Saturday, January 27, 2018

A Scene from Trump's America

While riding the bus home from work yesterday, I encountered an ugly interaction. I was seated at the back. The bus was remaining at a stop for a long time. Then I saw that the driver had lowered the ramp and an elderly black woman with one of those walkers with wheels was getting on. All of the seats in the handicapped section were filled and she upbraided the ungentlemanly occupants in a distinct Jamaican accent. "This is for the handicapped," she shouted. "Please one of you get up and let a poor, helpless old lady sit down." She sounded far from helpless. I had stopped paying attention and went back to my book (The Swans of Fifth Avenue on my Kindle app on my I-phone). But then another voice began shouting as loudly as the black woman's, hurling racist invective. "Who do you think you are, you old hag?" was coming from a tall white guy in his late 30s or early 40s. Evidently, the black woman had shamed him into getting up because he standing across from her. The woman called him an idiot. He answered with slurs on her race and accent, "Look in the mirror. You notice there are no people like you in this neighborhood. You're not wanted here. Go back to your shithole country where you came from. Trump was right about Haiti and those other shitholes."

The black lady just laughed at the man. He then got more specific and said Trump was going to get rid of her and her kind. "Back to Ethiopia or the Caribbean or wherever you came from." He then made a gesture with his hand indicating get out or get lost. The lady laughed "You think I'm from Ethiopia, man, you are ignorant." The guy didn't seem to like being laughed at and told her again Trump was going to deport her. She just smiled and said "We shall see, we shall see." No one else on the crowded bus joined in or confronted either of the parties. I felt like saying something. I wanted to yell at this jerk, "She has just as much right to be here as you do. You don't know anything about here, you just make assumptions because of her race and accent. People like you and Trump--I won't call him the President--make me ashamed to be an American."

The white man hurled his invective non-stop until he got off at the same stop as me. I didn't say anything to him, but on the way off the bus, I told the black old lady, "He's a racist. He makes me embarrassed to be an American." She laughed and smiled at me. I saw the man walking down the street far ahead of me. He had a little girl of about 12 with him. I felt like saying to him, "Is that your daughter? You're teaching her to be rude, racist, and ignorant. You're a terrible father." But I just kept walking home.

The incident made me think of a similar one a few years ago. It was in a Wendy's in Queens. There were two presumably gay guys sitting near me talking to each other in a somewhat stereotypical fashion, maybe they were a little loud, maybe they were a little effeminate. A young Asian couple right next to me starting complaining to each other. "I hate fags. Why do they have to be here? Why can't they just shut up?" Just like with the white guy on the bus, I wanted to confront them. I wanted to say "If you don't like gays, then get out of New York. Go move to Kansas or someplace like that, because we gays run this town. How would you like it in someone starting talking that way about Asians right in front of you?" Instead I picked up my food tray and moved to another part of the restaurant.

Racists like that guy on the bus probably don't even think of themselves as racist. Trump has made it OK to voice such detestable sentiments in public. Yes, people have to right to say whatever they want, but they are emboldened to spread hate because they think the President agrees with them--and he does. I'm really afraid that with the economy doing well, too many voters will say "I don't care about Trump's racism or his sleeping with a porn star or anything else as long as I have a job and money for cable TV."

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