The four young women burst into my car on the DC Metro late one afternoon last week. Probably in their mid-teens, they entered with the loud exuberance of unrestrained youth. Mindful only of their group and oblivious to the sparse sprinkling of their fellow-riders commuting to the suburbs, they were too loud, too rambunctious, too . . . much.
Some passengers glanced up from their phones and newspapers to greet the girls with brief looks of rebuke. Most just ignored the commotion.
For the space of one stop, the young women laughed uproariously at adolescent humor, uttered an occasional curse word for effect, and one became so overcome with hilarity she dramatically fell out of her seat and rolled on the floor of the Metro car.
It was all finally too much even for one of them who became uncomfortable and encouraged the others to tone things down. The other three ignored her and continued the boisterous antics.
The train stopped. The Metro doors slid open and the young women piled out onto the platform. The one rebuker continued her entreaties. As the doors closed behind them, I heard her say, “Y’all are why white people think black folks . . .” (The young women were African–American.)
I didn’t hear any more as the doors shut and we pulled away.
I heard enough to wonder what it must be like to go through life knowing that to many you represent all people who look like you . . . or worship like you or speak the same language you do.
I wondered what it must be like to know that any misstep only confirms and contributes to prejudices you carry as a burden you didn’t ask for and cannot simply unload.
Those of us in dominant cultures, ethnicities, and religions move through life confident our foolishness – and worse – won’t adversely reflect on all those like us.
We justify our preconceived notions of “others” by holding up examples that support our prejudices and saying, “That’s just the way they are.”
The behavior of those young women was certainly over the top. But that’s how young people in groups act sometimes.
That folks would observe those young women and think, ‘That’s how black folks act,” is sad.
That a young woman would think – would know – people would respond in that way is heartbreaking.