Friday, September 14, 2007

A Jew in Sun Country, Part II

My prior post of cheeseburgers and airplanes got some interesting comments at TMV, a few sympathetic, more "suck it up", and one dude who thinks I'm being "closed minded" because I don't accept my natural place as a marginalized outsider on airplanes. Guess I'm just one of them uppity Jew-folk. So it goes. I don't apologize for wanting to feel like a first-class citizen, and I have little interest in conversing with those who see my liberation as an illegitimate imposition on their privilege.

There were really two themes I wanted to pursue in the prior post. The first is the one most folks latched onto: can I, as a member of a relatively small but prominent minority group, reasonably expect accommodations from organizations such as airlines? I don't want the airplane to revolve around me. I don't think they should never serve cheeseburgers; I just think it would be nice if they set aside a few hamburgers too. In certain contexts (most notably disability statutes), the law requires that corporations accommodate the needs of minority groups, so long as those accommodations are "reasonable." Not every religious request is a reasonable accommodation, and some accommodations are manifestly unreasonable. If I was hyper-orthodox and couldn't sit next to a woman on an airplane, asking for Sun Country to have a separate sex-segregated plane would not be reasonable. There are limits to accommodation, and I freely accept that. Is having a few hamburgers instead of cheeseburgers really this sort of unreasonable burden, though? I don't think so, and I don't think the fact that we can imagine unreasonable requests for accommodation is a reason to shy away from entertaining the reasonable ones.

The second theme, which got less play, was a general reflection on how its tough being a minority, even in relatively hospitable climes. Some commenters asked why I didn't just call ahead to request a Kosher meal. Aside from the fact that, given the circumstances of this flight my mind was elsewhere (and I made the reservations four hours before departure), normally this isn't a problem for me. Peanuts are not unkosher, nor are pretzels. As I said, I keep a modified form of kosher which makes it far less likely I'll face the situation that I did on SCA.

But more than that, there's the fact that I'd need to call ahead at all. Some commenters said that this is just a fact of life for being outside the norm of society, and perhaps they're right. But as I noted at the end of my passage, because of these little extra burdens I'm faced with, sometimes I like it when I can retreat into a space where I'm the normal one. If I'm scrambling to find a flight on less than five hours notice, and grieving at the same time, I don't want to have to think about if my airline is going to have food that I can eat. This is the appeal of living in a place where Jews are the norm--I can blissfully and mindlessly not think about these problems. And that can be a beautiful thing when you're living your life in a constant state of half-vigilance. The subtle reference here was in support of other "safe spaces" for minority groups in society--such as the oft-maligned "Black Student Centers" at colleges and universities. Like myself as a Jew, I do not believe that Black students should always have to be in the minority, because it's stressful to be a perpetual outsider. No matter how friendly the majority is, no matter how many nice thoughts they think about us, we're still minorities, and that still imposes costs--material and psychic.

This has important implications. As my regular readers know, I'm a staunch integrationist. I like heterogeneous societies. I do not want people of different backgrounds and cultures to feel as if they cannot live together; I do not desire a culturally segregated existence. But for marginalized groups, it is important for us to have our own spaces available, so that we're not always the weirdos on the airplane, so that we can actually eat what we want to eat on Christmas (rather than the long-standing Jewish tradition of Chinese Food--that being all that's open). These issues probably can't be eliminated entirely. But they can be mitigated, and if you're a supporter of integration then you have to support policies which accommodate the difference of minority groups. If you don't mind ethnic separation, then you don't. But if you want to check the impulse amongst groups--majority and minority--to flee from each other and mistrust each other and separate from each other, then this is part one. There's a choice here--if you're not willing to accommodate Jews(/Muslims/Blacks/Gays/Disabled) in your society, then you have to give us space to craft our own communities and horizons. Unfortunately, the American legal regime has been relatively hostile to these enclaves.

Because I am, to some extent, an outsider in American society, I am dependent on the degree to which majority-Christian society is willing to accommodate me (this feeling of dependency is yet another intrinsic disadvantage to being a minority, but I digress). The more you're willing to accommodate, the more comfortable I'll be here, and the less likely I'll feel compelled to "set sail for separate shores." Ditto with Blacks, ditto with gays, ditto with the disabled. If you don't care if I'm here or not, then I'm saddened, but that's the way it goes I guess. But don't act surprised if I withdraw into my own community, and look upon yours with suspicion. It's a nice place to visit, but I can't live there anymore.


Mark said...

Are you aware that most airlines run right at the margin of insolvency, which is why so many go under? Increasing costs arbitrarily is isn't something that comes for free. See this post for example.

Quite likely the airline thought anything beyond peanuts and pretzels was so much the extra mile that they didn't consider more.

Stentor said...

I quite agree with your overall point. I do find it interesting, though, that it's accommodation to keeping kosher that's the example here. The way my Orthodox Jewish friends have always explained it to me, the whole point of the kosher laws is to make it inconvenient and stressful for observant Jews to live in non-majority-Jewish environments.

Unknown said...

On a tenuously related note, have you seen the Sun Country cheeseburger ad? It shows a flight attendant asking her plane's passengers to take a (hands-up, heads-down) vote whether they want "hot cheeseburgers" or "nothing". Cheeseburgers win unanimously. It was just rather fishy to me because I was thinking "don't they have any vegetarians on this flight?" I forgot to add kosher-keeping Jews to that question, but you get my point.