Me and White Guys… Part 1
The problems happen most often on public transportation. It tends to play out like this: I am sitting on the train. A white guy gets on the train, approaches the place I am sitting. He may sit next to me, or he may stand close by. I begin to think things like “He better not hit me with his backpack [newspaper, elbow, briefcase, whatever] and think he can get away with it.” Then, slowly at first, I begin to seethe very quietly. If he does not impinge upon my personal space, the seething calms down and dies away, possibly without me even noticing that it ever started.
If I do get bumped, smacked or swiped with an offending extensor, usually it goes like this: I look at the white dude to see if he noticed his breach of personal space. If he does and apologizes, the seething begins to settle. If he doesn’t, I begin to try to catch his eye, making faces meant to communicate ‘Ahem – I think you owe me an apology.’ If that doesn’t work, then I start to stare at him pointedly, waiting for him to notice me, all the while thinking ‘See? I knew it! Look – I’m mister Center-of-the-Univers-White-Guy! I don’t have to pay attention to the world around me ’cause I’m mister Center-of-the-Univers-White-Guy, and everyone should just get out of my way.’ Obviously this is incendiary, and I start to really get upset. This is usually where I get my first glimpse of my behavior from a semi-objective point of view (I use objective in the very loosest sense of the word here), and I then begin to feel conflicted. While I’m having this imaginary fight in my head with this guy I don’t know, I start to realize that I have no idea what’s going on in his head, that it’s unfair to put my anger on him in this way, and that I’m probably as careless sometimes when my head is in the clouds. At the same time, I’m thinking ‘This guy’s probably had his whole life to be totally inconsiderate and never deal with consequences and he’ll probably end up being somebody’s boss, even if he’s totally underqualified and he’ll treat them like shit, too, and this is my chance to show him what’s what!’
So I have these arguments going on in my head. If my rational self wins, then I may glower at him a bit more, reflect on my issues, do some yoga breathing and let it go. If my non-rational self wins (and keep in mind, non-rational has the biological edge here with adrenaline pumping and the brain’s limbic system taking over) I’ll physically retaliate by bumping him back (never particularly aggressively – usually just enough to make my presence known), or deliberately pushing the offending extensor out of my face. Sometimes this garners a mumbled apology. Often not.
It’s a fight or flight response, because I feel threatened. It’s my internal class-warrior – a little black girl lashing out, fed up with being underestimated, overlooked and generally unseen (especially when standing next to white guys). It’s the girl in me who knows that boys and men are usually bigger and stronger and is pissed off at how unfair that is. It’s the little girl I’ve always been, being nice and quiet by default, ’cause that supposedly gets good results.
However I respond, I always spend some amount of time feeling worse about these encounters than I think I ought to. Wishing I’d said or done something when I didn’t say or do anything. Or feeling as though I overreacted when I let things go.
I don’t have the insight yet. But I’ll come back to it.