Play that Funky Music

From my house in Jersey City, there are several ways to get to Manhattan via public transportation. I’ve been trying them all over the past week, because I detest commutes and it is definitely worth a series of calibrated clinical trials to find the fastest and easiest combination of walking/bus/train/subway. I am deeply committed to working hard in the name of laziness.

While waiting for one of the bus options the other morning, a small school bus stopped at the adjacent light. A couple of African American teenagers stuck their heads out the window and began yelling something, the only word of which I caught was “Patriots” (it was a few days after the Super Bowl). I figured they must know the other guy waiting at the bus stop, and they were throwing some sport-related smack, as would be appropriate for any urban teenager at 7:30 in the morning. I ignored them and continued to watch for the freakin’ bus.

After a few more seconds the kids became more zealous, and I heard “you know, you look like a real cunt. Yeah, you just drink your coffee there, cracker. CRACKER!!!” I thought “huh, strange, that guy standing there is Filipino and he isn’t even drinking… hey, wait a second.” By the time I looked up at them for who the hell knows what purpose, the bus was pulling away, but the shrieks of “cracker!” kept coming. The Filipino guy just looked away and seemed relieved when our bus pulled up soon after.

As I sat on the bus thinking about what had just occured, my first reaction was to be personally offended at being the victim of this “reverse racism” as some blowhards like to call it. I felt a gut need to go back and respond to them with something real clever like “what the hell, how would you like it if I called you a bleepin’ bleep! You don’t even know me, mean children!” Of course I soon realized how idiotic it was to take it personally, or to feel justified in any kind of retaliation. My next thought was to blame their elders and be extremely upset at the fact that no one had taught these kids that malicious intimidation doesn’t solve anything, and that their actions would only breed more antagonism and social division. Then I thought, “fuck this, I should move.”

When it gets right down to it, though, that kinda needed to happen. Not that I specifically deserved it, or that it was ok, but sheltered white liberals need a little reminder every once in a while that we’re not going to get any kind of credit just for our attitudes and the kinds of discussions we have when we go out to dinner. I didn’t get harrassed for my race, because there are other white people in my neighborhood– I got harrassed because there are not many very obviously over-educated white girls who use a flat iron on their hair every morning and drink coffee out of chrome travel mugs on the way to their title-inflated jobs in Midtown. Those kids don’t know that my job is to help them afford and succeed in college, and if they did they probably wouldn’t care, because chances are what I do won’t ever actually affect them one bit. All they see is the slow invasion of liberal yuppies who don’t mind living among them for convenience to the city and cheap rent, and who will eventually drive up housing costs to the point that they and their families will have to move. Not that they’ve necessarily thought all of that through, but they have some instinctual sense that my living in their neighborhood doesn’t actually signal the triumph of love and diversity.

Even though that little event shook me up a bit, I don’t actually feel unsafe in my neighborhood (seriously Mom), and I do stick out like crazy so I shouldn’t expect to be either ignored or embraced. I’m not going to save the world or anything close, but the best thing I can do is learn what I need to from any given situation and take it as motivation to do what I can and not sweat the rest of it.

And now I think I’m going to go pay $12 for chicken salad. Have a great day.

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2 Comments

  1. AuntieK

     /  February 15, 2005

    Think of yourself as a pioneer — in my day, it was Brooklyn; in Jen’s day it was Hoboken; now it’s Jersey City. (But it is a fur piece from the Coleman pied-a-terre, n’est pas?)

  2. I think you handled yourself beautifully.

    When I lived in a bad neighborhood, I would always see this black man in his purple car…he’d be sitting out in front of my building. All day. Every time we’d see each other, he’d point at me and scream, ” HAHA F*&S& WHITE GIRL!”. Eventually, I just started smiling and waving at him.

    Yes. Just pretend they’re saying those things with affection.

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