Friday, October 9, 2009

More musings on racism, or is it insanity that worries me?

You experience the best and worst of humanity on a light rail train.

Earlier this week a video was posted on YouTube which was taken by a rider of San Francisco’s notorious MUNI system. The video, taken with a cell phone, showed two women, one black, one Asian (probably Chinese) arguing on a seat on the bus. The back story was this: the black woman was taking up two seats, one for her behind, the other had packages. The Asian lady asked the black lady to move over, thereby necessitating the black lady to put her packages on the floor or on her lap.

The black lady refused to do so. The encounter quickly became a shouting match with the black woman finally throwing a punch at the much older Asian lady. The older Asian lady fought back, and finally another female passenger broke up the fight (the person who took the video, a male, stated he’d been confronted on the bus the previous week, so I guess he wasn’t into the idea of getting between those two women). He bus driver did not stop the bus, nor were the police called, nor was anyone tossed from the bus.

SF authorities claim to be investigating.

Today on my way into work on the light rail, a very loud Hispanic man boarded the train two stops after I boarded. He looked to be in his 40s, and he was disheveled in appearance. Did I say he was loud?

(Let me preface this by saying I was in a good mood, the light rail operator waited for me to gimp to the train at my stop, instead of driving off as I’m moving my crippled legs as fast as they can carry me. I was feeling nothing but love for my fellow man. Nothing like an obnoxious person to kill the good vibes.)

This loud man sat next to a quiet Asian man across from two young white women and me. I was wearing sunglasses and tried my best to ignore the guy, to not encourage any sort of conversation. He turned to the women and said something about their noses, his speech was garbled but not in an “I’m drunk” way. It was the kind of speech I remember hearing during my psych nursing rotation—words strung together in meaningless sentences that make sense to no one but the speaker. Of course he got angry when the women said “Huh? What are you asking?” He then turned to the man in the seat behind him, another Latino, shook his hand and then started speaking very loudly in Spanish, talking about burritos and tacos. Eventually the second man returned to his book.

By this time the women had left the train and the guy slid across the aisle to the empty seats. I’m still sitting there going “please God I’m not in the mood.” At the stop where the women exited, a black male with his hair in dreadlocks boarded. He was wearing Oakland Raiders gear and looked benign.

The loud Hispanic man said “Do you ever wash those things?”, referring to the black man’s dreads, which were obviously clean. The black man asked the Hispanic man to repeat the question, and then he answered, “Of course I wash them every day.”

The Hispanic man asked “With what?” At this point this sounded like a young child asking obnoxious questions that people don’t tend to get irritated by because it’s a kid asking. But coming from a 5’10” poorly groomed Hispanic man, it’s not so cute.

The black man said “With shampoo, of course.”

Hispanic man said, “Looks like you use motor grease.”

Black man turned away, obviously looking to avoid a confrontation.

Hispanic man asked, “Are you homeless?”

Black man replied, “No, are you?”

Hispanic man said, “I know I look homeless but I’m not. I think you have lice. You smell bad.”

Black man just stood there, I am sure not believing what he’s hearing. I looked up at him and just shrugged, shook my head.

Hispanic man said, “Can you go stand somewhere else? You smell and you have lice. I don't want to get lice from you.”

Fortunately it was my stop and I was glad to exit the train. I probably would have anyway for fear that little encounter would escalate.

Of course I am wondering if the Hispanic man was mentally ill. But let’s say he wasn’t.

More and more I am seeing people of color “attack” each other, and even “attack” within their own group. For the life of me I can’t understand why that Hispanic man felt it was okay to insult the dreadlocks-wearing man like he did. He did not smell, and while I’m not a fan of dreads on anyone, it’s his right to wear ‘em.

The way things are in the U.S., if a white person had been the Hispanic person in this story, you can bet that the other Hispanic people on the train would have read the riot act to the white guy. But why is color-on-color racism not as serious?

I was sick, and wished I could have walked to the front to the train faster to let the operator know there was a problem back there.

Why do people pull crap like that simply based on skin color? What’s so hard about being color blind and being humane to one another?


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