Thursday, June 9, 2011

Slaveships vs. Economy Class: No Comparison (please)

Steve Heller, over at Imprint, notes that a recent cramped airline trip reminded him of the similarly cramped conditions that slaves experienced on their cruises to America.  Mr. Heller has received quite a bit of flack accusing him of trivializing the horrific experiences that millions of humans faced on their journey from freedom to slavery.

We feel his pain.  Smaller seats, larger flight attendants, and cage-style wrestling matches to find a place for our carry-on makes us feel penned up and terrorized by our flight-crew overlords.  That cold smile you get from the steward/ess when you ask for the full can of soda really says, "I don't care what your old name was, your name is Cheesestick, boy!  Say it!."

Perhaps we're being a little harsh, and Heller didn't go far enough in decrying his treatment by the airline industry.  After all, not once during his flight was Heller allowed to go outside so that the feces and vomit could be hosed from his body.  Not once did anyone come by to check that his foot-chains were secure or that the person next to him was still alive.  Further, the airlines completely neglected to feed him a nourishing gruel of moldy yams.  Even diehard fans of the bleak have a hard time imagining a few hours in a cushioned seat in an air-conditioned room 30,000 feet in the sky as any sort of analog to months in a dark and foul hole, racing for life against starvation and disease to emerge into the welcoming arms of a life of forced labor and humiliation.

We also feel dehumanized, Mr. Heller, every time we board one of those awful flying tubes.  However, we agree that it is more than a little insensitive to compare the experience of flying to slavery.  Not because it isn't PC... we love PC violations... but because today's living descendants of slaves still feel their ancestors' pain in deeply personal ways.  Their own identity continues to be informed by the experiences of their forefathers, so they are understandably protective of honoring both their suffering and their role in the building of the Americas.

A better analogy might have been the plight of cattle:  We certainly feel like pieces of meat being moved through the cattle yard whenever we see the line forming in front of the junk-happy TSA.  And the good thing about trivializing a cow's experience is that they can't complain since they don't have access to lawyers, reporters, or the Internet.

So, let's have some mea culpas please, Mr. Heller so you can get back to the good work at Imprint.  You overstepped and displayed your insensidermis a little.  Given the truly bleak state of travelling by air these days, we understand the motivation

(Thanks, Lisa.)

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