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Cutting in Brussels
When I read that there was a terrorist attack in Brussels this morning, my mind immediately went back to an event that happened to me last summer. It wasn't exactly similar to the terrorist attack, but it's the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Brussels International Airport. It's something that's clouded my impression of the airport, not because of anything the airport did, but because of some people I saw there.
Last July, I spent a week in Paris for a writing retreat with the Cambridge Writers' Workshop. For my return trip, I flew from Paris to Brussels to make a connection to Washington D.C. Already on this trip I had had some nightmarish airport experiences, namely being stranded in Dulles International for 28 hours when my first flight was canceled. However, it was this return trip that had the more toxic event occur.
When I landed in Brussels, I made my way towards my next gate. I had about an hour or two between flights and knew it would be better to get to my next gate as soon as possible. When I got to the gate, I saw that there was a line to get into the gate. The way the airport was structured, it was one gate kept behind a checkpoint unlike the other gates in the terminal. This was so they could do a customs check before people could get on the plane, and since this was the one gate in this terminal, it looked imperative to get in line early.
So I did. I made one last stop to the bathroom, got a drink, and hopped into the line. It was long, and I was already feeling sick and tired from my lack of sleep the night before. From the point in the line I got in, I could see the line would eventually fork into two lines. There were two different attendants at the check-in point, so people were going to split to be seen by one of the attendants. When I got in the line, towards the back, the line was already splitting. I stepped to the left and continued to wait.
About a half hour or so later, I was getting close to the front. It was then I heard some complaints from the right line. I looked over and saw two different families engaged in an argument. The first family was an African couple with three young children. The second was an older couple whose exact nationalities were hard for me to figure out since the husband and wife had different accents. The wife had a Hispanic accent, while the husband was American or British. I thought the husband sort of looked like makeup artist and drag queen Mathu Andersen without his signature facial hair and much worse fashion (this guy had to be over 50 and was wearing a straw hat, a polo shirt, and cargo shorts. Even for someone who almost always wears hoodies and jeans, even I knew this looked terrible). For the sake of this piece, I'll just call him Andersen.
The knockoff Andersen was complaining about how the African couple had cut in front of him and his wife. I noticed that the line, which split much earlier when I joined, had someone merged into one again and was splitting again. I don't really know how that happened, but my approximation is that it was something like a double helix shape. The African woman didn't want to argue or deal with the situation. She and her family had moved to the right when they noticed the line split, and now Andersen and his wife were complaining because they noticed too late.
Andersen and his wife continued to (loudly) complain about the African family cutting, gaining the attention of everyone standing around them. The African woman didn't want to move because it didn't matter, but her husband wanted the fighting to stop. He let the other couple move ahead of them in line. It was then that Andersen's wife decided to make a remark about the African woman.
"Education!" she declared, punctuating each syllable. "Ed. U. Ca. Tion!"
At that point, the African woman lashed back, claiming it wasn't about education but race. The families were beginning to squabble some more, but at that point, I think everyone decided to just shut up and not deal with this. The parties could continue to mumble and groan without attracting the attention of airport security, while everyone else around them could just roll their eyes at the absurdity.
"Why does it matter?" asked a young woman ahead of me to her companion. "We're all going to the same place."
That woman was completely right. We were all in a line for a line. Once we got past the check point, we'd have to sit and wait for the airline to let us onto the plane where we'd sit again. No one was going to miss the flight, no one would get detained, and no one was actually at risk to lose anything. For whatever reason, this stupid couple felt it was important to raise a fuss and let loose some ambiguously racist comments.
After witnessing this, I sort of wished I had spoken up. I sort of realized that my retorts would have been petty and only made things worse. I was going to ask the woman why she was complaining about education when she married a guy dressed like a frat boy from Florida, but that wouldn't have solved the issue, nor would it have moved the line along. I took to quietly judging the couple the entire way home (I sat a few rows behind them on the plane and decided to judge them harshly for whatever they watched on the in-flight entertainment system when I walked past them. I laughed internally when I saw them watching some stuffy period drama). Every time I saw them, even as I was going through customs at Dulles, I remembered how much of a fuss they raised over placement in a line, and how unpleasant they were to everyone around them.
It's strange that this is what I think of when I think about these terrorist attacks. However, when I scroll through Facebook and see congressmen calling for the end of the Syrian refugee program because of these attacks or calls to close the borders for immigration, I think it's somewhat related. It's prejudice clouding people's reactions to tragedy, and it's often as petty and meaningless as complaining about someone cutting in line. It won't solve the problems at hand, and it's going to be as pointless as arguing about where a line splits and if it counts as cutting.
#Real #Essay #Brussels #Racism #Terrorism #PrayForBrussels #AllGoingOneWay
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