Thursday, September 15, 2005


Gather round, boys and girls. It's time for a story from your Uncle David.

I'm considering using the following tale as an introduction for a paper I'm writing. I'm curious therefore to know what people's reactions are to it, what they think the "message" is (if any), whether it seems superficial (or too obtuse), etc etc.. Of course, any comments on grammatical or stylistic matters would also be greatly appreciate.

It's been the end of a long day at the end of a long week. A young, white male rides down the subway escalator, anxious to return home. Today will be the first time he's been home before 9 o'clock since Sunday. It's hot inside the station and hot outside the station--no day to be wearing a suit. As he goes through the turnstiles, he sees a train is already on the platform ahead, picking up passengers. Quickening his pace, he strives to catch it before it leaves the station.

"Metro's been spotty this whole week. Who knows when the next one will arrive?"

As he approaches the car, he sees that it is rapidly filling up. Jammed to the hilt, it seems. Still, there is room for one more...

Just before he reaches the subway, a black woman appears seemingly out of nowhere and slides inside. They connect as he goes by--not quite a collision, but not quite a brush either. The train is full, the doors close. The young white man is left on the outside.

"Hey, what the hell? What are you trying to pull?" The young man screams. The car hasn't left yet, the African-American can still see him through the window. He gesticulates wildly, ranting, yelling, upset even though he doesn't really know why. The woman's eyes widen--she looks afraid, but he doesn't notice. He continues, animal, bestial, consumed.

"Fuck you" he finally says. She can't hear him (the windows block out the sound), but she can see his raised middle finger. He stalks off, to wait for the next car.

* * *

He's home now. The rage has worn off. He knows he over-reacted. Why was he so angry? He doesn't really know. "Must have been the heat," he thinks. Stress too.

He remembers the look on the woman's face as he yelled at her. My God, she probably thinks I'm a racist!" The thought weighs heavily upon him. He knows he's not a racist. He votes for progressive candidates. He supports affirmative action. He even attended rallies for racial justice when was in college. He can't be a racist...right?

She, of course, didn't know any of that. Which means that she is probably home right now, thinking about her near miss with the racist white guy in the subway station. For a flash, he's angry at her again. She should know better--it was rush hour, everybody is touchy. How dare she consider him a racist!

"Am I a racist?" The question pops unbidden, jarring, disconcerting. Was this an anomaly, a fluke, an unfortunate byproduct of, as he had justified it before, heat and stress?

He ponders this for a moment. Why was he so upset? Because she had taken the last spot on the train, that's why. He would have been angry no matter who it was. "And," he reminds himself, "I'd be upset afterwards about my reaction. It's not right to treat anyone that way."

In fact, he thinks, there’s no reason to think of this in racial terms at all. This was a tense moment between two rushed commuters at rush hour. Happens thousands of times across the country, every day. For that matter, why did he just assume that the woman thought of the incident as race-related? That's not fair to her—that's the very type of race-conscious thinking that does cause racism. Nope--this was just a tragic case of stress. He wasn't racist, she didn't think he was racist--racism was entirely, completely, totally irrelevant.

The man makes a mental note to apologize to the woman if he saw her again, knowing that in the multi-million person metropolis they lived in, the chances were slim to none. He feels bad about that--but what can he do?

He relaxes. All is calm again.


N.S.T said...

Uhh, hard as it is to evaluate this as you asked, seeing as we have no idea what context this is going to appear in(i.e. we know nothing about the paper) I'll try all the same. How come every time you make a point about race it has to be coached in an anecdote? No offense at all,I just wonder if anecodtal evidence is all that convincing, especially when it's a hypothetical situation you've come up with. I guess it doesn't appeal to the part of me that wants facts to back up the arguments he hears. Anyhow, on its own it isn't so bad, without any context or anything, though it is perhaps, if I know your motives well enough, a bit self-serving. I'd also like to point out that in the sentence where you ask for grammatical and stylistic suggestions you say that they'd be "greatly appreciate[sic]"Just found that funny. Anyhow, peace, I'm out.

jack said...

First, Nick regardless of any correspondence the story may or may not have with actual facts about the world it, to me at least, seems intuitively true. The anxiety and emotions displayed by White Male (WM) are SO typical of white progressives in ethnically/culturally homogeneous communities. Maybe you've never had an experience like WM's or maybe you have the solution to the problem that I (and David?) am wrestling with.

Dave describes a situation that happens to all of us all the time. We get angry with a stranger as a result of various circumstances on top of significant stress. The cherry on the Sunday Dave tops it off with (or the bowl that contains and provides context for the events) is the racial identity of the characters. As a result of the women's race WM is flushed with consternation. The options appear to be:
1. WM is an un(sub)conscious racist and as a result his animosity was amplified by her race. This phenomenon is pretty well documented and explained but I'll refrain from examples to keep this most free of seemingly partisan views :-) This seems implausible if only because he instantly recognizes the possibility of racism even if he later dismisses it.
2. WM is not a racist but the woman's skin color combined with white guilt inflated his already present shame for his reaction. He then recognizes the false conflation and blames BW for his shame. Again this is a projection of WM's conflicting feelings of innocence and shame projected on to BW.

Of course there’s the (unintended?) demonstration of corporate state-capitalism's destruction of dialogue, community and unity. Then again what would have happened if there had been some opportunity for discourse? Would BW not simply have accepted the apology and shrugged off any notion of race as part of the situation? BW is a MINORITY both in terms of power distribution and demographics. Since everyone gets treated like crap by strangers from time to time do we think BW would each time, feel like the animosity was raciallly motivated? Thus, it seems the neccesary and sufficient condition for this conflict is WM's isolation from and conception of African Americans as foreign.
Sorry for the redundant and unnecessary verbiage.