Cast of Characters
Board our cast of characters in Poughkeepsie (all names are invented (except Poughkeepsie (nobody would invent that, even in a work of fiction))):
- Adam, a white guy trying to mind his own business.
- Flores, a hispanic woman in her 40's sitting by the west window of the train.
- Juan, a hispanic man in his 50's sitting opposite Flores by the east window.
- Chica, a hispanic girl
- Carlita, a hispanic woman in her 30's.
- and me, your faithful author.
Flores and Juan strike up a conversation in Spanish. No problem with that, except that, Flores being by one window and Juan by the other, it's a pretty loud conversation. For me, it was moderately annoying because I only understand about half the words in the conversation because of my limited Spanish. Equally for me, it was something that I tolerated because of course there are jerks everywhere and you can't correct everybody's rudeness.
Obviously Adam didn't feel the same way. He stood up and loudly asked Flores and Juan "If you're going to keep talking, why don't you sit next to each other". Flores, who seems like a real loud-mouth no matter what, immediately instructed Adam to mind his own business. She loudly claimed that he was only objecting to their loud conversation because it was in Spanish. Then, in a fit of thoughtlessness, she accused Adam of being a racist. Heated words followed and she announced that she didn't want to talk to him anymore. Poor Juan followed her down the rathole, saying something like "You're only so mad because you only speak one language"
The issue seemed to be settled, when Flores got to her stop. Obviously she felt she had to put Adam in his place, so she started things again as she was walking off. Adam pretty much didn't give a crap, until Chica, walking right behind Flores, spat at Adam. At that point he demanded a policeman. I don't know what happened to whom, but the upshot was that the doors of the train stayed shut for about ten minutes, and when we rolled away, Flores and Chica were still talking to the police.
So .... you now have all the evidence I have (or can remember; of course eyewitnesses often disagree on exactly what happened). I stewed about this for a while, and finally decided that the racist on the train was .... Flores. Adam didn't say anything to her and Juan, a hispanic pair, that he wouldn't have said to a pair of white people. It was simply counter-factual to accuse him of racism. It was prejudicial of her to interpret as racism his request, no matter how boldly and perhaps even rudely stated.
So what's a racist? A racist is somebody whose prejudice is based on race, just like a sexist is somebody whose prejudice is based on gender. Racism knows no racial bounds, because prejudice is prejudice no matter who is prejudiced against whom.
So what's the problem here? Is Flores only giving as good as she's gotten from white folks? Maybe she's bringing emotional baggage to this play in two acts? Maybe so, but that doesn't stop her from being wrong. Where she's most wrong is in imputing racism to non-racially motivated criticism. What she's effectively asking for is a racist world. One in which everybody stops to consider race before criticizing somebody. One where people only criticize people of their own race.
Which brings us to Carlita. When Flores launched into Adam again, Carlita jumped up and started to give Flores what-for. If f-bombs were paintballs, Flores would have been black and blue and green and red all over. "You're the reason why people don't like Mexicans." Etc. Criticism from somebody of her own race she got in spades.
Nope, Flores didn't want to hear criticism from somebody of her own race, either.