Racist or Rational?

sunset view from an airplaneI’ve been thinking about how fearful I was on the flights coming here. The first flight was KLM, which is an airline I’ve flown quite a few times and trust. The plane, however, was a 747, and looked old. The 747 is the plane I’m probably least trustful of because it’s the one that seems the most impossible: how could something that big get off the ground and stay off the ground? I was sitting just behind the wing and keep seeing the engine shake around every time we hit turbulence, and kept picturing it simply falling off.

The flight was pretty smooth until we were somewhere between the Sahara and our destination in Nairobi, when it got quite bumpy. I got very nervous, to the point that I needed some soothing words from a friendly stewardess, which quite helped. She made me feel better by telling me that on this route, between Holland and Kenya, they often get turbulence just at that point.

Anyway the second flight was Kenya Airways, and that fact alone made me very nervous. The question is why? The plane was another sort of Boeing, probably no older than the 747 I’d just flown. The flight attendants were just as professional and efficient as always. The flight was actually smoother than the KLM flight, though there was a bit of turbulence.

What I kept thinking about during that second flight was an article I read recently about corruption. It said something along the lines of how Kenya has the worst corruption level in Africa. So what I was imagining through the whole flight was maintenance workers installing substandard parts in order to skim off some of the money. Or management bribing inspectors. And so on.

My question, dear readers, is this: when I have these thoughts, am I being racist or rational? And if your reaction is that my fears are rational, then are you racist too?


  • hans udo

    August 16, 2009 at 1:37 pm


    well as i said i would take a look at your blog and i came acros this question. i think it’s an interesting question. i’ll guess i could give it a try to answers it. I’m not sure if you’re interested in what i think but i’ll bore you anyway:p I do think that you ask hard questions by the way.
    at first sight it appears that you are just afraid of corruption, which would be rational i guess. but there is no physical evidence that the crew is corrupt and still you are afraid. it could be that you’re still afraid because the crew is black, which would make you a rasist.

    this brings up the question when somebody is rational. i guess that you are rational when you’re criterion of the truth is not sensory but intellectual. Or in other words that you put reasons above proof. an example: the rationalist philosopher parmenides (520 BC – 450BC) wrote in his book the way of truth that change is impossible, and existence is timeless, uniform, and unchanging. still, there is change all around us. We see water change state, seasons come and go etc etc. so, when parmenides was confronted with this the only conclusion he could make was that are senses are lying to us and that the only truth lies in your head. in his words: How could what is perish? How could it have come to be? For if it came into being, it is not; nor is it if ever it is going to be. Thus coming into being is extinguished, and destruction unknown.

    you might think how is this relevant to the question:) well, that comes now. if parmenides(who was hugely influential on Plato and other post-socratic philosophers by the way), as a rationalist, could deny all evidence of change based on his reasoning. then you can still think that kenia airlines is corrupt without any evidence, and still be a rationalist. so(accoding to the greek definition of rationalism), your mind tells you the truth and there is no need for any proof of corruption. conclusion: you are rational

    second question: does this make me a racist. no i don’t think so. my favourite artists are black(ray charles, BB king) for example. But on the other hand, i do have this unexplaineble fear that one day that all the world will be thrown into war and that we have the americans(correction: republicans) and communists(correction: russians and chinese) to blame. but then again, my reasoning tells me it’s true but there is no physical evidence that it will happen. So according to parmenides i would also be a rationalist since i place my reasoning above my senses. conclusion: i’m also rational.

    now you get the ball back(not sure if that’s good english). if these thoughts make you either a racist or a rational person, does that automatically make racism irrational or can you also be a rational racist?

    greetings hans(btw sorry if reading this bored you, but i did not force you to read it:P:P)

  • rachela

    June 23, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    I would say that your being a white South African, given your age, doesn’t make your opinion tainted. You are a post-apartheid South African. Unless you think that, for instance, a post-war German is still guilty of Nazi atrocities?

    As for my fear of flying Kenya Airways, you’ve made a good point. I refused the IB to book me on Aeroflot a couple of years ago. That was also probably irrational, and at the time I put it down to my general phobia of flying.

    In any case, I can add that I went this past winter to Kenya to lead a workshop and flew Kenya Airways again. This time, I felt much as I usually feel on a European airline: in other words, my normal level of phobia, not more. I suppose it was because of my recent good experience on that flight to Burundi.

  • James Mantel

    June 23, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    While skimming through your Burundi posts, I saw this one and decided to comment! I can totally relate to your encounter and have thought about this quite a lot and concluded the following.

    The assumption you’re making is that the difference between KLM and Kenya Airways is the colour of their employees’ skin. Its a valid argument, but only shows a correlation rather than actual reason for the cause. In other words, we pick a random variable that has no actual effect on the subject we’re considering (reliability of the aircraft). For example you might also find that a difference between KLM and Kenya Air is that Kenya Airway’s employees is that K.A employees believe in their tribal god (totally random can’t think of anything else atm). Its reasonable to argue that this religion can have no possible effect on the reliability of the airline. In other words, you can find countless differences between the two airlines/countries, but not all of those difference necessarily effect the reliability of the airline.

    Corruption, low level of education, and underpaid employees are potential reasons why an airline might be unreliable. It just so happens that this is found in countries where the majority of the population is black. Surely its reasonable to argue that is coincidence. You find corruption, low level of education and underpaid employees in plenty non african countries. I would have the same thoughts about Air Chile or a Russian Airline. So your thoughts are rational.

    I like your last question, “and if your reaction is that my fears are rational, then are you racist too?” As a white South African my opinion is probably tainted, but if you use that kind of logic (?) then it becomes very difficult to for this argument (or any situation involving skin colour) not be racist.

    I suppose a compromise could be that your a rational racist (or rational with racist tendencies). The fact that you are noticing a difference in skin colour, and associating a difference makes you racists. But your rational (smart) enough to realise that the difference is due to historical reasons (colonialism, war etc.) rather than any kind biological difference. Actually this is the first time I’ve consider that…so I’m going to stick with that… 🙂

    I’ve just noticed the comment before mine, will read through it tomorrow!


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