An anecdote of black and white in America

Last Thursday afternoon, I was with a female friend on a New York City bus heading downtown on Central Park West. We were going to the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church at 65th Street to attend their Bach Vespers, where Bach cantatas are performed in their original liturgical setting. Normally the Back Vespers series is in the winter, but the church was having a special program of performances and lectures in July.

We were seated on a sideways bench seat on the left side of the bus about two thirds of the way toward the back, with my friend to my left. Ten feet to my right, near the rear of the bus, a black woman was talking on her cell phone. Her voice was loud and annoying but it not bad enough for me to say anything. She had straightened hair that was colored dark blonde, and she looked tall and strong, with not unattractive features. My friend noted that the woman was completely ignoring her small daughter, who sat quietly neglected while her mother carried on her over-animated conversation. The woman’s voice seemed to get lower for a while, and was more tolerable, but then it got louder again, and finally I had enough and turned to her and said, “Would you lower your voice, please”?

Before the words were out of my mouth, she replied very sharply and loudly:

“I’ll talk as loud as I want. It’s a public bus not your private space.”

I’ve handled these situations many times, but her tone and manner were so aggressive that I instinctively did something I’ve never done before. I simply repeated, in the same polite but firm tone of voice as before:

“Would you lower your voice, please?”

I somehow realized that as long as I kept repeating this request, I was asking something reasonable for which I could not be seen as being at fault, and, even better, I would be making it impossible for her to resume her cell phone conversation.

She answered:

“You want to bring back slavery. The slave days are over.”

I said:

“Would you lower your voice please?”

She got more aggressive:

“Shut the f*ck up. I’m gonna come over there and smack the sh*t out of you.”

I answered:

“Would you lower your voice please?”

“I’m gonna come over there and smack you.”

“Would you lower your voice please”?

“I’m not your slave. The slave days are over.”

“Would you lower your voice please”?

This went on for a while, with her alternatively threatening to hit me and accusing me of trying to bring back slavery, and me asking her to lower her voice, and finally it somehow came to an end.

As soon as our colloquy ceased, she terminated her phone conversation, telling her interlocutor that someone was objecting to it.

A few moments later, a man sitting toward the front of the bus, of mixed race, probably Hispanic, turned around in his seat and looked back at me with a big smile on his face.

I was sitting with my head turned to the left, looking forward in the bus, not looking back at the woman. I asked my friend to keep an eye on her, to let me know if she was coming toward me. But my friend told me that she was now playing with her child, holding her, talking to her, and that her whole manner had changed. Instead of being absorbed in the phone call and ignoring her child, she was being nice to her.

When the woman got off the bus with her child a few blocks later, she got off quietly, with no more words being said.

My friend said she couldn’t get over the way the woman’s entire demeanor had changed. As she put it later, “The woman had gone from being a neglectful loud-talking profanity-spouting single black mother to an attractive doting mom engaging lovingly and intelligently with her child.”

Anyway, how many black people are like this? If a white says anything to them, the black thinks that the white is trying to subject the black to slavery.

Jefferson was right that blacks would never forget slavery. There can never be peace and comity between the two peoples. That’s an illusion. Whites must be realistic about blacks and not buy into their complaints and demands or think that there’s anything they can do that will remove blacks’ hostility against whites and America.

The friend who was with me on the bus writes:

But your story belies your conclusion. You took a little punishment for it, but your request got results!!! Both in obtaining quiet and in getting her to engage nicely with her child. It’s hard to believe, given her own change in demeanor, that she will go back to saying that someone asking her to lower her voice is trying to enslave her.

- end of initial entry -

Mike Berman writes:

Trying to rationalize with the irrational is usually a losing proposition. Distance is what I want between me and the crazy, the immoral, and the dumb.

Karl D. writes:

Her attitude unfortunately is indicative of a large portion of blacks and of society in general today. It is all about “me” and what “I” want. And anyone who calls someone on it is being “disrespectful” and is worthy of being beaten or killed. One thing I have always noticed about arrogant and unruly blacks in general is that when they are in proximity to other blacks they will put on a show as you experienced on the bus. But when they are in a town that is majority white with no other blacks around they are as gentle and respectful as anyone could hope for.

