SARASOTA, Fla. -- I was stranded in the airport in Atlanta Oct. 17 when CNN, avoidable on the airport concourse but ignored only with great effort at the gate, reported on the racist invective directed at Sen. Barack Obama at a Sarah Palin rally in Johnstown, Penn. a week earlier.
I was traveling alone to Florida, stuck in an unplanned seven-hour layover, killing time reading and watching TV. Except to trade acerbic comments about the airline's ineptitude for keeping us so long, I didn't converse with anyone.
The noise in the terminal drowned out CNN's audio so I couldn't get a sense of why the network was running the week-old footage of the smug bastard son of a bitch brandishing a stuffed-animal Curious Gerorge with an Obama bumper sticker for a hat. The report then used video having to do with the recent placement of Ku Klux Klan flyers on Sunday papers.
(Today I was unable to find the CNN report on the Web.)
I concluded that CNN's angle must have been the Obama Campaign and Racism in America. That is based on what I saw. As I said, I couldn't hear anything. My question was whether Palin had repudiated the anti-Obama hecklers. As of today I could not find a news account to that effect through Google.
Facing me across the aisle of chairs was an older African-American couple. I put more value on their response to the TV story than on mine. I'm white and they're black; the video referred more directly than it did mine because they are the descendants of slaves, and I am not.
I glanced furtively at them. I saw enough of their response so that I could turn my eyes away before my eyes and theirs met.
I've lived in Massachusetts for 45 years and never in the South. If, during my brief time in the South -- vacations in New Orleans in 1996 and '97, and overnight stays in Virginia and North Carolina -- I had confronted the topic of racism, even in a brief glancing moment, to acknowledge with black person there, I would never have forgotten that encounter.
Even up here in liberal Western Massachusetts, I avoid talking about racism with black people. In the south, it would cause me terror, because to work with it I am thoroughly unequipped. I would need mastery of an impossible-to-master non-verbal language.
Of course I don't know what was in the couple's heads as they watched CNN at that moment. They shook their heads as if in amazement, perhaps. I was puzzled that they didn't seem at all angry. I hope they did not feel resignation.
Because I did not talk to them I never learned where they are from. It was so loud I couldn't hear their voices; I was unable to listen for accents that would have allowed for at least a guess.
I was as able to do anything about the situation as I was able to bring flight 5716 to Sarasota to the gate.