Racism Rides the Metro, too (The Fire Next Time)

I have been living in washington, dc for nearly six months now and i have experienced more racism than i ever have in my life.  it’s as if the air is polluted in a smog of racism causing division amongst white and black people.  i imagined it today as a pot of hot water boiling (or worse, oil) spilling over the pot causing the fire sizzle.  the overflowing water or oil is white people, agitating the fire, and the escalating fire is black people. the fire is escalating and the oil continues spilling over.

Today, on my way to work i got on the redline train, sat down and start reading my book, the fire next time by James Baldwin. i’m sure it was no coincidence.  As the train doors close and the train begins to pull off, I hear the voice of a black man, angry (hurt) and speaking loudly.  a voice begging to be heard by everyone on the train.  i hear him saying, talking, venting, or maybe speaking at one the white passengers on the train or all the white people for that matter.  “i’m tired of this racist shit!,” he proclaimed.  for some reason, i was excited as i have been every time a racist encounter happens on the train during my commutes. the racial hostility is so intense at times that i feel better and more relaxed when that tension is acknowledged and then, for me, the unspoken stress and awkwardness will be diminished.

i wanted to hear a heated discussion on race.  i wanted to hear him rant and he did.  but no one responded to him.  he said that white people have ruined the entire world, “look at all this shit happening,” he yelled, “and i can’t even hold $20 to get enamel to feed my child.” wow. i was sitting there amazed, really at his honesty and his vulnerability as a man–a black man.  his openness with a train full of people.  but i know that other people, white and black, must have thought he was crazy and angry.  he was angry.  and his anger, to me, was justified.  after about five minutes and other black people telling him to be quiet, he made a threat to blow up the train. saying since they want to blow up shit, he was gone blow up the train.  white women ran off the train at the next stop.

i learned a lot from this. his anger originally started with a dispute over a seat with a white person and escalated into a glimpse of the reality in the life of black men in this country.  i wanted to tell him that i understood. i felt bad that i wasn’t close enough to him to see him, to look in his eyes.  it was sad.  the white people on the train stared straight ahead acting as if they could not hear him.  to them, he was just another ignorant, loud nigger. invisible and not important or valuable enough to pay any attention to. to me he was a king.  a god.  this happened because people needed to hear what he had to say. people will go home and tell their friends and family and get to work and tell their co-workers about what that black man said on the train this morning.  “he said that black people are kings and that this is the black man’s world,” i could imagine them repeating.

from this, i wondered, are black people on the same page in the fight against racism? do we want to tackle it and dismantle the very fabric of this country in order to rebuild it? or do we want to live in a color blind society? are we comfortable with where we are? the black man sitting next to me was as unbothered as the white people were, reading his book, while other black people attempt to shut the man up, cursing and angry with him for disrupting the illusion of equality amongst black and white people on the train.  like the obedient slave, defending their master. people are terrified to talk about race and racism.  black people are afraid of being angry and exploding and white people are afraid of that happening.

white people are passive aggressive.  they provoke black people.  on trains, on platforms, in the metro, in our everyday commute, they are rude. if you are black, they bump into you and don’t say excuse me.  they won’t move for you. if you are on the platform they will bump you rather than moving, respectfully, as most decent people do.  the hate that they exude is alarming to me, from the time i moved here and everyday after.  i couldn’t help but think of james baldwin’s the fire next time, the book burning in my hands.  God gave noah the rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time.

the time before this, on the train, a black man was sitting in front of two white women.  the women were laughing obnoxiously, giggling.  he first asks them to stop laughing in his ear. they continue.  he then raises his voice telling them to show him some respect. and that he was tired of this bullshit.  “i’m tired of you white motherfuckers disrespecting me!” he proclaimed, words i won’t forget anytime soon, or that moment.  the white woman said that she did not respect him and they ran off of the train at the next stop. i can imagine white women saying that and feeling that they have no reason to respect black people, black men.

another instance happened with a black woman.  she was standing up, holding on to the rail and a white man must have pushed her or passively made her move for him.  she went off for the rest of the ride. i won’t forget this either because she was right in front of me, looking me in the eyes, as if she was talking to me. as if we were having a conversation.  she talked about “euro-peens,” as she pronounced it. “the devils,” she referred to them as.  everyone was looking at her or ignoring her like she was crazy, but the only crazy part was that she was telling the truth.  the guy on the train this morning said the same thing, “devils.”

From these confrontations to all of the glares, stares, pushing and bumping, or the blatant disregard of white people toward black people (not wanting to take an empty seat to avoid sitting next to a black person, especially if that person is a black man) it never surprises me when these altercations occur.  relief from the racial tension, thick and engulfing, is a good enough reward. it’s freedom.

fuel for the revolution?

m.j.

5 Comments

Filed under Race

5 responses to “Racism Rides the Metro, too (The Fire Next Time)

  1. Taylor

    It’s sad. Especially when black people think racism isn’t their fight. Were all going through it. Dark skin, light skin, med. skin, etc. Were all black and originating from Africa. This is probably going south from what your post was about but I thought I would share this little short story..

    I was sitting in the café at my school last semester with a group of my friends and someone proceeded to asked me what was my “race” because my hair was so curly and thought that I had to be mixed with “white”. I stated that I was African and Jamaican. My mother is African and my father was Jamaican. (I was asked by someone that I hadn’t really known all that well. A friend of a friend) My actual friend decided to speak on the fact that “I wasn’t African because my mother was born here and he’s tired of black folk trying to make it seem like we are so important or were exotic”. Now I prefer to refer to myself as African because that’s what I Identify with. The American to me is just thrown on because that’s where I was born but my ancestors and my family are from Africa. We got into a heavy debate about religion and culture and it just opened my eyes to how ignorant some people can be. It saddened me because there is so much history and story about our background that he doesn’t care to know. To understand. But you can change everyone. I was just happy I was able to enlighten him and get my thoughts out there.