James W. writes (July 22):

It is very infrequently that we can look back on an incident and not berate ourselves for failing to do something differently. It’s good you have put one in the win column.

Two of my scribes illuminate how our approach to dysfunction has gone astray:

Humanity cannot be degraded by humiliation.—Burke

By indignities man comes to dignities.—Bacon

We can even see that a failure to humiliate an offender will inform him that by our silence we agree. No indignities, no improvement. By our silence we are not being civil or civilized, but cowardly.

You did not just inform this woman that her behavior was boorish; that it was her responsibility on a public bus not to inflict her life on forty strangers. You also instructed forty strangers in their civil responsibilities, and in what is possible.

The evils which we suffer patiently as inevitable seem insupportable as soon as we conceive of the idea of escape from it.—Tocqueville (times forty).

A good year’s work!

Mark Jaws writes:

You rhetorically ask how many folks are as the woman on the bus, who accused you of wanting to bring back slavery simply because you asked her to lower her voice. Well, I think the Spike Lee—Clint Eastwood flare up, during which Spike reminded Clint that the plantation days were over, is illustrative of the mindset of an unhealthy percentage of black folks who are ever too eager to escalate a simple request or an honest difference of opinion into a racial confrontation. This is a complete reversal from Jim Crow America, in which most of the fanners of racial conflagration were white. Unfortunately, your story had long been my story. Such incidents have happened too often to me, going all the way back to 1969, so I have long adopted Mr. Berman’s sound advice of distancing myself from such characters. But the collective result of millions of whites’ distancing themselves from blacks is that the nation will never hold the “honest dialogue on race” so many are longing for.

LA replies:

It’s not entirely clear what Mark means by that last sentence. The people who always talk about their desire for an “honest dialog on race” are, of course, liberals, including Obama, who don’t want honest dialog on race but rather black-liberal dictation to whites. The people who really want honest dialog on race—or, rather, honest speech about race, since a two-way honest dialog with blacks/liberals is not possible—are our side, the anti-liberal, race-realist, traditionalist side. And given Mark’s New York City background and his confrontational approach to the left and minorities of which he has often spoken, I am surprised at his saying that he has so distanced himself from blacks that he has no dealings with them.

People often wonder at the fact that I live in New York City. In many ways, it’s odd that I do. But there are advantages, among which are that, at least on a superficial level, I remain more in touch with the racial phenomena that whites must understand and deal with (not just retreat from) if they are to survive.

Also, Mike Berman lives in New York City, so I’m not sure how he avoids any interractions with blacks.

(Note: To understand Mike Berman’s desire to avoid contact with certain types of people, see his account about his and his family’s personal experiences with blacks that led him to become race conscious.)

James P. writes:

Mike Berman says, “Distance is what I want between me and the crazy, the immoral, and the dumb.”

It is natural enough to want to live your life as best you can during the collapse of Western Civilization. However, as they say, you can run, but you can’t hide. Try as you might to get away from such people, it is deliberate liberal policy to bring them to you, via immigration, busing, subsidized housing, and other measures to “increase diversity.” When I started seeing large crowds of Hispanics in the small town in east Tennessee where my mom lives—and this brought the usual associated pathologies such as gang activity and large-scale identity theft—I realized that there really is nowhere to hide. Liberals won’t realize this until the last enclave of gated communities and private schools is overrun.

LA writes:

Here’s another incident that I think I’ve told about before.

I was having a snack at a MacDonald’s, and a black man at nearby table was talking very loudly into his cell phone. I said, “Would you lower your voice, please?”

He came toward me and stood over me at the table where I was sitting and said, “Are you telling me what to say?”

I answered: “I wasn’t telling you what to say. I was asking you to lower your voice.”

