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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

An Insightful Train Ride

A few days ago I was riding the subway to meet Derek. It was right before the 5 o'clock rush so there were relatively few people on the train. An African American man who had been sitting across from me got up to exit the subway, but before he left he screamed as loud as he could, "I fu*#'n hate white people!" The incredibly loud declaration was filled with so much emotion, passion and force I took what he said at face value. As the doors closed I felt deep in my heart that he indeed did hate white people, maybe he even hated me.

I looked around at the other passengers. The vast majority, surprisingly, were white guys like me. With the exception of a few Latinos and two or three African Americans, we were all of Anglo-decent. No one else seemed phased by the hateful explosion (granted this is NYC and the masses don't get phased easily) but no one seemed the least bit upset by the event. Everyone went right back to their ipad, book, music or game after the shock of the man's explosive voice faded away.

I, on the other hand, felt my face grow red hot. I was surprised by my involuntary response, and because my initial shock was quickly morphing into embarrassment that border-lined on shame. I felt stripped of identity and arbitrarily reduced to nothing more than a meaningless social construct known as "skin color".

I looked at the African American man sitting across from me squarely in the face and wondered, "Do you hate me too because of the color of my skin? What about my son? Is someone so beautiful and innocent a symbol of disgust to you too?"  I quickly looked away and felt my face grow red hot again.

It's not just the hate that was so upsetting (although, as Derek knows, I have a very LOW tolerance for any kind of violence -- including hate. So yes, that's upsetting but that's not what shamed me). It was hating me -- or someone classified as being "like me" -- based on something I cannot control, something that is part of me but does no define me, my skin.

I thought about all the people who had been hated for the same stupid reason, and maybe I'm going too far here, but I honestly felt the tinniest  bit of understanding for some of the complexities and degrading properties of prejudice. I wasn't upset, rather I felt as though my eyes had been opened ever so slightly to a side of an issue that had been so unfamiliar to me before and for that I am grateful. I hope that particular encounter makes me a more loving, open and accepting member of society.

After I told Derek about the incident, he told me he wonders what someone has experienced in life to feel such a lack of acceptance for other members of the human race -- for people who are just like him. Indeed. I just hope for myself or anyone in my family, we will never be the means of propagating such intolerance and hate for the future generations.

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