Friday, April 23, 2010

Typical is the New Black

I know there are words that you’re not supposed to say to black people. Obviously I know you can't say the "n-word," the casual rapper version of it, or the n-word that ends in o. You can't say "colored." Up until recently, you couldn't call them black, only African-American, but apparently this list is ever changing and now black is the preferred nomenclature. I have another word to add to this list: typical.

You're probably thinking, "Typical? Why, that's an everyday word! What could be offensive about that?!" Well, I learned of the offensiveness of that word the hard way - on the rough streets of nyc.

More specifically on the morning downtown 4/5 train, one of the most densely populated rush hour trains. To give you an idea of what it's like on the 4/5 at 8:30AM (when this occurred), imagine being squashed into a space the size of a hallway with 150 other people while the train abruptly jerks along, tossing you into the laps and pits of your neighbors. Don't forget to add in the body odor or heavy perfume of all these people. Also imagine you can hear muffled versions of Britney Spears, November Rain, techno, salsa, and all sorts of rap playing from various iPods. Throw in a hangover and imagine you are about to endure this for the next 20 minutes. Do you feel stressed and terrible yet? Do you want out of the imaginary hell?

Great. Now you are in the dredge that is the Brooklyn bound 4/5 morning rush hour train. This particular day it was made even worse as I could hear rap music blasting from a cell phone. While I enjoy rap music as a great vehicle to encourage slutty grinding in clubs/bars/children's birthday parties, when coming from a cell phone it sounds just awful. Grainy, garbled, unmusical noise coming from tinny speakers is not something I want to hear ever, let alone in the dredge.

I found the perpetrator of this aural rape sitting in the middle of the train car. It was a black family consisting of a girl of about twenty with a toddler in a GIGANTIC condo-stroller, a middle-aged man and a borderline-elderly woman holding a tiny newborn baby. They looked harmless and reasonable enough, save the tiny audio bomb.

I took the noise as long as I could but soon the elements of the dredge took their toll on me and I couldn't stand it a moment longer. I decided it was time to take the power back.

Me (super politely to girl): Hi, I'm sorry, but do you mind turning your music off or at least putting some head phones in?

(Girl and guy give look that says "You did NOT just ask me a completely ridiculous request!")

Me (in disbelief, continuing on): Um, it's just that it's really early, it's against the rules and it's rude, actually. It's rude.

Guy: Rude? You're rude! Your talking on this train is bothering everyone way more than this music. Nobody is bothered by this music.

[I should interject here that the morning 4/5 is dominated by middle-aged white men who notoriously hate rap music.]

Me: It is 8:30 in the morning and your music is way more annoying. And the rules, I don't know where they are posted (frantically looking around), but they clearly say you cannot play music out loud.

Guy: The sign clearly shows a picture of a boom box. This is not a boom box. This is a cell phone. And she was not *playing* her music. She was just going through her songs. You need to stop talking because you're bothering everyone.

Elderly woman (here on referred to as hag): Just turn off the music.

Guy: No. She's not bothering anyone.

Me: So you're not going to turn it off?

Guy: No.

Me (warning: apparently graphic language ahead! Take children out of the room!): Typical.

[After this, I did not say another word for the entire trip. Luckily, I had brought a book with me so I could pretend that I couldn't hear what they were saying. But I heard everything. The following dialogue is not exaggerated and is probably missing a variety of details.]

Guy: Typical! Typical? What does that mean? Can you please clarify this?(I continue to read, making it clear I will not respond.) You know this is our first visit to New York City and to hear someone say typical is so ignorant. It really disgusts me as someone who graduated with honors to hear something like that. There are children here! She is not even doing anything to you.

[I would like to add here that the white people surrounding me had started to pretend that I did not need someone to come to my defense.]

Guy: You know I would understand if she (because now he was addressing the train? The girl? I don't know... he just started to refer to me as she) was an old woman and she didn't want to hear the music but no she's just some white bitch and I don't have to listen to any white bitches.

[I am not white]

Hag: Just stop. Don't play the music.

Guy: No. No! She didn't want to hear music? Now she can listen to me talk! I come from down south so I know what it's like to feel a noose around your neck from the KKK so for me to hear some fucking bitch say something as ignorant as TYPICAL it really disgusts me. She still has not clarified for us what she means by that so I'm not even sure but I don't need that from some white bitch.

(Takes small pause)

And the sign is clearly posted right there. It has a picture of a BOOM BOX just like I said. Just like I said!! This is a cell phone because I guess she can't tell the difference. *scoff* Typical. White people just want to keep us down!

Hag (up until this point she seemed to have been on my side but this line seemed to fire her up. She also revealed a deep Jamaican accent.): White people won't be happy until we're back in the fields working as slaves!!! They don't want to see us succeed! If I had my knife with me I would stab this fucking white bitch.

After this I actually became scared. My hands started shaking and I couldn't concentrate on my book. I found solace in the fact that I was surrounded by people on the train and I didn't think the hag could manage a stabbing while holding an infant. But my brain doesn't behave like normal brains so I decided that instead of walking away or switching cars, I would stand closer to the "family," and put on a brave face. I leaned my gym bag against the side bar of the hag's seat and tried to pretend my stuttering hands were a result of holding my very heavy, intellectual book.

From here it was basically just more of the guy rambling about what typical means blah blah blah. But the hag became even more irritated! At the Wall Street stop, one before my own stop, she started chanting, at first to herself, "She better watch that fucking bag. She better watch that fucking bag." As part of my brave face, I continued to ignore her. Then she turned to me, rage coloring her Jamaican eyes, and screeched, "BITCH YOU BETTER WATCH THAT FUCKING BAG!" As my hands shook uncontrollably, I looked at her in bewilderment, as though I no longer understood basic English. And I did not move. Thankfully, we pulled into the station right then and I nonchalantly stepped off the train, never so happy to be on a platform in my life. As I walked off the train, jittery as Lindsanity around some cocaine, I heard the guy say, "she never told us what typical meant, does she need a dictionary?"

I learned a hard lesson that day. People cannot be reasoned with while under the influence of rap music. And when you’re racially ambiguous like myself, whites will not come to your defense and blacks will stab you. (Cue "I am a rock, I am an iiiiiiisland.")

For the record, I just meant that it is typical of a person who would be playing music on the subway to be so rude as to ignore a request to stop playing that music. THAT is what is typical.


  1. GRRL! I'm glad you survived that ordeal!

    Ugh, what's typical about that asshole's reaction to a reasonable request to uphold public etiquette and respect of others is his hyperbolic claims of always being tread on because of his skin color; when the real reason is his total disregard for anyone around him/his immediate group of family/friends.

  2. I would have enjoyed being there. I'm CLEARLY white and would have definitely had my white brothers backing me. I would have pretended not to know you and also asked them to turn it off, but probably would have gotten far ruder than they were to you.

    Also, I agree, and without getting too racist --- it is EXTREMELY typical.