Illustration for article titled My Life as a Black Who Flies First Class
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What do you call a black man in first class?” I asked the gate agent, as I stood first in the first-class line, so I could be first in first class. I like to be first in first class, so I can sit first and watch all the white people watching me, the black man in first class, sitting first.

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Sometimes, I’ll even take extra time storing my bag in the overhead, so they can wait behind me. You might call that insensitive. I call it reparations.

The gate agent replied. “Excuse me, sir?

What do you call a black man in first class?

I don’t know sir.

A nigger.

Sir?

A confused nigger.

Visibly perplexed by my blackness, my boldness, my mastery of the conjugation of verbs—and also that such a dark, bold, and articulate black would be flying first class—she paused for a moment and then spoke into the intercom. I thought she was calling security, but she just started the boarding process. Maybe she couldn’t find the number.

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I walked down the jet bridge, decked in my usual first-class flight attire. I used to wear tuxedos and top hats when flying. I knew they wouldn’t believe a black like me could afford a first-class ticket unless I looked like the Monopoly Man. But I no longer adhere to respectability politics. Now I just wear a jockstrap and Tims. The white gaze is on my exposed asscheeks. You might call that inappropriate. I call it equality.

I sit in my seat and watch the whites become so offended by my presence that they don’t even look at me. They just...take their own seats and get on their phones. Too disgusted to even open their mouths, lest they inhale the same air I just exhaled. They thought the first class was for them. They thought all these bottled waters were for them. They thought the only blacks who fly are in the dunk contest. But I’ve invaded the space they believed to be pristine and disrupted their equilibrium, rubbing my juicy black booty on their bias.

A flight attendant approaches. She looks scared, stunned, intrigued, disgusted, aroused. She looks like French toast.

Would you like something to drink?” she asks, in a way that says “We would’ve lynched you in 1986.

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I reply. “Do I look thirsty to you?

So no?

Do you have ginger ale?

“Yes.”

Fuck you.

She walks away and comes back with a ginger ale. I know she poisoned it so I walk to the cockpit and splash it on the pilot’s back. He shrugs. I like that white man. He can come to my cookout.

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I get back in my first class seat and recline in it. A white man behind me says “Blackie, what are you doing?” I reply “Reclaiming my recline, bitch.” He sneers and keeps drinking his milk.

That white man? Mason Rudolph.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a columnist for GQ.com, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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