Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Who Sits Next to Black Men on Trains

I've been preparing for a class presentation and some of the readings involve perceptions of black men being unsavory, untrustworthy, confrontational, and deviant. Of course I know about these things. My father is a black man who talked about the daily frustrations regularly of these false images projected onto him.

However, sometimes I forget how salient those conversations were with my dad because I am very comfortable around black men. I guess that's why I never really pay attention to who sits next to one on the train or the bus.

Lately, I've been taking mental notes about who sits next to whom when riding the NJ Transit and the PATH rails into New York. Usually there is an empty seat reserved for the nothingness right next to a black man.

Like tonight, as I came from New York, the train was semi-crowded. There was one seat on my right that stood between myself and a brother. No one, and I mean absolutely no one took that seat.

What does this form of psychological racializing and assumptive behavior do to black men themselves and the people who consciously and unconsciously engage in the daily practices of dehumanization? And I am not absolved either.

For one, we miss out on social interactions that are priceless. Like the day I spoke to an older black man on the PATH train. It was a simple hello. This particular day the route we were taking became temporarily out-of-service as we stoo on the platform, so we had to reroute ourselves and go back up to 34th Street (New York's Penn Station) to catch another train into Newark.

The elder turned out to be a WWII Veteran who explained with detail and depth his experiences as a black soldier in Europe. It was better than Spike Lee's movie, Mircale at St. Anna's.

After we hooted and hollered about his experiences and his attempts to get proper Social Security at 80-plus years with a bum knee, he then told me how viciously segregated the New York and New Jersey trains were back in the 40s and 50s.

I wanted to tell him that in many ways, they still are.

As I think back to this older black man, it was a simple gesture that gave me access to historical gems from the lens of someone who is perceived as deviant.

I look back to that day. I now recognize that, that older man was as an extension of my father. Then I think about tonight as I ride the train, looking at the blue-collar, black man sit "alone" on a crowded train.

I ponder how my father or my significant other feels when people make it a point not to sit next to them. For this I cry.

We have created segragationist lines in our psyches and in our social stratum that cannot be erased by laws, but simply justify an inequitable system that bites us all in the ass.

4 ish talking intellectuals holla at a sista:

Goddess Intellect said...

We have created segragationist lines in our psyches and in our social stratum that cannot be erased by laws, but simply justify an inequitable system that bites us all in the ass.

A Filipino friend of mine sponsored a cousin from the Philippines to come live in Canada. When she first met me she was terrified. I later learned that although that country has indigenous black people she was taught to fear black people. We are undoubtedly the most powerful people on this earth, many of us are tall with powerful voices- we stand out. Beyond race I think most people are afraid of power…its seductive..the seduction is feared because its deemed as evil…
But all in all its that person’s lost…if you are ignorant enough to allow stereotypes control your mind that’s on you.

ayankha said...

I feel you and Goddess Intellectual. I attend an HBCU that is praised for Black diasporic diversity. And in one class, I was flabbergasted when another (grad) student expressed that she consciously crossed the street (in fear) when an approaching Black man was coming...and she was "Black on both sides". It is sad that this phenomenon happens within our culture as well.

AbdulAlim said...

I ride the same trains (nj transit,PATH)all the time and have had the same experience. This is the wisdom I've learned and I'll pass it on:
If white people didn't wish to sat by me that's fine with me. It takes absolutely NOTHING away from my dignity, humanity and self worth as a human being. It shows their sick and demented psycosis wher it comes to matters of humanity. I frankly could care less if a white person chooses to stand for one hour after having worked a grueling 8+ hour day rather than sit by me. He/she is the fool not me.
Stop thinking that the problem is with us as people rather than the psychological pathologies (narcissism, sociopathic personality disorders, neurosis)that white america finds itself unwilling and unable to confront.

Reggie said...

If you want to see segregation you can go to any school cafeteria in the country.

I had noticed that back when I lived in Jersey and would ride the trains or buses that no one ever seemed to sit next to me. But it never really bothered me, I appreciated the extra room. I didn't even actually notice it until I remember once reading a book on the subway and I happened to glance up to see a slew of people standing and more than one of them looking at the empty seat next to me.

It's funny, because thereafter, whether I was wearing a suit and a trench or just some jeans, I noticed the same behavior. But then again, I noticed that no matter how many times I held my hand up for a taxi, no one seemed to stop.

It is what it is.

We live in a god awful society, but hey, this is what we've got.