a gay black woman's discovery of her jewish self

It Happened to Me:A White Person Got on my Train and I’m Feeling Uncomfortable About it.

Posted on: January 29, 2014

2 trainI was completely unable to focus on my game of Tetris, instead felt hyper-aware of all of the brown people on the train.

The 2 Train is an interesting train. In fact, according to Buzzfeed, it’s the 8th  best train in all of NYC. Most people get on and off between 14th street and 72nd street, where I’m sure most Brooklynites or New Yorkers assume it ends. Not me, I live off the Beverly Road stop in Flatbush, Brooklyn with lots of black folks.

This afternoon I was pumped to find a seat when I boarded the train at Wall Street and as I settled into my game of Tetris (damnit I stopped on level 12, so much stress) I noticed a cute, skinny white girl also board at Wall. I couldn’t help but notice her. She had brown curly hair coming out of a knit beanie, a Brooklyn Industries Coat, ironic tote bag, skinny jeans and Doc Marten boots. She kept pushing her Ray-ban eyeglasses up with the her index finger, dark nail polish, chipped.

As the 2 train slugged into Brooklyn and people kept getting on and off I couldn’t help being aware of her presence, especially when she down right next to me.  Her iPod had died, I noticed when I glanced at her,  she was fake listening to music. She didn’t appear to have any reading material and I noticed her leg shake nervously. As we neared Atlantic Ave/Barclays Center I was sure she would get off. But she didn’t.

More brown people got on and more white people got off as we passed Bergen Street and then, at the final white folks get off stop-Eastern Parkway Brooklyn Museum. It was just her. The only white person on the train. When she didn’t get off I couldn’t help but think about her. I was completely unable to focus on my game of Tetris, instead felt hyper-aware of all of the brown people on the train. Her eyes darted around nervously, but remained nonchalant and as the last holdout, a racially ambiguous hipster guy with Clark mountain boots and a Carhart jacket, got off at President I watched her face go from frustration, to shock to compete and utter fucking fear.

It was at President that a group of young black men got on the train and I watched her casually grip her tote closer to her body. Instead of looking around the train nervously she looked straight ahead. At Sterling another group of brown people got on, some of them spoke Spanish. She picked her nails. At Church Avenue a man wearing a huge knit scarf to contain his crown of Locs got on, smelling of pot and patchouli. He lumbered to where we sat and leaned on the pole. She shifted slightly and clutched her tote closer to her body.

I got off at Beverly and she stayed on the train.

I wondered if she knew there were only two stops left.

I wondered if she knew it would get blacker and blacker.

I thought about the fact that she was probably scared or got the wrong directions. I wondered if she was a gentrifier. Shit, was I a gentrifier? Is my rent going to go up? Is Flatbush the new Bedstuy? I wondered if she had flash backs to Law and Order episodes or stories from her sorority sisters about that friend of a friend and the “black people”. I realized she probably thought the 2 train was fun! She probably thought it was an easier train to get her to where she was going. Or perhaps, she got bad directions. Should I have asked her? Should that nice old lady who was knitting next to her asked if she was lost or if she knew what she was doing?

I’m sure she resented me for my brown skin and my wooly hair. The 2 Train past President Street is my comfort zone. It’s where I feel like I can just be me. I’m with my people. I’m sure she saw my brown skin and my big hair and resented me.

And when I got home I broke down and I cried.

The problem is of course bigger than the 2 train. There should be signs! There should be warnings! People should know that the 2 train gets blacker when you’re past a certain stop in Brooklyn (and the Bronx where it gets browner). How can we create a train that’s accessible to everybody, where everyone feels welcome? And while I recognize that there is an element of spectatorship to my privileged experience on the 2 Train, it is precisely this feeling of not being able to engage, not knowing how to engage, that mitigates the hope for change.

Dear white lady on the train. I’m sorry.



If you’re lost, this happened. Which is why this blog happened.

There was no white lady on the train. They really do all get off at President.

Thank you XO,Jane for the material. I feel like my writer’s block is gone.


3 Responses to "It Happened to Me:A White Person Got on my Train and I’m Feeling Uncomfortable About it."

It’s interesting, when I lived in Park Slope for eight years (or really, my whole NYC life until I left when I was 33) I never really noticed what color anyone was on the train with me. Not true, in Park Slope I’d often notice getting off or on the 2 at Grand Army Plaza I might be one of the few white people on the train and thinking, “Whatever.”

It wasn’t until moving to Chicago where we’re such a painfully segregated city that I started noticing who was riding the train with me. Chicago definitely shows you your inner racist, and I think that goes for every race here. Which, by the way, totally sucks and is one of the few things that makes me miss NYC.

I live in Oakland. Everyone rides the train or big double long buses. Black, white and Asian people live in all neighborhoods. 99% of everyone is very friendly and welcoming. Don’t know about Chicago. Or Brooklyn for that matter – in Brooklyn I mostly drove – Oakland is a diverse city – mostly still black in east Oakland. My street is not accessible by train, just buses – it is completely diverse with the majority tipping toward Asian, mostly Chinese. Great city, I highly recommend it.

i’ve been that white lady on the 2 train, except i knew what to expect. i went to brooklyn college for grad school in 2004 and lived in ditmas park so i knew everything east of flatbush and south of the park was watch-your-back zone. it made for interesting shopping trips to the stop and shop and the old navy. i hope that white lady wasn’t resentful of you. i hope that white lady doesn’t think of herself as a gentrifier, but maybe she does. i didn’t when i lived over there, but now, 10 years later living in washington heights i sure do.

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