make. Some justification is provided that this is because they choose to leave the workforce for a period of time to raise families. Of course, that’s only a justification if you consider raising a family to be of little value.
For the LGBT community, discrimination and derogatory treatment lead to suicide at a considerably higher rate than in the general population. There is also an element of economic depression. It’s difficult to gain and hold a job if, in some states, you can be fired or kicked out of your apartment if your boss or landlord finds out you’re gay.
The United States would be a happier healthier country if we could treat everyone with respect. This presidential campaign does not fall into that category, I’m afraid. It seems as if you need to be mean to be noticed, and he who insults the best gets the most votes. I’m afraid of the lasting effect of this presidential campaign. It’s not a legacy we Americans should be proud of.