That Time An Old White Man Entertained Me With Tales Of Colored People On A Flight

October 9, 2012  |  

Source: iStock

A dangerous thing happens to me when I leave New York: I let my guard down. On my commute to and from work, and virtually anywhere else I’m headed on foot or Subway, I refuse to walk out my front door without head phones on. It’s the only protection from the excess street harassment, homeless people begging for food, and entertainers jigging in train cars for cash. So, once I get outside city and state lines I tend to be a calmer, less-guarded person, knowing all those elements of fuckery aren’t present in overdrive. Until recently, that method never really failed me. Then this weekend  that mindset led to me chatting with an old white man on my flight to Cincinnati who was probably the sweetest  post-Klansman (assumed) I’ve ever met in my life.

Despite my more welcoming demeanor in other more friendly cities, I’m still not too keen on striking up conversations with random people, especially on a flight when the landing is your only way out. And I did have one line of defense on my flight which I had to pull out rather quickly, Drown by Junot Diaz.  I don’t remember what the older white man sitting next to me first said to make me grab for the book of short stories but I had an inkling he was a talker, and talk on that little one-hour commuter flight I did not want to do. Eventually though, my eyelids got heavy and I knew I wasn’t going to make it through another page so with one fell swoop I attempted to slide my book into the seat back in front of me and close my eyes fast enough to avoid signaling I was open for discussion. Something told me as soon as that book left my hands that man was going to strike up a convo, and when I failed at operation put the book down unnoticed that’s exactly what he did.

Initially, I actually started to feel bad and curse my introverted personality for not being more social. My seat partner had shared all sorts of tales with me from his days in the Air Force, and because we’re both from Ohio, he taught, yes literally sung, the O State versus Michigan chant to me 30,000 feet in the air. I was literally laughing at myself for getting got by a talker with no place to escape and simultaneously pleasantly surprised that the old man was pretty decent company. That was until he dropped the “c-word:” colored.

After telling me about working his way up from the manufacturing floor to head of a company he worked for for 40 years. My seatmate asked me what I did for a living. I said I was an editor for a black women’s website and for some reason a light bulb went off in his head that he should prove he has something in common with me. That’s when he proceeded with, “we had a colored girl that worked for us once. When she first started, one of the men on the floor pointed me out and said, ‘you see that man there? That’s a man you don’t ever want to piss off.’”


I barely had time to digest the c-word or respond to old Jim Crow because the “damn I knew this was too good to be true” thought was drowning out most of my cognitive abilities. All I could manage was, “did he really say colored?” while also thinking, “he’s old enough to possibly get a pass, but young enough to know we’re not called that anymore.”

I let the verbal slip slide, figuring a flight was not the place I wanted to get into race dynamics with a man who told me he once maced a dog after threatening to put his size 10-and-a-half shoe up his owner’s butt so I continued listening to his tales of times passed and hoped for the best. Unfortunately that didn’t last long as he then proceeded to tell me about another fella he checked on the job, letting him know he didn’t appreciate him telling him how to do his job. Eventually he got around to telling me that same man was the first colored so-and-so and now they’re the best of buds and play golf every week. At this point I thought, “and his colored butt hasn’t told you yet that we’re called black now?! That man probably hates your white a**” Oh, I also was assured Mr. Antebellum had probably lynched one or two back in his heyday day, or at least lit the torches and cut the eye-holes in somebody’s bed sheets. He was too turnt up that early in the morning and too ignorant of all things black to not have had an issue with segregation at some point. I kid. Sort of.

At the end of the day, I wasn’t really up in arms about my passenger. I mean, at least he didn’t call me the n-word. And he didn’t seem to mind colored folks too much as he was tapping me on the shoulder and cracking jokes every minute a story from the good old days popped in his head. I just need some white folks to get it together and step into the 21st century, at least when talking to said coloreds. We’re actually referred to as black now. You know this.

Have you ever had a “white person just called me an awkard name” moment?

Brande Victorian is the news and operations editor for Follow her on twitter @Be_Vic.

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  • Ryanblack

    Look if you’ve never banged a black chick, do it. I tell you…

  • J-Nice

    I was doing laundry in a public laundry room and I had a small transistor radio w/me that was playing a Stevie Nicks/Fleetwood Mac jam. An old white woman and two of her adult family members walked in and started doing their laundry…the old white lady stops as she’s walking past me and says, “I didn’t know colored people listened to this type of music.” my response: “I didnt know we were still “colored!” Her younger people that were w/her tried to excuse her, saying, “oh, you know she didnt mean anything by it” and shuffling her off to another part of the room. It was a wow moment then… and still wows me to this day.

  • Latino

    If you only knew Spanish…

  • Dutchess

    My sigh moment occurred when I ran into my white neighbor a few weeks back. She’s an older lady in her seventies. We were chatting when she looked at my hair and said ” Your hair looks really nice.” She then whispers while analyzing my head “I don’t mean any harm but I didn’t know black women wore so much fake hair until ‘so n so'(another old white lady) told me.” Im not sure what part she “didnt mean any harm” for; her commenting on black women or assuming that my hair was fake. I mean it was and all but I had some good weave in and it was blended to the gawds honey. I was rocking some remy yaki. Hmph!The nerve of that wench.