    I appreciate your blog so much and I want to say thank you for sharing these stories and your words of wisdom with us. Thank you sista.. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Queen! I appreciate you for sharing your story. it’s so important to talk about these things! i’ve realized that if we don’t talk about the racism and prejudice that we experience as black people we will continue to turn the other cheek on our brothers and sisters who become victims of much more damaging acts of racism and hatred. I feel you. Without a doubt, no questions to be asked, I am African. Being born in this country is the only thing that makes me American. I’ve encountered some black people who swear up and down and curse this, claiming no parts of Africa, only America. And it is sad and i do think it comes from having no knowledge of self, no knowledge of our history. We have to continue to enlighten each other. Malcolm X once said that the black man in america will always be more african than he is american. and this is true. for black people who say that they are simply “american” i explain to them how every system in america is set up for us to fail, and has failed us from slavery to right now.

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  2. I agree, it is difficult to address the matter of racism today. I like your headliner, “unapologetically Black, unashamedly Woman.” No one should have to apologize for their identity. I believe we all came from one God and that He gave us all our diverse physical ethnic traits as gifts in order to appreciate those in each other. That being said, I am unapologetically White. Sometimes I refer to myself as European, so I see nothing wrong with African Americans calling themselves African. After all, America is still a relatively young country.

    However, ignoring an angered stranger and their “motherfuckers,” “I’ll blow shit up,” and ‘euro-peen devils” is something I would have to applaud. If you greet me with “motherfucker,” you get no respect because you gave none. I believe you would find the same interaction between two or more people of the same ethnicity. A lot of white people don’t trust other white people who are culturally different from them and treat them as you have described these white treating black. I do not say all this in an attempt to dismiss your point, but as sincere input from someone with a slightly different perspective. My opinion is my own. Great thoughts! We should not be afraid to speak up.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I appreciate your opinion. I agree with your perspective in that we should be able to appreciate the cultural differences of all people and that we were all written by the same hand. I would love to see a world, a nation, a moment in time when that can happen throughout the world. imagine the peace that would come from that. But unfortunately everyone doesn’t agree with that, especially those that have the “power” to change things on a systematic level. That’s why it is important to talk about racism and break down the barriers that we have between each other and not pass on moments that can be used to enlighten someone, even if they do include the occasional “motherfucker,” so that we can change the way we view and treat others that are different from us. Having regular conversations will lower the chances of people having cathartic outbursts on the metro, if anything. I found it really interesting where you said that a lot of white people don’t trust other white people who are culturally different from them and i would like to hear more about that.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I really appreciate your civility in discussion. As far as “I” can tell, racism is really more “culturism,” as in we associate a specific person of a given ethnicity with all of the traits of his/her culture or subculture. But we many times do this prematurely. As I’m sure you are aware, our ethnicity, its inherit culture, and subcultures certainly do not dictate the entirety of our personal identities. As human beings, we often underestimate the depth of the human identity, even within ourselves and so reduce it to our skin color, heritage, or culture. Everyone’s perception, connotations, and experiences of “racism,” are vastly different in their own minds. This is mine.

        I believe that what we call “racism” has many forms. The violent, hateful kind stems from cultural disgust and sometimes a mistaking skin color for that culture. In my experience, “racism” is often a two-way street without a belief in a specific “superior race.” It is at times, not intentional hatred but a lack of the knowledge that no matter our “descent,” a little further back we all descend from Adam and Eve.

        Other times it “can” stem from Nationalism and frustration with immigrants competing for their jobs. America experienced this post-Civil War with the arrival of Irish and Chinese immigrants. Britain went through this in the 1980s especially when the “Bonehead/’69 Skinhead revival” was born (the movie “This Is England” does a great job of portraying this movement without an overarching bias). How ever we feel about it, we are faced with it now with illegal immigrants from Central and South America. I have to say that I sympathize with this cause.

        The distrust between white people that I described before, I believe, is more of this “culturism.” I grew up in a rural town full of mostly lower-middleclass white people in west-Appalachian Bible Belt. However, their were many more wealthy white families just outside of the county. At times, I was part of both of these cultures. Common but varying connotations of the lower-class to lower-middleclass white people by upperclass white people were that we were irresponsible, illiterate, dishonest, animal-abusing, child-abusing, politically-liberal, sometimes lazy and lived off the government, possible-substance-abusers, overall immoral, at times just un-Christian in behavior trailer trash. Before I go on, I have to add that at many times, these were very true to our character. You had good reason to be wary of us in certain situations. Connotations of the upperclass white people by lower-class white people, were that we are greedy, Capitalistic, overly-religious, over-educated, arrogant, intolerant, never-worked-a-day-in-his-life Republicans. At times, this was also very true. But none of these connotations of either were absolute. There were many, many exceptions to our stereotypes of each other. But still, there was the subconscious/conscious wariness/distrust of each other as just that. At the end of the day, all we could do was demonstrate the character and virtue in our own hearts (or lack of) and let it shine through either the greasy overalls, tobacco-stained face, illiteracy, and lotto tickets, or the Polo shirts, Italian leather shoes, Christian rhetoric, and the Lexus sedans. And then, we will rightfully be subject to one another’s judgement.

        Personally, I believe that only God can give us the wisdom and right mindset to eliminate “racism.”

        Please excuse the rambling, but I hope this was cordial enough! I have to check myself when expressing my opinion so as to not become too passionate. Emotion clouds my better judgement. Thank you for the intelligent conversation!

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