A single experience can overshadow years of education.
I tend to sleep a lot on BART. I almost always fall asleep between the Fremont and Oakland Coliseum stations on the Fremont to Richmond train. But last night (around 9:15PM), I was feeling tired after a long day (dentist appointment and 4 hour cello lesson). I decided to go to sleep on my way back home on the Richmond to Fremont train.
My, oh my. I wake up at the Oakland Coliseum station to some unintelligible screaming. I turn around, drowsy, and I see a young Vietnamese lady (mid-twenties, did not seem to be native, probably lived here for 7+ years) visibly upset in a scuffle with a Black man who looked to be at least 6 feet tall, medium-heavy build in his late twenties- early thirties. I later realized she was repeatedly shouting, “Hey! That’s my bag!” I’m ashamed to say, I did not intervene. I could only watch in shock and fear. There were about 3 or 4 other people (one of whom was a man) grabbing onto the thief at the door of the stopped BART car. One man had a firm grip on the thief’s hood, but the thief took off his sweater and fled with the victim’s purse.
Now, I’ve given much thought as to what happened. And I realized that the robbery, in addition to the people’s attempt to contain the thief, occurred in approximately 20 seconds. 20 seconds doesn’t sound very long. But oh my goodness, it felt like 20 minutes at that moment. But I still don’t really get it. Why didn’t I try to stop that thief? I could have at the very least taken a photo of the guy to help out. I could have at least ran around the opposite side of the car and attacked the guy from behind.
For the remainder of the BART ride , I split my time thinking about what would’ve happened had I been the victim, and running the robbery through my head over and over again thinking of different ways I could have stopped the thief.
And then on my way home, I thought back to my “Ethnicity/Race” class that I took last year. We spent an entire semester breaking down stereotypes and racism. You know what, I’ve been taught repeatedly since elementary school throughout high school and college that racism is unfair and unjust. And I agree. Racism rips communities apart. But honestly, I don’t know now if I can ride BART or the bus and see a suspicious Black man without clutching my belongings out of caution. I know that in class, we talked about how poverty and the government pushes people into positions in which they don’t want to be. But is that really what’s going to pop into my mind if/when I get mugged?
I’m angry at this thief. Not even a month after a Black man is wrongfully shot and murdered in the back by a BART cop, this thief decides to rob this woman’s purse. What is this Vietnamese lady going to tell her family and friends about what happened last night? What are her family and friends going to say and think about Black people? I grew up repeatedly taught (almost brainwashed) about equality and the bigotries of racism, yet even MY view of the general Black man has been detrimentally affected. I’m going to take a wild guess that this victim (who, by speculation, was probably not native to the US) was not raised in a setting that condemned racism. What is she going to tell her family and friends? Could it be that experiences such as these cause racism?
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