He turned and went back to his table, and commenced in a loud voice to complain about me to the person he was talking to on his cell phone. But then, within a few moments, his voice dropped to a lower volume, and he carried on the rest of conversation in a normal voice.

Mike Berman writes:

You had a measure of success in “reasoning” with a boisterous black on a couple of occasions, but I would bet that any change in their behavior was ephemeral and that and it came at some risk to you. A few incidents come to mind:

When I was riding on the subway one evening, I heard a middle-aged white woman complain to a black gentleman, who was trudging through the crowded car, that he had stepped on her foot. He turned around, reached back, and slapped her across the face with all his strength. He then whipped his hand back in the opposite direction and slapped her back-handed across the other side of her face. Even then, the woman couldn’t keep her mouth shut. “Do whatever you want, ” she sobbed. The black trudged on without any man lifting a finger to stop him.

A friend went with his wife to see a film at a local theater. A black chap sitting behind him turned on his boombox. My friend looked back at him and politely asked that he turn it off so that people could enjoy the film they paid to see. The black then turned up the volume. My friend called him an a—hole. The black went berserk. “A—hole, a—hole! Did you call me a—hole?” After a torrent of profanity the black left. When my friend and his wife left the theater, the black was waiting outside for him—now with an accomplice. When my friend turned a corner, so did they. My friend ducked into a coffee shop and sat down at the far end of the counter. The blacks entered, sat at the counter near the entrance and stared him down. He was scared. He asked the counterman if he had a phone which he could use to call the police. The counterman responded that the phone was up front. They were trapped and had to wait what seemed like ages until the blacks got bored and left.

A mentor/teacher I know was observing a class being taught by a novice. The class of inner-city youth was out of control. One of the students who was lighter-skinned with freckles and green eyes rose to criticize his classmates. He told them that their behavior was the reason why whites had no respect for blacks. He reminded them of why they were in that room and what the implications were for their future. They were embarrassed, settled down to work and behaved themselves for the rest of the period. The following day it was as if nothing had happened. They returned to being as obstreperous as ever.

Now, I’m not saying that I am always passive. On one occasion I was having lunch at a very crowded local restaurant with my wife. A black entered, complained about being hungry, and demanded food from the proprietor. The black was handed a takeout box of something. He yelled, “I don’t want that sh*t, I want what they’re having!” He was standing over two elderly women and was repeating his demands. My wife told me to put an end to it. I did not try to reason with an unreasonable individual. I grabbed him by the collar without saying a word and threw him out.

In a very similar incident a black came into another restaurant while we were having dinner. This one was begging food from the patrons but the liberals were just staring down into their plates. So, I asked the black if no one would feed him, would he then get violent with us. He still didn’t stop telling us that he was hungry. I told him that he should have thought about that when he didn’t do his homework or learn a trade. But I did not try to reason with him.

Sage McLaughlin writes (July 23):

I read with keen interest your recent post describing your encounter on a bus with a loud, obnoxious woman on a cell phone. The racial angle, especially the tiresome, self-regarding indignation and sense of entitlement, is something I think most white Americans will have endured at some point. While that’s worth discussing in its own right, there’s also the more generally applicable disintegration of ordinary manners to consider. Your approach to the situation was appropriate, considering the offending personality. I wonder what you’d think of a somewhat similar run-in I had yesterday with a completely different sort of barbarian, the pampered teenage girl.

Yesterday, I enjoyed a date at a movie, The Dark Knight (which I recommend, though not for young audiences and probably not in a theater at all). I very, very seldom ever watch movies in the theater, for what should seem like obvious reasons—the unbearably loud speaker settings, the painfully stupid previews, and, of course, the impositions of my fellow man. Just as I had anticipated, there were two people sitting behind us talking, laughing, and otherwise making themselves unwelcome to everyone in the theater. They were early teenage girls of the type that has become depressingly common—extremely skimpy cutoff shorts, expensive cell phones and jewelry, horrific makeup and of course that awful nasally crowing that is their everyday mode of speech, the kind of voice that reveals on the one hand completely unearned self-satisfaction, and on the other hand total ignorance of the world at large. These were the kind of girls whose mothers had raised them, probably alone, with a constant daily diet of pleading and baby-talk. Both were white.

