By Вen Li
It was with much fanfare that newscasters around the world heralded the flight of two African American youth this weekend. Jimmy Haywood became the youngest pilot to make an international flight at 11 years old, while Kenny Roy was the youngest black pilot to fly solo at 14.
The pair’s weekend trip took them out of Southern California, a hotbed for racial strife in the past, to Vancouver’s rich cultural melting pot but not out of well-entrenched racial attitudes.
While the two Compton kids’ accomplishments were certainly notable for these young men, in our colour-blind world, their race should have no significance to the event in question.
Unfortunately, race still has a place for many in the world of news. Despite the young pilots’ humility after the fact, the fact that they were black pilots made the event newsworthy, as though some magical barrier had been broken. Even black people can have accomplishments, the reports seemed to say, as though they were somehow otherwise inferior to everyone else.
Manned flight, supersonic flight, and spaceflight have never been about race. Flight has always been about reaching into the sky to join the birds, not about racial superiority. Elsewhere in the news, virtually nobody notes or cares about the races of the X-Prize civilian spaceflight pilots and competitors. They are white.
Similarly, we selectively discriminate based on race in the news when crime happens. Race was an important factor in Kobe Bryant and O.J. Simpson’s jury selection processes–the accused was black–but not in Scott Peterson’s case, where no party is black. Is there something so special about a minority being a party to a trial that merits the extra attention to race?
This notion that there is a fundamental difference between different races of people remains deeply embedded, even among those who are the victims of discrimination.
On Sunday, the Washington Times reported that the younger pilot said “I was making history.”
Indeed, the flight laid yet another milestone along the well-trodden path toward the status quo, pushing ahead the separation we decry so strongly.
The older pilot said in the same Washington Times article that he hopes to be a role model for others by way of his accomplishment this week. He will undoubtedly light the way for others, but not necessarily in the way that he probably intends. By only compring accomplishments against those others of the same community, the pilots allow themselves to be defined by others. The act of comparing their accomplishments with those of other races by default cheapens any other value to come out of the flight.