Volume 18 • Issue 47 | April 7 - 13, 2006

Downtown Notebook

Racist moment in Tribeca proves struggle isn’t over

By Wickham Boyle

I am still shaking. I, perhaps naively, thought the blatant racism, which I know exists elsewhere, had ceased to flourish in the enclave where I live. Tribeca has become a haven to those of us who formed it in our wild, youthful artist days and to those who cherish what we created and now have the bucks to buy in. Either way I believed we were a community of Blue State beliefs. I am wrong.

I went to my local bike store, a place I have frequented for over a decade. I needed a little spring tune up and since the sun was shining and the bench outside was empty, I took my 1968 Raleigh in for a new gearshift. I left the “Greenie” and settled into the spring sun.

A gray haired employee, a man who never really chatted with me, came out to do some work on the rental bikes. I was seated next to one of the old time guys and we were talking about kids, divorce, you know the conversation that connects us in middle age.

Let’s call the guy working on the rental bikes Mike, because he reminds me of too many of the angry, bigoted Irish uncles I grew up with. Mike began a tirade about seeing “a Chinese delivery boy” who was “seriously doored by a car the other night. If it was going to be anyone, I am glad it was some Chinese delivery boy and not me. He had no helmet and not even a basket for his bags, I mean what did he think.”

I waited not wanting to release my quick draw temper, but when Mike’s rant continued, “Now my taxes are gonna pay to fix this guy up, can you believe it.”

I had to jump in. “Well he probably wasn’t given a helmet or basket by his employers who are exploiting his being here illegally,” I said. “Maybe he’s escaping some terrible fate in his own country only to come here.”

“Whatever” was Mike’s laconic response.

I just wanted to retrieve my bike and get out of there. It was a sensation akin to the desire to flee a burning building. So when Jeremy, the manager, came out to announce the steed was ready to roll, I ran in to pay.

When I entered the store there was a youngish African-American man looking at bikes and inquiring as to the price. Under his breath, as he rolled another rental bike out the door, Mike muttered, “ Why ask, he won’t buy anything anyway.”

I exploded.

“You are a terrible racist,” I said. “It is awful to speak about Chinese people, black people, anyone the way I just heard you rant in the last ten minutes.”

“What me? I didn’t say anything,” Mike countered sheepishly.

I firmly believe he is unaware of the hatred that spewed from his mouth and spirit. I continued, “In 2006, after everything this city and country have been through, it is unacceptable to espouse this kind of racism. And if you have those thoughts, you should, at the very least, learn to keep them to yourself. This is an outrage.”

I began to cry. I was burbling over with anger, hurt and disbelief that there are still people out there, working on my bike, or wandering my streets who are thinking like that. They are conspiring under their breath with hatred toward my family, my friends, the tapestry of diversity that makes me downright adore this city.

Jeremy, the manager, apologized to me, but I wanted an apology from the man who stood slack-jawed still perusing the fancy bikes; one was muttered. I took my bike out into the sunshine that now seemed so much less warm.

What makes this kind of abject hatred bubble and sustain in people who are old enough, warm enough, well fed enough, to know better. My friend on the bench told me, “Oh ignore him, he’s just an old drunk.” So great, now we use another stereotype to explain why someone’s behavior is wrong. Mike may or may not be “an old drunk” but it fails to unlock why we, as a society, still spawn this type of derision for people based on their skin, culture, religion, or the sweethearts they pick.

I am still shaking and perhaps that is a good thing. We all need to have our cores rattled until virulent racism is eradicated.


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