On Tuesday night Sachin and I went out with his friends--played some ping pong, and then went to Art Bar for dinner. And eventually the conversation came around to racism, which was fascinating to talk about in a group of "mixed company"--one was black, one Indian, one Taiwanese, and one half Pakistani, half white. We talked about everything from the difference between Nationality and ethnicity and race, how we hate being asked "Where are you from?" because we hate not knowing whether they're trying to determine our parents' ancestry, or just making small talk about where we grew up. And when it's the former, why do they want to know? And why do they think it odd when we answer "New Jersey" or "California"? And if you're multiracial or biracial, what to you check off when it comes to the census if you're only allowed to check one option? And if you're a quarter or a half black, should you consider yourself just black? I love conversations like this because there's a lot of gray area, and that's fascinating.
And then later that night...Sachin and I went down to catch the L train at Union Square around 11:40, and there were all of these people waiting on the platform, but also a lot of people who were streaming back upstairs. One guy mouthed to me, "There's no train" so we went around the stairwell where these MTA workers were explaining the situation to irate passengers. There was a sign posted that said no L train service after 12:01, and apparently this meant that the last train would arrive at the final station at 12:01, which certainly wasn't clear--the sign should tell you when the last train leaves, not finishes. And why were there no announcements for all the people just sitting on the platform waiting?
So we went upstairs to wait for the yellow line to get to the J train, and as we were waiting a hipster guy around our age and an older women maybe in her 40s with an accent of some kind asked us if the J was running and if this was the right train to take to it. Sachin answered the question, and then the hipster guy went back to reading a book, and the woman started asking all of these additional questions. Where are we going, where do we live, Oh, I live there too and am going to the same place, etc etc. I step a bit away so am not listening to most of their conversation because I'm tired and am also suddenly wary of this woman. I don't know why. I'm generally a pretty trusting person, and she's probably innocuous, but something about her seems off. She seems too eager to latch onto us, and I wonder if we'll have to commute the whole way to Williamsburg with her. All of a sudden, Sachin says, "Hey, there's Sarah" and sure enough we see Sarah on the other side of the platform going up the stairs and I call out to her. "Where are you going?" Sarah lives a block and a half from Sachin. "I'm going to take a cab. My company will pay for it." she says. "Want to come?" so we say sure and head up the stairs, and the woman practically runs after us, "Where are you going?" "We're taking a cab." "Can I come with you? I'll pay!" and then I think, if she's offering to pay for a cab, what does she need us for? Does she just want to be friends with us or something? "Sorry, we're going with a friend of ours." and we leave her behind. We both feel guilty about it later, but I try to justify it--"my gut just told me that she was sketchy." "Was it really that? Or do you think the fact that she was 'foreign' and older had something to do with it? What if she had been a young hipster girl or guy? Would we have let them share a cab with us then?"
I don't know. A while back, right before I started in publishing and while I worked at B&N, I read a book called Why Are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum, PhD. I found it completely fascinating. One of the things it talked about it how racism is more subtle in today's PC climate than in the past. It talked about subtle racism, and specifically how it came to play in terms of interviewing and hiring. People tend to feel more comfortable with people of their own race, so when you're making hiring decisions, subconsciously you oftentimes tend to gravitate towards people who are like yourself (hence why all the black/Asian/Latino/etc kids sit together in the cafeteria). In industries that are male dominated, or white dominated, or middle class dominated, this comes into play. Sometimes excuses are used. "The person was over qualified" or "there was just something I wasn't sure about him/her, I just can't articulate it."
Anyway, this can be a long and complicated discussion that will go around in circles forever, but going back to why I didn't trust the woman in the subway: "My gut told me something wasn't right about her. She was too clingy, too eager. She must have had an ulterior motive." I don't know now. I know that in NYC, we're required to be extra-careful, vigilant. I've had many friends who have been robbed because they were too trusting, so I'm going to excuse my behavior somewhat. But I also want to be honest with myself. Would I have let her share a cab with me if she had been Asian and young? Probably. It reminds me of that Avenue Q song. Everyone is a little bit racist. Maybe in this case I was being ageist, I don't know. We all have our prejudices. We all still have far to go.