Ride with the dirty laundry on public transportation. Pay no attention to the people sharing a bus or subway with the dirty laundry. Obviously these people haven't heard a thing. Nor have they seen anything. Nor have they wondered why. These frightened people don't exist. The secret is safe with them.
The Cos’ suggestion that black folks’ conduct while taking public transportation is an indicator of the health of the black public sphere is interesting. In the realm of public transportation, general norms of public behavior often press up against more specific black norms of respectability. Step on a bus or train in a city with a lot of black folks. You will see altruism, selfishness, conviviality, ignorance, vulgarity, and humor all on display.
You will see people assist mothers with strollers, cede seats to the elderly, and help riders lock their wheelchairs into place. You will hear “sirs” and “ma’ams” coming from kids’ mouths. You will see locals helping tourists with directions. Sometimes you will even see riders spotting the fares of complete strangers. You will see several people reading (mostly the Bible, trashy ghetto lit, and school textbooks).You will see that most people are quiet, friendly, and respectful.
You will also see people play (always terrible) rap and R & B loud enough for everyone to hear. You will hear people talking loudly--yelling really--about sex and violence. You will see people littering, leaving trash and food on the ground or seats, even though there are trash bins near. You will see people with no home training in norms of decent public behavior.
Because I am frequently disgusted by the conduct of public transportation riding ign’ants, individual instances of rude behavior, loudness, and vulgarity don’t stand out to me. What I remember vividly, though, are the moments of social policing in which black public transportation users are so fed up with ign’ant behavior, they confront the ign’ants. Two particular instances come to mind:
1.) I was riding a bus in the afternoon, right when school let out. A couple of bookish kids were being clowned by a group of their ign’ant schoolmates. An older brother stepped in and chided the ign’ants for teasing the couple. Predictably, the ign’ants started cursing the older brother, which prompted him to respond, “You never know, I may have a gun on me right now! Keep on talkin’, I might shoot up this whole damn bus!” The rest of the riders went from admiring this guy for saying something to realizing that he was an ign’ant too.
2.) A few weeks ago, I heard a man yelling as he got on the bus, “Hurry up before I knock yo teeth down yo mothafuckin throat. You stupid as fuck!” Then, a girl who as about 11 or 12 years old got on the bus and everyone realized that the man was yelling at this little girl, his daughter. The other riders just shook their heads and look exasperated as this man continued to curse and berate his daughter.
A few minutes later, a second man went to exit the bus and confronted the father, saying, “You think that was the right thing to do, huh? Man, you a punk! I’ll kick yo ass. Get off this bus on the next stop! You don’t yell at no little girl like that, you ol’ punk!”
The father was clearly scared and apologetic, telling his confronter, “You right. You right. That’s my daughter, but I shouldn’t have done that. I shoulda handled it better. You right.”
The confronter then exited the bus yelling, “Don’t never let me catch you on these streets. I’ll beat yo ass!” Once it was clear that his confronter was gone, the father tried to save face by saying loud enough for everyone to hear, “I’ll be done killed somebody in here. I woulda shot him, but I can’t go back to the penitentiary.”
Again, the elation the other riders felt upon seeing this father get punked disappeared immediately, as we were reminded that this loser was the little girl’s role model.
Respectable negroes, what is the best, worst, or strangest thing you’ve seen while riding public transportation?