Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Yeah, I'm Going There.

Last night, on the way back from O’Hare, I had a hellish train ride that prompted this post. Now, before I say anything else, I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I am not now, nor will I ever be a racist. The color of a person’s skin, or the nation they come from, has absolutely no bearing on my impression of them, but this really did happen to me, and I’m not going to change it so that someone(s) won’t be offended.

I do, however, have to admit to discriminating against certain types of people based on their words and actions, and I make no apology for it. I have absolutely no tolerance for ignorance and rude behavior, especially when it comes in the form of someone’s complete lack of concern for those around them. Two things happened on that train ride home that had me reeling, and quite honestly, it kept me up thinking for most of the night.

Before I continue, though, I want to explain to you how I feel about the words “black” and “white” when describing a person, because I’m going to use them rather frequently. First, I am completely ok with being called “a white woman,” because, well, I am. Actually, I’m pinkish, but it’s the common term to use when describing a person of the Caucasian persuasion. However, I have a very hard time calling someone “black” because apparently, it isn’t PC anymore. I’m supposed to say “African American,” but I have a hard time with that too.

Let’s face it; whether your family’s ancestry is Chinese, Dutch or Nigerian, if you’re born in the US, as well as multiple generations of your family, you’re an American. Let me put it another way. If a black man went to France and someone asked him where he came from, he’d say America. He wouldn’t say America, by way of Africa, just as I wouldn’t say America, by way of Poland and Italy. Why is there such a need to qualify it?

Now back to the train ride and my issues…

When you catch a late flight in to O’Hare and hop on the El to get home, the train is usually packed. Travelers on their way home are joined by airport employees who have just finished their shift for the day. Sitting behind me were two young black women, both airport employees, speaking, nay, yelling at the top of their voices. Here’s a portion of their conversation, verbatim:

“Shit, girl, my motherfuckin’ boyfriend got his ass locked up again last night.”

“Damn. What that crazy ni**er do this time?”

Everyone on the train was looking at them. Some rolled their eyes, and some shook their heads. There was a family with three children sitting across from me, and I could see the father’s face turn red with anger. So I did what no one else was willing to do. I politely said, “Ladies, there are kids on the train. Would you please tone down the profanities?” My statement was promptly met with, “Why don’t you mind your own fucking business, bitch?”

After that exchange, I remained in my seat, forced to listen the two women behind me loudly saying things like “Who does that crazy white bitch think she is?” and “That cracker-ass bitch better keep her fucking mouth shut or I’ll kick her ass.” I refused to move, not willing to let them see how upset they’d made me. No one came to my defense, not even the pissed off father. He actually looked scared. When it was time for me to get off the train, I left to the sound of the women laughing and saying, “Yeah, you better run, bitch, before we get off this train and fuck you up.”

To say I was shaking at that point would be an understatement, but it wasn’t out of fear. I knew they wouldn’t do anything to me in front of all of those people. It was pure anger and disgust that had my adrenaline pumping. Amazing, isn’t it? All of that simply because I had the gall to ask them to do what common decency states as appropriate public behavior.

These women couldn’t care less who heard them, and even less if people were offended by them. Why is the blatant harassment of people still socially acceptable? Worse, why would someone, whose race is constantly fighting off negative stereotypes, actually behave in the very manner that created the stereotypes in the first place? Help me here, people, because I’m utterly baffled.

The other thing that bothers me is the blatant use of the “N” word. Now, we’ve already established the fact that I’m white, and being so, I cannot possibly imagine how that word makes a black person feel when it’s directed toward them. But why is it ok for black people to call each other that?

I grew up in a neighborhood where being white made me a minority. My group of friends covered nearly a full spectrum of skin colors, and none of us gave a rat’s ass where the others’ families came from. Two of the boys in our group of friends, Shay and Gerard were black, not that any of us really noticed. We all just loved being together.

I clearly remember being at Gerard’s house for dinner one night, when after a silly argument, Gerard said to Shay, “Ni**er, please!” His mother heard it, flew across the room, and slapped him so hard across the face that you could see the imprint of her hand.

It didn’t matter to her that it was said in jest. It was derogatory, plain and simple, and she let him know it. So why, in this day and age of supposed enlightenment, is this ugly word still being used, and by the people whose ancestors fought so hard to have removed from our nation’s vocabulary?

Can someone please explain this to me, because I really don’t understand any of it? What is it going to take for all of us to be respectful and kind to one another? Is it really that hard?

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