Lesson On Hate From A Trimet Bus Driver

Ice on a bus stop sign.Image courtesy of Major Clanger on Flickr through Creative Commons license.

Yesterday I was waiting for the bus to go to an appointment.   When the bus stopped, a man and woman got off and in the usual tradition of thanking the driver, the man did so.  However, the way he said it wasn’t a thank you.  He spit it out as an insult.  The bus driver was a black woman.  He said, “Thanks for the ride, nigger.”

My jaw dropped.  I couldn’t believe I heard that right.  The man brushed past me with his girlfriend in tow and crossed the street.  I got on, unbelieving.  I must have misheard.  “Did he just say what I thought he said?”  I asked the driver.

The driver nodded and just shrugged in an “Oh, well, whattaya gonna do?” sort of expression.

“How rude,” I said.

I sat down.  The more I thought about it, the more upset and fuming I got.  It wasn’t just rude.  It was meant to be demeaning and hateful.  It was racist.

Yes, I know there is racism in this world. I see the results of that in politics, in business, in poverty, and who most of the inmates are in prison.

But surprisingly, I’ve not really witnessed it much in my own personal bubble.  I was married to a black man in my first marriage, and in the few years we were together, I can think of only one negative comment we got from people.  A stranger driving by catcalled at us for being an interracial couple.   I don’t recall any overt (or even indirect) racism toward my ex at the time, either (though that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen–I just never saw it myself).  To my knowledge, our son has not experienced any racism, either.  I asked him about it recently, because I was curious. It’s possible he has, but just didn’t recognize it as such.  It’s also possible that I’ve had blinders on.

So to see such an obviously racist act against that driver was startling for me.

I got up and walked back to the front of the bus.  “Do you have to deal with racist s.o.b.’s like that often?”  I asked the driver.

“Yeah.  All the time.  But you just gotta let it slide.  They’re the ones with the problem.  Not me.  They don’t like themselves.  They’re angry all the time.  So they gotta project that on somebody else.  It makes them feel all big to make other people feel little.  They like to stir things up and get mad when you just ignore ’em.  Cuz then you aren’t helping them feel big.  I don’t have time for that.  I ignore ’em.”

“You shouldn’t have to,” I said.  At this point, I was wondering if I was more upset by this incident than she was.

“Yeah, but that’s the world we live in.”

I don’t much like that world.

That driver’s attitude toward something she couldn’t control got under my skin.  As a privileged white person, I can’t even begin to imagine having to deal with that kind of negativity directed toward me day in and day out.  I can’t fathom having to develop that kind of armor.

But…her words made sense.  I can see how they apply to negative, hateful people in general, whether they are racist, or sexist, or fill-in-the-blank-ist.  They want to stir shit up because they don’t like themselves.  They are not comfortable in their own skin.  I think that is probably true for many.  But I see a second  problem.  Negative, hateful people are threatened by difference.  They are threatened by change.  Perhaps that is rooted in their own self-esteem.  Perhaps, if they liked themselves and were comfortable with who they were, they wouldn’t be afraid.  Perhaps not.

We are all different.  The color of skin and texture of our hair shouldn’t matter.  Whether we are male or female shouldn’t matter.  Whether we are gay or straight, Jew, Catholic, Muslim, atheist, or what-have-you, shouldn’t matter.  People are people.

While ignoring negative people might water down their fire in the short term, I don’t know what the answer is in the long term.  Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away.  It’s been 149 years since the Emancipation Proclamation, and there is still institutionalized racism in this country.  We’ve made great strides since Dr. King’s immortal words, but we’ve still got a long way to go.  We’ve got probably even longer on all those other -isms out there.

I wonder how long it will take?  And what it will take?  How do we eradicate the fear of difference…of other?  How do we help people love themselves?  And how do we do that en masse?


15 thoughts on “Lesson On Hate From A Trimet Bus Driver

  1. Unfortunately, fear of difference is a survival trait. I’m not saying it’s right or acceptable, just that it’s insidious. At this point I think the only way to eradicate the fear of difference is selective breeding.

  2. Thanks for posting.I recently left TriMet after 5 years as a driver.As an Asian American,I encountered racial slurs while on the job.Verbal abuse occurs everyday.It comes with the territory as a bus operator.

  3. You’ve asked some pretty deep questions, and questions I think many of us have asked throughout the years. I’m always shocked when I see blatant racism too. I also don’t see it often so it’s easy to shock me. It makes me mad. Like it made you.
    You said it right, it doesn’t matter our differences. We are all just people. I’ve been hearing and reading this sentiment a lot more lately. Interesting. Maybe there’s a movement underway.

  4. Pingback: Days 21 through 30: I should get a chip for this. « wondering wanderer

  5. Thank you for pointing me to this post! Your reflections on how the hate bugged you more than it bugged the hate’s object (of that moment) feel very, very familiar to me. My son’s grandma was recently called a “nigger” at an upscale hotel; while my S.O. has been subjected to that epithet numerous times, this was her first encounter that she recalled. It stung me hearing how it stung her and, oh! I can’t say that my first response was very favorable! When I encounter that kind of hate, and find my own hate rising in response, I think of my S.O. urging me to remain calm and centered. I wrote a bit about this in my post “Our baby is going to experience racism someday”

    I feel another post brewing right now, but I’m not certain what that is. I do continue to believe that one of the best tools we have is to discuss race early and openly with our children, as and for the reasons I once wrote in another post.

    Yep, definitely another post brewing.

    Thanks for the food for thought!

    • You’re welcome. It’s a tough topic and a hurtful one. I just read one of your post you linked here and Ba.D.’s words, “Love ya and hold onto that rage. Don’t let it rule you, but let it guide you. Temper it with the knowledge that most people are at least trying. Steel that with the truth that you will have to fight.” He sounds like a wise, wise man. You are blessed. 🙂

  6. HB, this is the second post I’ve read of yours and it provokes, prods, and shoots my thoughts in 12 directions. So many words are being twisted into accusations of racism and you ran into one that is most clearly so. Your opening about the “thank you” was stellar, as was your shock. Brought to mind something that happened a couple of years ago and I had the same instant whiplash “WHAT did you just say?” Not in my presence, you won’t.

    • I know just what you mean about the “not in my presence, you won’t” feeling. I want to tear into them, and then regret that I do.

      I wonder what I might say in the future if something like this happens in front of me again. Call the racist (or other -ist) person out? Tell him or her what was said was totally unacceptable? How do you firmly tell somebody that behavior is unacceptable (which could lead to verbal fisticuffs) when you’ve been trained much of your life to believe that conflict is a bad thing? Adults don’t fight. Adults discuss. I have a feeling I can’t discuss anything with somebody who is an -ist, and I WILL end up in a heated argument. And I wonder just how much good it would do? Does it help? Or does it hinder?

      • Well, HB, you are a much more spiritual person than I am. I am just not that advanced. You say something like that in front of me, I am going to respond and have. In the case you encountered, it would have passed too quickly and you did the next best thing, which was to question it, then write about it, so that more people are listening. So, in the end, perhaps your way is more effective than mine. Seems to me when you can call ’em out on it, they suffer public condemnation and that is one thing bullies cannot stand. Hey! Between us, maybe we’ll get the job done.

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