February 22, 2020

What Are We Willing to Do as Individuals?

This week, a bizarre situation broke out on the Bronx-bound New York subway. A Black woman walked onto the train with her three children; nobody got up to give her their seats. At that point, a second Black woman began ranting about the supposed injustices of the New York public. According to an Orthodox Jewish witness, Yossi Wolfe, the woman ranted, “If it was a Jewish family, y’all would have gotten up.” At that point, Wolfe — who was standing — stated, “Can we please not make this a racist thing?”

That prompted the woman to new heights of anger. “Judaism is not a race,” she stated. “It is a religion … I’m schooling your ass. You guys think you’re so f—ing smart, but guess what? I’m gonna teach you a lesson on this f—ing train today.” 

Wolfe interjected, “No ‘you guys.’ I am a person. You are a person.” 

To which the ranting woman responded, “No! No! We are different. Understand that. You know why? Because your people treat my people different in our community! The f— you talking about.” When Wolfe demurred, she continued, “You treat us different in our community. You don’t even rent to us. What the f— are you talking about? … You said I was racist, so I’m addressing your people. You said I was racist, right? Because I brought up Judaism, right?” The woman continued by stating that she wasn’t calling Jews “dirty” or saying “they stink,” she was just explaining the “difference between racism and prejudice-ism.” 

Most of this discussion was caught on an electronic device and posted on Twitter.

In fact, being Jewish is both a racial and a religious attribute. And in fact, it’s racist to claim that Jews are somehow — as a group — discriminating against Black Americans, particularly without data to support such an accusation.

But perhaps the most striking aspect of the video is the behavior of others on the subway. No one appears to get up to make room for the first woman and her three children — an act of common courtesy. Also, no one appears to interject to tell the ranting woman that her words are nonsense — in fact, one of the other passengers can be heard agreeing.

As I see it, both of these problems boil down to a single problem: lack of personal responsibility.

Are we willing to give up our subway seat? Are we willing to stand up when someone is ranting in racist fashion? 

First, it is our job to constantly reassess our own performance of acts of kindness. Are we doing enough, when we see a single mother with three kids, to make her life just a little bit easier? Did we cut someone off in traffic, simply because the bustle of everyday life makes us impervious to seeing one another as individuals, worthy of respect and protection?

Second, it is our job to stand up against actual prejudice when we see it — even if it’s politically incorrect to do so. Modern intersectional politics suggests that the ranting woman’s opinion takes precedence over the opinion of the Orthodox Jewish man because she’s Black and he’s Jewish — and that therefore, he has suffered less discrimination than she has. But she is, in fact, spouting racist tropes — racist tropes supported by prominent personages ranging from Al Sharpton to Louis Farrakhan over the years. Why doesn’t anyone rise to defend Jews other than the Orthodox Jewish man?

It’s easier to be an observer in life. The man who posted the video on Twitter later issued a message: “I ask you all, is Anti-Semetism [sic] a real thing? Yes. Is being human a real thing? Yes. Is gentrification a real thing? Yes. Is prejudice a real thing? Yes. Let’s ask ourselves these tough questions before hitting send on a tweet. Be blessed y’all.”

But that’s a cop-out. All of these issues may be real. The question is what we do about them. Are we willing to give up our subway seat? Are we willing to stand up when someone is ranting in racist fashion? What are we willing to do, as individuals, to make the world a better place, rather than merely recording the chaos around us, shrugging, and then lecturing one another about the unsolvable problems that apparently plague our society?