Thursday, March 31, 2011

Eating on The Subway Means That you are an Animal

Urban areas are cramped and we spend a great deal of time negotiating these spaces and tolerating behaviour that we find unacceptable. Not everyone is going to have the same view about what is considered rude, but when we take offense at behaviour that is not harming anyone or directed at us, the potential to open up a can of worms can be huge.

The following video apparently was taken in New York City.  Two Black women are seated together and one is eating pasta.  A white woman is clearly offended that someone would dare to eat on the subway, and calls the woman an animal.  Clearly the reduction of a Black woman's humanity by a woman who at the very least has White passing privilege is based in racism. 

This incident quickly escalated, and what bothers me about it is that the Black women were clearly viewed as the aggressors and told to sit down.  How would this have changed if even one person had taken this woman to task for her racist language?  Why is it always left to Black people to speak out against racist treatment publicly?  I know that in urban areas there is a tendency not to get involved in issues that we see as not our business, but this mode of thought also allows for the public abuse of marginalized bodies.  How is it that the U.S. is supposedly post racial, when not even one person will see it as their responsibility to intervene in an obviously racially based attack? Perhaps she would prefer if Black people went back to eating in the slave cabins. No matter how you feel about someone eating in a public space, it is not your place to reduce anyone in this fashion.

Here is a little thing that racists often forget, in the U.S., they may have a right to free speech, but people of colour have the right to respond in kind.  The moment the Black women made it clear to her that they were offended, she immediately threatened them with jail. It seems that today, even a non-violent response to racist treatment is enough for White people to feel threatened.  It really is quite simple, don't start none, won't be none.

Bigots like this woman seem to forget that they are accountable for their actions and language.  It is not safe to assume that just because you have something rude and racist to say, that a Black person will be willing to turn the other cheek.  We are not all docile Uncle Toms. Racists would certainly be better off remembering that many of people of colour have run out of cheeks to turn, and the expression of their racist ideas might find them on the receiving end of a lot more than they had planned.