Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Professors Riding Amtrak’s High-speed Acela Train

John Edgar Wideman, professor of Africana studies and literary arts at Brown University, rides Amtrak’s high-speed Acela train from New York City to Providence, R.I. and writes in the NY Times that he generally finds Acela passengers to be subtly racist because they will only sit next to him as a last resort:

"I’m a man of color, one of the few on the train and often the only one in the quiet car, and I’ve concluded that color explains a lot about my experience. Unless the car is nearly full, color will determine, even if it doesn’t exactly clarify, why 9 times out of 10 people will shun a free seat if it means sitting beside me. Color appears to be a sufficient reason for the behavior I have recorded."

John McWhorter, lecturer at Columbia University and also a "man of color" frequently rides the same Acela train, and writes in The Root that he is mystified because nothing of the sort ever happens to him, and he is in fact perfectly happy to have an empty seat: 

"I kind of enjoy having that empty seat to put my bag and food containers on, there have been many times when someone has sat next to me when the train was nowhere near full and I have grumbled to myself, "Why next to me out of all these other empty seats?"

This is the truth. It is based on several dozen Acela trips. It is based on my own experience in my own black skin. And there is nothing I do to invite company on the train; I almost always have my nose buried in a book or newspaper."

McWhorter also reports that he has "never been stopped for Driving While Black," and he's been waiting for eight years in NYC to be bypassed by a taxi, and he's still waiting - "It has never happened, anywhere in town — ever."

24 Comments:

At 10/12/2010 10:56 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

All of these things do happen. I have observed them, and I am not black. I have seen a black customer hold out their hand for change, and the clerk puts the money on the counter. Racism still exists in various degrees, but it is only one form of incivility. We would do well to resist rudeness of all kinds, regardless of color.

 
At 10/13/2010 5:16 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Wideman whines: "Unless the car is nearly full, color will determine, even if it doesn’t exactly clarify, why 9 times out of 10 people will shun a free seat"...

It couldn't be something as mundane as 'rank and almost coma inducing body odor' could it?

 
At 10/13/2010 5:46 AM, Blogger rjs said...

sure, juandos, black guys always smell bad, doncha know...

 
At 10/13/2010 6:20 AM, Blogger geoih said...

Quote from Hydra: "I have seen a black customer hold out their hand for change, and the clerk puts the money on the counter."

I love this assumption that everybody should want to be touched by everybody else. I don't care what color you are, I generally don't want to be touched by you. I assume that everybody else wants even less to be touched by me. Now, apparently this can result in automatically being branded a racist.

It makes me think about the recent survey in the news where more than half of the people thought they were better than average looking. I'm betting those smae people who think they're better than average looking are the same ones running around getting offended at not being touched.

Here's a little personal advice: If you're male, you should automatically assume you're worse than average looking and nobody wants to touch you.

 
At 10/13/2010 6:43 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"sure, juandos, black guys always smell bad, doncha know"...

Well rjs, if you say so...

I'll take your word for what is apparently YOUR life experience...

 
At 10/13/2010 6:49 AM, Blogger juandos said...

What's interesting about the Acela is that its apparently the only Amtrak train that makes a profit...

 
At 10/13/2010 7:04 AM, Blogger JMG said...

Some years ago I was flying from Cape Verde to Lisbon. When distributing the meal trays, the black attendant skipped me. I waited a bit, believing he would be back. But he kept serving the following rows and didn't go back. So I addressed him in, even if correctly, in a bit unsympathetic way for his absent-mindless - I'm not a very sympathetic person. He replied "you only talk to me like that because I'm black". I told him I would talk exactly the same if he were blue with red stripes. My point is: so-called racist behaviours are quite often misread.

 
At 10/13/2010 7:07 AM, Blogger Marc said...

Is Wideman wide?

 
At 10/13/2010 7:53 AM, Blogger Anonymous Bosh said...

Maybe Wideman exudes anger, and ppl qua humans simply do not want to sit next to an angry man? (Conversely, maybe McWhorter is obviously a great guy! Which he is...)

Maybe whites think they are being "considerate" or "respectful" of his space? Indeed, what some blacks think of as racism may be an overdone bit of obeisance? (Which would, I suppose, technically translate to racism, a la, "Look at me delivering marginally over-wrought respect to the non-Eurasoid!" It could be sincere, but it would still smack of racism to those so predisposed.)

Next variation: maybe some folks are SO AFRAID of being thought racist that they simply avoid the situation entirely, thinking that by avoiding contact, they can avoid any potential situation in which their actions/words/thoughts could be construed as racist. In doing so, they are, of course, perceived as racist...

 
At 10/13/2010 8:19 AM, Blogger D R Zinn said...

A Google image search for Wideman is instructive. If he were scowling as he is in a couple of the images, I wouldn't sit next to him either.