  • Very good now. Go shine his shoes.

  • dcwonda

    Another sad case of hypersensitivity. Colored is not an insult. It is a term used to describe non-white individuals, particularly those of African descent. Though it is not a modern nomenclature, it is also not a slur or derogatory reference. Blacks are people of color. I am a person of color. I am colored. It is akin to using the term negro to describe a Black person. I am also a negro. Negro is not a slur.

    If that is too difficult to comprehend, consider the nomenclature “African American.” At some point in the not-too-distant future, the descriptor “black” will succumb to “African American.” At that point, I am sure some misguided soul will probably vent via personal virtual hologram blog about his or her anger that some old white woman on a flight referred to fond memories of a “black” woman from her days past.

    Stop the madness.
    If you hold on too tightly to nothing, you’ll never have anything at all.

    • NessNess

      Colored gives the impression that you were once void of color and some how filled in. Black or noir is a compliation of all hues. Colored should be used to describe people who are blanc or white but can at times appear other colors like; beet red, gray when sick, pink with embarassment, orange when that spray on goes so wrong, black n blue when whooped, etc. I have no issue with the word, just its improper use!

  • tia ramsey

    Some people really don’t know any better. For example, I work in customer service. I had a 70 year old man call about his account. He asked me my name. It turns out that we both have the same last name. This excites him which leads to more questions i.e. where are you from? where did you go to school? Are you married? (All of which were really unnecessary.) This idiot had the audacity to tell me that I probably got my last name b/c my ancestors who were slaves took on the name of their master. Really dude? Whether it’s true or not, it was totally inappropriate.

  • A.J.

    People who are of a different race than you, feel that because they are talking to you they can say any derogatory thing about your race. I have had that awkward moment. Especially when white classmates think its funny to joke about black people liking fried chicken and kool-aid…SMH

  • Anon

    Idk. From what I understand white folks just don’t pay black folks that much mind period. I highly doubt the man is racist, just ignorant is all. Completely unaware or interested in things that don’t affect his life in any way. I’ve never had a white person call me a funny name but I wouldn’t be surprised if it happened lol.

  • Coloredandproud

    I think you are being too sensitive. You say you are ok with being called black, but what if the person in your spot next hates black and wants to be called African-American which actually is the approved PC term over black.

    The long and short of it is that he probably said colored because someone black told him that would be ok. Instead of trying to understand if he is a racist, why not just enjoy his stories. People are clearly very touchy about their race so colored is bad to you, black is bad to the next one and I think African-American is a misnomer. He clearly was trying to connect with you on a human level so let’s just promote more of that. Unless he came out and said colored people are monkeys, why assume he is a post-Klansman?

  • I think about it I was the only blk person both times. What a
    coincedence. They will try to pull that ish then, but not with me. And I
    wish you had checked this fool on that flight. Not confrontatly, but
    you should’ve let him know for further references.I
    am beautiful woman and I love good man…..inter racial romance is my dream… so I
    joined —blackwhitePlanet.С0M—–it’s
    where to- connect with beautiful and excellent people! She apologized profusely, saying that she has quite a few black
    friends. I too at that time thought, “and none of them has told you
    this before?”.

  • Guest

    Sometimes I call my cousin colored gal.

  • maggie

    Black people in Belize still say colored and it is not derogatory. My ears had to get used to that one while I visited there. It was definitely nice to see my own anyway.

  • Rawtid

    I don’t play with with people when it comes to their racist assss antics. I have a friend who is suing his company bc a white coworker brought a gorilla to work and asked all the black workers there if that was their mama while the rest of those ghost laughed.

    • Blastid

      WTF? A real gorilla?

  • ayyiyi

    I am confused about why the white man told you his co worker called a black woman a man, how is that funny? that is very rude.

    • Plink

      The co-worker was talking to the black woman, referring to the white man telling the story. The old white guy is the man you don’t want to mess with.

  • lil colored girl

    I had an elderly white woman compliment me and tell me that I was “such a pretty colored girl”. I was freshman in college and she was working in the cafeteria. I didnt say anything. I figured she was way too old to be reformed.

    • lil colored girl

      *a freshman

  • WOW! You seem WAY more racist than that guy.

  • ucantbserious

    I had a former (white) supervisor who would constantly say that if a person (white or black) was late then they operated on CP (colored people) time. I am no longer working at that job… thank God!!!

  • FromUR2UB

    Heeeey! Who approved “fuckery”? Let’s see repeating it will require approval by a moderator before appearing in the comment section.

    • Gigi

      This comment is somewhat irrelevant, but so freaking funny at the same time!

      • FromUR2UB

        I know. The last paragraph had nothing to do with the article. I even thought about that after writing it. But for some reason, the topic triggered my memory of that incident.

        • karmellkreem

          oh, kindergarten… when the girl who would later be my best friend announced that she wished her parents let her drink chocolate milk so she could be my color. seriously, she’d never seen black ppl before.

