Strangers on a bus

Yesterday's Wordpress Post-a-day question was "write about the strangest thing that's ever happened to you on a bus." Now, when you live in NYC, a lot of strange things happen to you on the bus... but here's one I'll never forget. I was taking an uncrowded bus home to my mostly-Latino/African-American neighborhood the other day, sitting on one of the back seats. There was an African American man sitting next to me on the side-facing seats, and two or three Latino men on the last row. A White family got onto the bus-- Mom, Dad, and 5-6 year old son. The Dad was holding balloons and the kid had some ice cream, looked like it had been a fun day out. The kid rushed to the back of the bus and sat down on one of seats in the last row, between the men. His mother sat across from me for a minute or so, then suddenly turned to her son and said, "it's really noisy here, let's move to the front." He pouted for a bit, said he liked the back of the bus, but she became more insistent, "It's really noisy, I'm not comfortable here," and together they made their way to the front of the bus, where the Dad was waiting. The happy family sat down there and began chatting like nothing had happened.

One of the Latino men turned to the others and asked, "Does anyone else think it's noisy in here?" and we all sort-of laughed and sort-of grimaced. It had actually been completely silent... no one had even been talking. The African-American man responded with a  shrug, "It isn't noisy. She just wasn't comfortable with her son sitting amongst colored folks." Again a sort-of laugh and a sort-of grimace. He was clearly right... no one had spoken a word between when her son sat down and when they left, so no other explanation really worked. Everyone was sort of joking about it, but it was impossible not to feel indignant as well. One of the Latino men said, "She could at least have made a better excuse for moving to the front." At that point, a couple of the men were loud, and it was clearly for her benefit, so she could hear them and know that they were insulted. She pretended not to hear, and the family got off soon after. We laughed again, and then each went our separate ways.

Of course, things like this probably happen all the time... we all make judgments about where we feel safe, and they are often based on stereotypes (I know I make a lot of those judgments based on my stereotypes of men in general... and while that's problematic, it's also a real part of what it means to grow up as a young woman in a city like Delhi). Still, it hurts. And part of why that particular woman's behavior has stayed with me is simply how blatant she was in her racism... like the guy said, she could at least have made a real excuse for moving up front (although, of course, whether excuses that mask racism help or hurt is another question).

But the other interesting thing that I remember from that evening is how we, the "people of color" sitting at the back of the bus, who had previously had nothing to say to one another, suddenly became a community; in the laughter and the sarcasm, there was a camaraderie. It showed me, just for one moment, that it isn't that hard to bring people who share little else together based on a common experience of hurt... the question is how to sustain those communities and how to convert them into agents of change.

But that's another day's post.