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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Flight Delays, First Class… and a Really Awkward “Progressive” Racist

Okay… so the title of this post is super weird and pretty much an oxymoron. But there’s a quick story behind it and a pretty damn interesting takeaway. So…

Two weeks ago, I was on a two-leg flight from Boston to Chicago and Chicago to Omaha (final destination, Council Bluffs, Iowa). On the first leg of my flight, since I’m such a road warrior and have premium status with a few airlines, I got bumped from coach to first class. Score! Free food and snacks, a hot towel for my face, and a less-busy bathroom. Except I sat next to a woman who, at first was pretty hilarious, then overly chatty, and then racist and xenophobic and a few other “ists” “isms” “phobes,” which became annoying, and unsurprisingly the loudest (mostly one-sided) conversation on the plane. 

Whenever someone says, “you know I’m not racist but…” or “I’ve got nothing against the _insert group_ but…” you know you’re in for some trouble. This woman had a daughter that she loved, who also happened to be a lesbian, and despite being “supportive” of her daughter; she had some unsavory things to say about the LGBT community. She also had lots of xenophobic things to say about people from other countries who were, “stealing our jobs, and blowing up and killing our citizens.” Pretty much everything she said was based in fear and after getting into a disagreement with her and grilling her on the facts, it was clear that she had a lack of education on the topics she was mouthing off about. 

After my attempts to shut down the conversation were ignored, I asked her, “What is it that you want when you say these things? The terrorism, the ‘bleeding heart liberals,’ the ‘good gays and the bad gays’ — when it’s all said and done what do you want as a result of everything you’re talking about?”

Racist lady: “I want our country—my country—to be safe. I want people, especially young people to take on a sense of responsibility like you are with how you’re helping people. I want a better future for our kids.”

Josh: “Holy s*%t lady! That’s what I want, too. I vehemently disagree with how you want to get to that place. But I love it. We want the same thing.”

The racist lady and I hi-fived and bro hugged, after which I found an opening to finally shut her down. “I have to finish some work and listen to some Biggie,” I said with a smile and then put in my headphones. 

My takeaway from this obnoxious situation: With people who are not like us, who don’t share the same views—look for the root of what they actually want, and then find what you can agree on and strengthen that.

My scenario with the racist lady may be an extreme case, but with any committee, relationship at home or at work, or even with politics; it’s important to find common ground rather than bitch and moan at each other about your disagreements. In the board room, a 30 min plane conversation, the grocery checkout—these are not places to change hearts and minds. They’re places to find camaraderie (if possible). If you find that your core values are not in line with the other person’s, there are other times and scenarios to go after hearts and minds. It usually has to do with descriptive stories and storytelling—a la “The i’Mpossible Project.”


People are strange, interesting, and certainly complex. Most people aren’t all bad or all good, super dumb, or incredibly smart but a mix. You are the company that you keep, but sometimes unwanted company shows up at your doorstep (kinda like cousin Eddie in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation), which you’ll have to be prepared for.
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