During the election campaign when the county court clerk, or county clerk employee, called FLOTUS Michelle Obama “an ape in high heels,” I was deeply hurt and offended and I supported those signing a petition to have her removed from her government post.
It was my view that the issue was not one of free speech, but about a person paid with taxpayers’ funds abusing and discriminating against a person of color. It shook me that someone who held public office, now believed that courtesy was unnecessarily, politically correct and that hate-filled rants and quips were acceptable. I recognized that a tide in public conduct and discourse was turning, from a culture of tolerance to one of open intolerance.
I felt then that the creep of hatred, #racism and social alienation can be insidious and unless stopped, there is a danger that it can become institutionalized, accepted, acceptable and mainstreamed and harm the fabric of the country. It is therefore necessary to put our foot down every time behavior like that displayed by the clerk, raises its head.
For a week now I have been mulling over two incidents that happened to me in New York, in this the time of this new president. Barbadians say, “when you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind.” The problem with that is, you cannot control the whirlwind, where it goes, who and what it sweeps us and destroys.
I watched during the campaign as very dangerous rhetoric of race, xenophobic sentiments and attitudes were unleashed and whipped up. I had no doubt that there were people who, if Trump won, would feel that it was open season on Brown and Black people. I have watched since elections and listened to the increase in racist incidents as we go about our daily life. Now it has actually touched me.
Two Thursdays ago, I was standing in #Penn Station next to a column. I was pretty much tucked out of the way as I was making a phone call and I wanted to complete it before I went deeper into the subway and lost connection.
I saw a man walking in my direction with “spinners” suitcases. I was not in his way so I went on with my call and he fell off my radar, until I felt the most intense pain on the toes of my right foot. I cannot say the man ran the suitcase over my foot deliberately. What I can say is that I was not in his path and to reach my foot, he and his suitcases had to veer off their walking line and come to the right, avoid the column that was next to me, which he would have reached first, and still manage to run over my foot. That took a lot of “steering.”
So let me say, recalling my days as a lawyer drafting and defending legal pleadings, “that the walker with the spinners suitcases, so failed to manage, direct, control, or maneuver, the suitcases that they ran over my right foot resulting in injury to me and damage to my shoe.” The walker did not pause, stop or say sorry but walked rapidly on, leaving me in shock. The speed with which he walked away suggests that the walker’s actions were not accidental.
I finished my business and got the subway to my meeting. There were empty seats on both sides of the train. I chose a block of 3, sitting on the extreme right of the block, leaving 2 empty seats on my left. After about 2 stops, a man got on the train. He chose not only to sit in the same block of seats I had chosen, but of the 2 empty seats next to me, he chose the one on my immediate left rather than the one on the extreme left.
Those of you who know the NY subway culture would know that if there are 3 empty seats and someone comes on, they generally sit in the one furthest away from a seated passenger and not next to them. You only sit next to people when the train is full and you do not have options.
Before we could get to the next train stop, the man who is now seated on my left, turned to me and starts to talk loudly. I ignored him. He is asking offensive questions. Then he tells me “Look at you. #Jesus Christ was a White man, but you are a monkey.” I said nothing. He repeated it, laughing and becoming more crude, vile and abusive. I do not turn. I do not look at him. My toes are still hurting from the suitcase being dragged over them. I sit with my eyes ahead. I say nothing. I never turn my body or glance in his direction.
I was actually praying, “Lord this man is talking with his mouth which he is entitled to do, but please do not let this man touch me. This will not end well if he does.”
The abuse does not stop. At every station people get on and off. The #train is filling up, but no one comes near us. And no one says a word to him. Not “stop it.” Not “leave the woman alone.” Not “behave yourself, this woman has not troubled you.” Not “this is unacceptable.” Not a single word was uttered. No one comes to my defense.
Passengers look on with sympathy, contempt, amusement, disgust, with apparent support for the man, or support for me, but to the person, they are silent. And my abuser does not stop his tirade. He was clearly trying to goad and provoke me and the fact that I would not even glance in his direction really seemed to annoy him. I thought of telling this man something really scathing, but 16 years ago, when someone had tried to harm my father and I had lost my temper, sworn and behaved badly, my Dad said to me, “Liz, always remember who you are.”
I sit on that train, silent. I remember that I was raised to respect myself and others. I remember what my parents and my country expect of me. I remember that I am a professional, that I have 4 degrees and am a high earning individual. I think, “Liz, you haven’t done badly for a monkey.” I remember the racist abuse people I know have experienced since elections. Good, decent, hard working, law abiding people, who just happen to be Brown or Black. I hear this man’s racist abuse. He has come so close to me that I can smell his breath, several cutting comments and put downs come to my mind, but I do not let my mouth utter them.
We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!
OKSubscriptions powered by Strikingly