When I was a third-grader, a silly little classmate named Kelly made a third-grade level ethnic joke at my expense.
I was the only kid in my class of Asian descent. Kelly and the popular girls on the playground were playing Chinese jump rope. “Why don’t you show us some tricks?” Kelly taunted. I had never seen a Chinese jump rope in my life.
“Ching chong chay. Me no play!” Kelly cackled. Her friends chanted along. I cried when I got home.
My mom gave me a quick hug, wiped my nose, and then firmly told me to get over it. “Don’t waste your tears on stupid things,” Mom counseled. Invaluable lesson learned. End of story.
Now, if this all had happened in 2003, and if my mom and I had been properly brainwashed by the cult of victimology, we all know where my little tale would have ended: In court.
In the 21st century, no bad slur goes unlitigated. No playground bully goes un-subpoenaed. No hypersensitive wallflower goes uncompensated. Can’t take a dumb joke? Sue.
Which brings me to the pair of overgrown crybabies who are suing Southwest Airlines over a ridiculously misperceived racial insult. The Kansas City Star reports this week that sisters Louise Sawyer, 46, and Grace Fuller, 48, are headed to trial because their feelings were hurt by a flight attendant who used an old nursery rhyme to get meandering passengers to hurry up and sit down before flight departure.
Sawyer and Fuller allege that they were discriminated against on a crowded February 2001 flight after Southwest Airlines attendant Jennifer Cundiff said over the intercom: “Eenie, meenie, minie, moe; pick a seat, we gotta go.”
Everyone who has ever flown Southwest knows it’s a different kind of ride. Among the ranks of Southwest flight crews are many former and aspiring stand-up comedians. The company encourages a little levity to make crammed flights slightly more tolerable. A few of the light-chuckle lines used by Southwest flight attendants and reported recently by the Wall Street Journal: “OK, people, it’s open seating, just like at church – saints up front, sinners in back” and “Remember, this isn’t a furniture store. You’re only renting this seat for an hour.”
The “eenie, meenie” crack was used by other attendants and recycled by Cundiff on several flights. But Sawyer and Fuller, who are black, felt ridiculed and persecuted by Cundiff, who is white. Bingo: Racist hate crime. “I was infuriated by the comment,” Sawyer said. Fuller whined: “It was like I was too dumb to find a seat.”
All together now: Awwwww.
The humor-challenged siblings preposterously allege that Cundiff was making a discriminatory reference to their race because there is an obscure adaptation of the children’s counting rhyme that replaces the word “tiger” with the n-word in the verse that ends “Catch a tiger by the toe.” Cundiff, 22, says she had never heard of the offensive version. (Neither had I, nor, I imagine, have most people in Cundiff’s generation or mine.)
“The statement I made on Flight 524 was not racist or discriminating, and I am offended that because I have white skin suddenly I am a racist. Maybe those that run around pointing fingers yelling racist should stop and turn that finger around,” Cundiff wrote in an incident report. You tell ’em, girl.
The grandest insult, of course, is that a federal judge allowed this litigious farce to proceed. U.S. District Judge Kathryn H. Vratil, appointed by President Bush I, has set trial for March 4. Cundiff and Southwest, which is commendably standing by her, are entangled in costly litigation over a word she never said and a slight she never intended. Yet, Judge Vratil is permitting Sawyer and Fuller to seek unspecified compensatory and punitive damages for dubious “physical and emotional distress” (including Fuller’s “unexplained memory gaps” about the flight). They are also demanding employee sensitivity training.
Sniffle, harp and moan. Where are the grown-ups in the judiciary to tell such thin-skinned litigants to wipe their noses and stop wasting time and money on phenomenally stupid things?