The Art of Tongue Biting

This past Saturday while heading downtown on the 1 train, I had the unfortunate experience of sharing a 10 minute commute with half a dozen or so loud and obnoxious teenagers. They had obviously been drinking and smoking, as they reeked of alcohol and marijuana.

Every other word from their mouths were either expletives or the word n-word. Each time the n-word was used, I could feel it cutting away at the fabric of my being. As I looked around, I could tell that the other passengers were equally offended.

I made eye contact with an older African American gentleman (possibly in his late thirties). He had a bothered look on his face. Judging by his large build and hands, he could have been a construction worker or a former linebacker. I can tell that he wanted to say something, but he turned away from me and ignored the young men.

I turned to my right and I saw a sea of uncomfortable faces, but no one addressed the language or behavior of these young men. Black, white, young, old, visitor or resident, we were all held hostage by this unabashed show of ignorance.

My heart began to race, with my fist clinched as I glared in their direction. What would I say? How would I say it? These kids were drunk and high. If they had the audacity to drop the n-word so recklessly, how would they respond if I approached them? It was becoming unbearable .

As I started to work up the nerve to address them, their stop came and they exited the train at Times Square. As loudly and obnoxiously as they were on the train, they mobbed the platform and continued to parade their display of ignorance and disregard in public.

I guess times have changed. I have never seen a group of white kids use the n-word so openly. Do you think they would have exhibited the same behavior if we were in Central Harlem or East New York?

Afterwards I felt bad for not speaking up. But the more and more I reflect on the whole incident, it was probably the best decision. They were inebriated and ignorant. I’m not sure how productive or destructive that interaction would have been. I simply had to show restraint for 10 minutes, imagine having to show that kind of self control for an entire lifetime.

1 train
The downtown 1 train stopping at 96th street on the upper west side of Manhattan.