File Under: Everyone's A Little Bit Racist
There's a great tune in the Broadway show Avenue Q called "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist". I haven't actually seen Avenue Q, I'm not a fan of musicals, but I've heard the song performed here and there, and I was reminded of it yesterday on the subway.
I was riding the 5 train, which I only resort to using when there's a problem on the 6, as the 5 train is an express train to the Bronx, meaning the closest stop to my apartment is 16 blocks away.
There was a young black boy, perhaps 3 years old, running up and down the length of the car. He was screaming as he ran, with more volume and higher pitch than you'd ever expect could be produced by such a tiny human. This went on for several stops, during which the child's mother, sitting with a baby girl on her lap, stared disinterestedly into the floor. About every 2 minutes however, the mother did shout out her son's name, albeit without even looking in his direction.
Yes, Play-Doh. I looked around to see if anybody else was reacting to the child's name, but I could read nothing on the faces of the other riders. I've heard some really bad "ghetto" names, we all have, but for some reason "Play-Doh" just seemed to be the cruelest name I'd ever heard inflicted on a child. I watched the mother jiggle her baby girl on her lap, continuing to occasionally shout out, with exhausted futility, "Play-Doh!"
I started to loathe that woman, not so much for the annoyance of Play-Doh's shrieking, but for the social ills that would surely befall poor Play-Doh, once he got into pre-school. I even glared at Play-Doh's mother and thought to myself, "And what's that poor baby girl's name, Crayola?"
I exited the 5 train at 86th Street, and could still hear Play-Doh's screaming at the top of the stairs, before the train left the station. I fumed all the way home. When I got to my apartment, a friend of mine called me and before he started talking, I cut him off to tell him about Play-Doh.
My friend listened for a minute and said, "Um, Joe? Is there any chance that child's name was actually Plato? You know, after the Greek philosopher?"
I almost dropped the phone in embarassment. I said to my friend, "Oh, shit. I bet you're right. Oh my god, I'm am such a racist!"
"Why do you say that?"
"Because if that woman had been anything but black, I probably would never have thought I was hearing Play-Doh!"
"Do you think Plato is any better? The kids will still call him Play-Doh, you know."
I thought about that for a second, "Well, no. Maybe not. Plato is pretty lame too, I guess. But still...."
"I still wish I hadn't been so ready to hate that woman for something I didn't even hear right."
That thought has been on my mind all morning. What it's telling me is that no matter how much progressive lip service and PC platitudes we urban liberals so proudly spout, inside of us, or inside of me, at least, there is always going to be an instinctual racist thought process. And I don't know how to feel about that. And worse, I don't know what to do about that.