As the doors of the subway car slide closed a pained wail issues from down the platform. “STOP!”
The entire car gazes inquisitively out the windows. A young black man runs by. A moment passes. A young Asian woman rushes by. “STOP!” a rush of anger floods the car. Some passengers edge towards the shut doors seething impotently at the empty platform before them.
Not me. I seethe at the young man. The black boy who would steal a purse in utter disregard of me and every other black person on the car who will bare the shame of his actions with me and of every young black man who will now unwillingly be branded purse-snatcher in his stead.
The car comes alive with vitriol in 5 different languages. I wonder how many languages have ‘nigger’ in them. I wonder how many colloquial stories are being spoken invoking the spirits of young men like this young man. Black faces not to be trusted. Purse-snatchers. Seething not at the platform after all but at the young man. (I pause. reflect. redirect.)
Not me. I seethe at each individual in that car who will judge millions with what they have seen here today. I seethe at everyone who has ever stopped me or my brother in a corner store and at every cab that has ever raced past a weary black body desperate for the warmth of home after a long night.
Between the pockets of rage there are those who are silent. Whose expressions say more than 5 languages combined. There is a terror in those eyes. I see histories of violent crimes committed in the same darkened streets we are collectively lurching towards in that subway car. A gun at her temple. A boot to his rib cage. A wallet or purse-snatched along with something intangible that they haven’t yet figured how to get back. They seethe not at a young man but at a danger he has been representing to them long before this night. (I pause. reflect. redirect)
Not me. I seethe at a society that victimizes us twice. Victimizing the one whose story is echoing in the walls of that subway stop and victimizes a race of people along with that girl. People who won’t be allowed to be an individual. People who can’t have the luxury of being responsible for their actions alone. Even the purse-snatcher, who was a purse-snatcher long before this day and many worse things besides. I seethe at a society that makes me choose sides between a woman, traveling alone, who was robbed, who may have been me on a different evening, and the young black man who is forced to represent us all. Not a person but something else altogether, pulsing and breathing in the undercurrent of every action that we take.
And as the doors open and shut again, I seethe impotently at the empty platform before me.