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The days that make me pine for an insular, racially-homogenous life in the suburbs are the days when someone accosts me for being white. To date, there have been five or so incidents that protrude from my psyche like bits of broken tile, but this past Columbus Day takes the cake. After working late (and irritating the hell outta A. Beaujon), I was waiting at the Georgia Ave-Petworth metro stop for the 62 bus, when a drunk West African man in a roadster cap asked me for a few minutes of my time. The bus was late, and I liked the man’s hat, and when I told him I didn’t have any cash, he said he only wanted to talk. Fair enough.
He asked me where I was from. “Florida,” I said.
“Are you an Indian?” He asked.
I stared at him. Did I look Indian—either indigenous or Southeast Asian?
“No,” he said. “You are European, from Europe. You are a colonizer. And an imperialist.”
So that was where this conversation was going.
“No,” I said. “I’m from Florida. I didn’t colonize America. I was born here.”
“Well,” he said. “I am from West Africa, from Guinea-Bissau, I speak three languages. My ancestors were slaves. How many languages do you speak?”
Not feeling up to a test of my French, I told him I spoke only one language, and here the man decided to change his tact.
“We must never forget slavery,” he said, and grabbed my hand for a shake. I agreed—no forgetting atrocities—and shook. Next, something something about wielding hegemonic power with fairness, to which I also agreed and shook. And then, as if he were channeling Chris Farley’s character from Black Sheep, he dropped his post-colonial academic shtick (as well as my hand), backed up a few steps and said, “White man can’t do nothing for me. I don’t need him. Fuck whitey!”
Everyone else at the bus stop, all of them black, ignored him. But as the man spat at me and swore up and down, I noticed that no one interjected or intervened, much less said, “You’re being a racist asshole and you should cut it out.” And for a second (but only a second, because victimhood is overrated), I thought of all the outrage leveled at white GOP rally attendees who stood by as their fellow white Republicans shouted racial slurs at a black cameraman in Clearwater, Fla., or paraded around a monkey dressed in Obama gear in Johnstown, Pa., and wondered if maybe the blacks at the bus stop were just as reticent to defend me as GOP whites are to defend them. And if so, where’s the outrage at our culture’s collective distaste for defending other identity groups?
But then I remembered that it was Columbus Day, and that I deserved it.