Early morning subway rides are usually boring affairs, with sparsely populated cars and half-asleep people moving to or from work. This morning, however, the train was a bit more full than usual and a somewhat startling incident had the train abuzz with chatter.
Three stops after I got on, an African-American gentlemen boarded the train. He was homeless, and as he started his spiel, he shook the coins in his hat. He ended with a curiously offensive and bitter comment that I had yet to hear on a subway car: "...and if I could get a donation from one Asian person today, that would be great." He had boarded the F train at East Broadway, the Chinatown stop. An Asian gentleman sitting just to his right, upon hearing the comment, retorted: "Up yours!" The man asking for change then proceeded to make some obscene gestures and comments, and things looked to be heating up. The man sitting kept his cool, and the change-seeker went on his way down the aisle.
All of us half-asleep commuters were wide awake now. It was clear that not everyone had heard the entire exchange. Questions and comments went flying: "what did he say?" and "the guy just wanted some change, leave him alone for chrissake" and "why you gotta ask him what he wants the money for, I have half a mind to punch that chinaman". Where that last comment came from, I have no idea.
It was a lesson in mob rule, as well as both perceived and real racism. As I had heard and watched the entire exchange, I attempted to explain it to the people sitting around me. But I found that people had heard and seen what they wanted to hear and see, and I wondered if I had done the same? No, I had clearly heard that last pernicious sentence, and it had soured me. Sympathetic comments to both parties fell along racial lines, while others on the train seemed indifferent.
I certainly understand when people are down and out, and Lord knows I'd like to believe that people would help me were I in such a situation, but to express frustration at the cards you've been dealt through comments such as that is only going to alienate those from whom you seek help.
It's been awhile!
4 years ago