American Airlines CEO Doug Parker made headlines this week, thanks to a conversation he had with a Southwest flight attendant over a year ago regarding a book on racism in America.
Over the weekend, the white businessman shared a photo of himself alongside JacqueRae Hill and her mother Patti Anderson on Hill’s wedding day in Dallas. Their unlikely friendship was sparked after Hill, who had been frustrated with the growing racial tensions in America following the death of George Floyd, spotted a book on white privilege in his seatback pocket.
Speaking on their interaction, Parker wrote on Instagram, “She [Hill] started a courageous conversation with me about race in America and it’s one I’ll never forget. She continues to be a light that guides me as we work to tear down barriers that create systemic racism.”
Hill, now Sullivan, shared similar photos on her Facebook account on Monday, June 7, under the headline “How it Started vs. How it’s Going” “I want to highlight a family that have now become special friends of my family. The Parkers!” the 15-year flight attendant wrote in the post captured by the outlet.
“Thank you and your family for showing up for so many people but also making the time to show up for ME on my special day. You have no idea how much it means to me to know someone that really walks out all of the talk out. Ya’ll Doug Parker is the real DEAL.”
Sullivan and Parker engaged in a conversation after the newlywed saw the CEO was reading “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism” by Robin DiAngelo. Sullivan told USA Today that she usually gets book suggestions from passengers; she approached Parker to gauge his thought on the book he was reading. Sullivan had no idea who Parker was at the time.
Parker, in turn, said in a letter to other American executives that his ego led him to believe that Sullivan would automatically know who he was, and perhaps she was wondering why he was flying Southwest and not with his own company; American Airlines flights were sold out.
“But, no, she has no idea who I am. She is a young, black woman, and she points at the book lodged in my seat pocket and asks, ‘How do you like that book?’ I say it’s fantastic and defensively show her how I’m a bit past midway. She says, ‘It’s on my list to read, and I saw you bring it on board, and I just wanted to talk to you. …’ And then she started to cry.”
Over the years, American Airlines has not had the best track history when it comes to allegations of racism, and has even been called out by public figures, including rappers Wale and Joey BadA$$ and even political commentator Symone Sanders.
At the time, Sullivan told the news outlet that seeing someone who didn’t look like her reading a book on how to have a conversation on race “changed how I was thinking and what I was thinking.” She added, “It’s just been such a blessing to me.”