After not less than six pointed stares in their direction, it was obvious that they not only knew they were bothering the people around them, but that they were enjoying it. I think the very last thing they ever expected was that someone might actually do something. So I stood up and purposefully walked down my aisle, then down theirs, and sat down next to the nearer one. “Good movie, isn’t it?” I said at a volume that might have been more appropriate to a crowded diner, drawing looks from the rows ahead. “You want to talk about it? In fact, let’s just talk through the whole movie, because that would just be great.” Their look of absolute shock and mortification was, naturally, priceless, but not nearly so gratifying as the absolute quiet from that end of the theater for the remainder of the show.

Now, a grown man gets no tough-guy points for bringing two teenaged girls to heel, no matter how smug. But what struck me is that I was completely alone in even objecting. It was clear to me that nobody was intent on actually asking them to quiet down, even nicely. Moreover, they had no intention of doing it even when it was obvious that they were bothering everybody around them. This was just normal. It was simply to be expected that these two, no matter how frail, young, and otherwise unthreatening they were, would be able to prey on the desire of others for peace. Not even a “shush” would be forthcoming, so fearful are we of confrontation.

It has become a wearisome theme. But I saw in that moment a sort of convergence—the craven desire for peace which invites only conflict, the devolution of everyday standards of politeness, the relentless campaign to imbue young girls with completely unjustified “self esteem” on the basis that they happen to exist, and in short the total confusion by ordinary people over what they are and are not entitled to. Maybe I’m just crazy, Larry, but I really don’t think so. We’re becoming men without chests, as Lewis would have it. The question is why, the answer, liberalism. Thanks for continuing to explore and explain this.

LA replies:

Your way of dealing with it was just right. An example to remember. I’ve done variations of that, like saying to people, “You know, the people two blocks away can’t hear you, could you speak louder?”

Rick Darby writes:

My two experiences of confronting people behaving badly in public might be of some interest. Both are snapshots from the early 1980s, when I lived in San Francisco. (It says a lot about how I’ve changed that at that period in my life, I chose San Francisco as my domicile.)

1. A young man (white) was playing his boom box (the anti-social activist’s torture instrument of choice in those days) at loud volume in a bus we were both riding in. I walked over to him and said, “It’s very generous of you to share your music with everyone on the bus.” He looked startled—what was this? A new experience, how to process it?—and muttered, I think, “Yeah.” He didn’t turn it off. My only reward was a few smiles from other passengers.

2. A movie theater. I can even remember the film, Roman Polanski’s version of Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I was with my girlfriend; another couple sat behind us (he black, she white). During the course of the film, the young man was obviously trying to impress his companion with how clever he was and kept “interpreting” the movie for her, with comments on everything including how awful the English class system was. After turning around and glaring at him a few times, uselessly, I spoke. Can’t remember the words, but they were polite although I did not conceal my annoyance.

This dude lost it. Went into a rage. Started kicking the seats in front of him—not only mine and my girlfriend’s, but of others sitting nearby. I derived some satisfaction when a muscular guy who had experienced the kicking turned around and pointedly told off the young man causing the trouble. My girlfriend and I moved to other seats, which fortunately were available at a distance from the guy still ranting.

I was in such an emotional stew that I didn’t really take in a lot of the film, and part of it was worrying about what would happen when we left. Fortunately, this character seemed to have vanished.

To be honest, I don’t think I would confront either of those two in a similar situation today. I am much less naive about what might happen—you just can’t be sure. And I’m afraid most of my fellow citizens have the same outlook. Better to put up with it or avoid it. We’re all afraid to tackle these situations individually, not knowing what support, if any, we can count on. And suspecting that some others, including perhaps the police and courts if it came to that, would automatically side with an ethnic minority, even one behaving in ways that should not be tolerated.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 21, 2008 01:43 PM | Send

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