    • I liked the fact that you colored the flowers,sun and grass brown too. That’s hilarious….

    • Observing

      That story is PRICELESS…lol.

      My white friends (I was the only black person in elementary) used to make me sing Bobby Brown and that song… “Superwoman”…. SMH.

      I heard it all, but having been around white people I didn’t think too much of it. Then I discovered SLAVERY! That was a shock and changed my feelings about white people 100%.

      I recently had an old white man at Hooters tell me that Obeezy was a sand n!gger…… SERIOUSLY! Face to face!

    • soothes my soul…

  • get real

    I’ve had whites try to pullout some racial jokes with me and I checked them both times. Better go find you some token to play along with you cause I ain’t having it. Now that I think about it I was the only blk person both times. What a coincedence. They will try to pull that ish then, but not with me. And I wish you had checked this fool on that flight. Not confrontatly, but you should’ve let him know for further references.

  • IllyPhilly

    I call myself a Black, African American Colored person and I refer to other races in the same long drawn out way i.e. a white caucasion american pale-seriously. Since people have so much emphasis on race and how they want to be described I make sure to accomodate. .

    • Observing

      Cracking up….lol!

  • gjones18

    A co-worker of mine was telling a story and mentioned a “colored” man. I remember thinking, “how am i going to correct her?”. I pulled her aside and nicely told her that “colored” isn’t appropriate when in mixed company. She apologized profusely, saying that she has quite a few black friends. I too at that time thought, “and none of them has told you this before?”.

    • chanela

      um my mom just called somebody colored the other day. black people still call folks colored too.

      also how is colored any different from “people of color”?

      • Cat

        There is a very distinct (admittedly less so now) ‘Coloured’ community in Cape Town, South Africa, of which my parents and extended family are part. Most people look on that proudly and the word is not derogatory. I think of myself as ‘Coloured’ in that sense, but identify as black in the wider context.

        • hmmmm

          Doesn’t “Coloured”in South Africa equate to “mixed race” or “multi-racial” in America? Basically, in the racial hierarchy you’re one step above black people so that is your source of pride.

          • Cat

            Yes it does equate to “mixed race” (Dutch, British white colonialists etc. and the Xhosa, and the Zulus and the Khoi San etc.) but it’s also a particular culture, so that’s why I identify with it, not because of superiority- and it’s ironic and kind of great because I think the South African “Coloureds” are the embodiment of all different types of people coming together – they kind of don’t really know what they are, which can be good and bad in equal measure! And yes, I mean, during the apartheid “Coloureds” were “above” black people but that’s where Black Consciousness and Steve Biko and all of that came in… “Being black isn’t just about the colour of your skin.” I myself didn’t grow up in SA and I have light skin so I’ve always struggled with my identity, because in my experience, if you’re skin isn’t BLACK black white people will actually say to you “you’re not black.”

            • luna

              ” if you’re skin isn’t BLACK black white people will actually say to you “you’re not black.”” I don’t know about that one cos my skin is quite light {about Keri hilson tone) anyone who sees me knows that is black woman right there then again I live in London. Since black people come in a variety of shades yes even those in Africa so it’ll be stupid to tell anyone who is not as dark as your black clothes that they are not black or black enough so wtf are they? is there another race that comes in brown, medium/light brown etc…

      • Nikki

        When peoples use the phrase “people of color” they are referring to anyone who is not white.

      • colliz

        There isn’t a single black person who calls another black person “colored”. And “People of color” is referencing anyone who isn’t white which is completely different from saying “colored”. Can’t believe this has to be explained in 2012.

        • chanela

          you obviously can’t read. i had JUST wrote that my mom called somebody “colored” the other day! she is indeed black sooo wtf?

          i know tons of older black people say stuff like ” yeah! we got a colored girl working in this store!” “oh the girl who came to the program? she was a cute lil colored girl. there was more white kids at the program though”

          • @chanela:disqus

            Realy? Where are you from,because I’ve rarely heard an older black person use that term,mainly because it’s outdated as hell—you’re probably from the South,I’ve guessing. That would explain it.

            • tt

              Why are you upset?

            • chanela

              i’m actually from california. LOL assumptions are funny

      • Cay J

        I think we should start calling them non-colored or half baked. At least that’s what I do when white ppl use the word “colored”. Throws them right off too. Actually after being eased in NY and then crazily moving to racist state I’ve learned a lot of tricks. Like when white people use color to identify someone when they could’ve used something else? After they that, every white person I talk about after that becomes “You know that White girl….?” and if they look too floored I explain that’s how we feel! ‘Each one teach one

  • jackieOsassin

    a girl in my dance class when i was a preteen once said to me, “do you ever get nervous being the only colored girl here?”

    it too me aback so swiftly and suddenly i couldn’t even think of what to say at the time.

    • Gigi

      W@w…How long ago was that? Did the look on your face tell her that she had just said an “oh-hell-no” type of thing?

      • jackieOsassin

        like almost 10-12 years ago lol but i’m sure she could see it. she’s probably still a rude wh*re.

    • sabrina

      oh no she didn’t!!!!!!