April 12, 2003 -- Ever fly Southwest Airlines? They are a different kind of airline. Southwest encourages its staff to have fun.
For example, one flight attendant tells her passengers, "Folks, now get your tush to the cush, 'cause we're about ready to push," as they get ready for takeoff.
At the end of the flight, she sings: "We had some fun, we sang a song, now we want you off the plane."
A lot of passengers like it. Southwest is a hugely successful airline.
But now, apparently, Southwest has done something terribly wrong. Two black women say a flight attendant was "insensitive." They say she said something on the intercom that was "discrimination," "outrageous" conduct.
What did the flight attendant do? She said "Eenie meenie minie mo, pick a seat, we gotta go." That's it. She was trying to get people to sit down, so they could take off.
The two women wouldn't talk to us about it, but they've filed a lawsuit that says the rhyme is racist.
Here's how the rhyme goes now:
Eenie, meenie, minie mo. Catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers, let him go. Eenie, meenie, minie mo.
But years ago, some said not "catch a tiger by the toe," but "catch a nigger by the toe."
That's why the women say they deserve money — "punitive damages." They suffered "severe emotional distress," because they were "unable to escape the airplane, which was … poisoned with racism."
It's true that the rhyme was once a hurtful part of America's racist past, but today few people even know about that.
Even Big Bird said it on Sesame Street.
The 22-year-old flight attendant said she didn't know anything about "Eenie, Meenie's" racist past — she'd just heard other staff use the rhyme to get passengers to sit.
Kids we know told us it's just a way to pick someone.
Most older people we asked, white and black, didn't know anything about the racial connotation. Not one said they'd be offended by it.
Lots of people had opinions about the lawsuit.
"I think some lawyer and some people are huntin' for some quick bucks," one man said.
"It's a scam, if you ask me," said a woman.
I think so too, but amazingly, a federal judge in Kansas City, Kan., said the lawsuit can go forward because "Eenie Meenie" could be viewed as racist. A trial is scheduled for next Tuesday.
Southwest's president, Colleen Barrett, is fighting the suit. She says her employees did nothing wrong, so she won't tell them to shut up. "There are a lot of people in this world who take themselves too seriously," Barrett said.
Right. Much too seriously.
If American discrimination law means the most sensitive of us get to decide what speech is permissible, then we have all lost important freedom. Give me a break!