 
At 10/13/2010 8:35 AM, Blogger Michael Hoff said...

Maybe they don't sit next to him because he exudes the malodorous arrogance that only a "professor of Africana studies and literary arts at Brown University" can.

 
At 10/13/2010 10:33 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

i don't know this professor in particular, but based on what i saw of the brown university african studies department (which admittedly was one class) i suspect that his solitary train rides may have more to do with attitude than skin color.

those guys had pretty significant chips on their shoulders. no one wants to sit next to someone like that whatever their sex or color.

it's amazing how many things become self fulfilling prophesies if you spend enough time looking for them.

 
At 10/13/2010 11:12 AM, Blogger Hydra said...

I love this assumption that everybody should want to be touched by everybody else. I don't care what color you are, I generally don't want to be touched by you.

You are making assumptions about my assumptions.

I don't like being touched or hugged by strangers, either.

What I reported was merely an observation. One which I have seen many times when people of color hold out their hands and never when the clerk and customer are the same color.

What is curious is that I don't think I have seen a white customer refuse to extend their hand for change and thereby demand that black clerk place the money on the counter.

I'm making no judgements as to what constitutes racism, only making the observation that if you watch closely, you can see all kinds of subtle differences in how we treat and react to) varous kinds of people.

 
At 10/13/2010 11:21 AM, Blogger Hydra said...

How do you get from my comment to "I love the assumption that...."?

How would I have worded my statement such that you would not have made that assumption?

 
At 10/13/2010 11:22 AM, Blogger happyjuggler0 said...

Assuming they are both being equally honest and observant, then my best guess is that it comes down to demeanor.

I've taken many a subway ride in my time, and I would sometimes prefer to stand rather than sit next to someone who looked like an unpleasant person.

My next best guess is that it comes down to perception. My perception of black studies, women studies, and marxist studies professors is that they think in terms of victimhood even when that is simply not the case, and they try to train their students to think the same way.

If you don't get the job, or promotion, or get fired, well then you are a victim of injustice, according to that mindset. Sometimes this is true, but often it is simply because or merit, or lack thereof, and many people simply don't have a good understanding of their own faults.

 
At 10/13/2010 11:28 AM, Blogger Hydra said...

"I generally don't want to be touched by you."

================================

How do you collect change from a clerk?

McDonalds and some other places use automatich change dispensers which treat everyone equally. Is that racist, phobic, or just fast and efficient?

Sometmes I think we worry too much.

 
At 10/13/2010 12:57 PM, Blogger Hydra said...

My perception of black studies is that it is mostly black history, filled with stories of people and events you normally don't hear of.

 
At 10/13/2010 5:01 PM, Blogger juandos said...

I wonder if in these 'black history' classes the topic of black slave OWNERS in antebellum America?

I wonder any of these 'black history' classes take field trips to Sudan for instance?

 
At 10/13/2010 9:03 PM, Blogger Moataz said...

My perception of black studies is that it is mostly black history, filled with stories of people and events you normally don't hear of.

Not really. Most of it is spent studying from a kitchen window

 
At 10/13/2010 11:05 PM, Blogger glenzo said...

This happens to me in Hong Kong and China, where an empty seat next to me seems be one of the last taken as the bus or train fills up. I am white and over 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds.

As such, I can attribute this behavior to one of several factors: randomness, my size vs. the size of others, racism or maybe even some kind of unknown respect, leaving the empty seat next to me open to the last.

But to assume that it is purely a negative racial situation is not considering other possible likely reasons.

 
At 10/14/2010 8:39 AM, Blogger Chris Matheson said...

Interesting comments on this thread and the contrast between the two experiences. I would argue that nearly every interaction that takes place in our country between a person of color and a "white" person must be viewed through the prism of race/ethnicity/color. Like it or not, this is more often than not how many people view it, particularly if the experience is at all unpleasant. Color of skin is still of incredible importance in our country.

 
At 10/14/2010 10:26 AM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"I would argue that nearly every interaction that takes place in our country between a person of color and a "white" person must be viewed through the prism of race/ethnicity/color."

"Color of skin is still of incredible importance in our country."

And I would argue that as soon as we stop arguing that the first part is true, the second part won't be true.

 
At 10/14/2010 10:39 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

Juandos, your links to black slave owners in America are fascinating. I had never heard of this even with my own South Carolina ties.

 
At 10/14/2010 12:21 PM, Blogger Richard Rider, Chair, San Diego Tax Fighters said...

Follow the money. Wideman makes his name, living and reputation dealing with racism against blacks. Without such racism (real or imagined), the useless and racist-nourishing black studies programs die.

For such "professors," racism against blacks will never end -- or even significantly diminish.

He is, in essence, a pimp for racism.

 

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