D.C. Metro Tensions

Riding the Metro later at night is always an interesting event. Everybody is always quiet. I think there is some unspoken rule, like at the library, the Metro at night is supposed to be quiet. There are fewer people, and instead of being in a hurry like at rush hour, people seem to just want to conk out until they arrive at their destination. In my experience, the silence of the Metro at night is broken mostly by the night club/bar crowds. Expensively dressed young women add a sharp contrast to the ugly brown and yellow seats which are so visible because the cars are so sparsley populated.

Yet inevitably, the late night Metro crowd brings out some of the worst qualities in people, I think. Tonight, while waiting at the College Park Metro, I watched 5 young white women, well dressed for a bar or club, experience the kind of harassment and treatment that makes me sick. A few young black men started talking to them, ludely complimenting the women, asking for their phone numbers, and even blocking the escalator so they had to talk to them. Our train took 30 minutes to arrive, so there was plenty of opportunity to watch the various interactions between the two crowds. Some of the women seemed to just play it off, and others were visibly afraid, but I could tell that none of the women were comfortable.

One guy in particular just wouldn’t leave the women alone. He’d walk over to them, sit on one girl’s lap, speak crudely. I guess something about the night, the lack of security guards, and some combination of testosterone and stupidity left very little inhibition for this guy. Once on the Metro, it continued, again sitting on a girl’s lap, getting a picture with the women, talking about them to his buddies as if they weren’t there.

I don’t like making generalizations about people of different races, but this scene is not unfamiliar. I’ve seen very similar situations, though certainly not always where the women have been white nor the men black. There’s a lot going on in that kind of situation, a good deal of it is just testosterone and masculine ego. At one point on the Metro the chief agitator started doing pull-ups, a not-so-subtle attempt to flex his strength. In some ways it was very biological, with the males flexing and strutting to show their ability to be a good mate, while the women fended off the shows of vanity.

But observing what was going on, there was another layer of tangible dissonance, and I’m pretty sure it was about race, on both sides. Again, not to generalize, but on the male side I think the combination of testosterone and ego with a subconcious negative energy towards white women creates a very dominating attitude and subsequent behavior. Women become “ho’s,” objects of male domination. I think white men objectify women similarly, but the hundreds of years of racial tension and history does something different. Obviously I don’t think that all black men behave this way or even think this way, but in such an overt instance of domination, I can’t help but think it is some sort of assertion against white supremacy. Subconcious or concious, I think it’s there.

For the part of the women, like many other young white women I’ve known, I think they’ve been raised to have a much more concious fear and dislike of especially young black men. They’re warned from childhood to avoid homeless people (like many of us) and strangers who will potentially rape and kill them. Another generalization, but from my experience that’s how many many white girls are trained. Obviously the women had a right to feel intimidated, and I don’t in any way blame them for feeling that, but I wonder about what else was going on. Most of my female friends would have been uncomfortable in that situation regardless of the color of the skin of the guys, but would there be a difference in the level of it?

I guess what I’m getting at is the notion that in addition to the other things going on in this situation, both parties were taking part in something that we are ingrained with from birth it seems. We are all guilty of racism or prejudice. I doubt either party was thinking racially charged thoughts, but I know it was there. And honestly (and I don’t know what this means), I think if asked about it directly, I think the white women would have been quicker to realize or admit that at least part of why they were uncomfortable was because the guys were black. Again, not to place blame, but I just think that especially in white women, racism is taught much more overtly in the name of safety than in other demographics.



  1. Doug · February 6, 2010

    I’m curious – there’s no mention here of you rising to the women’s defense. Was this a conscious decision? Do we as Christians have an obligation to do so?

  2. brianjgorman · February 6, 2010

    I think if it had escalated any more, I would have said something or called the metro security. The men got off the Metro shortly after getting on it. While it was obvious the women were not happy about the harassment, none of them said “stop, leave me alone.” There were other people around, so I don’t know if the women were in any real danger, it was mostly just a show of domination.

    You are right though, that it may have been a better idea to say something sooner. As Christians called to be peacemakers, it takes some trust and faith to step in in that situation and be a nonviolent friend. Thanks for the challenge.

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