I’ll be the first to admit, I’m a racist. I think we all are. To an extent.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not the “I won’t buy my cigarettes from the deli because the owner is one of them dirty Paki-s” type of racist. That sort of unabashed hatred is dangerous and morally wrong. I’m more like the “something about a group of Asian tourists simultaneously giving the peace sign while being photographed is always funny” breed of bigot.
I don’t apologize for my prejudice; I think stereotypes are partially based on truth, I get nervous about the fact that we’re going to lose so many silly-sounding accents because of increased assimilation, and if an apartment listing boasts a location with a “vibrant Yemeni community”, that’s not a particularly strong selling point to me.
It was a brisk February eve in on the east side of Manhattan. After imbibing some spirits, Adam, “Brad” and I left a pregame to head elsewhere. Faced with the dearth of nearby subways and available taxicabs, we opted to take the MTA bus to our destination. It was a seemingly innocuous decision. People ride the bus all the time. We were by all accounts, people.
Unfortunately, that choice has forced me to see one of my closest companions differently ever since….
I’ll be frank. A city bus at 11:45 on a Saturday night isn’t exactly frequented by milquetoast WASPs coming home from spin class. But that’s cool. As I said previous, I tend embrace our differences. So us three noticeably inebriated white guys got on a bus full of black people. Big deal.
Brad: So whadidya do last night?
Me: I went to that new restaurant on 34th. I had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; Elliot went with the grilled cheese.
Brad: PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY AND GRILLED CHEESE?! REAL MATURE! WHADIDYA HAVE FOR APPETIZERS…CHICKEN NIGGERS?!?!
The silence was deafening.
Tension and disgust filled the air like nerve gas.
Brad’s mouth was agape and his eyes expanded like droplets of blood in water.
Adam morphed into liquid goo and melted deep into his seat.
I swear I saw fury in the bus driver’s eyes from his rearview mirror.
I did my best to rectify the situation. I immediately soothed the uneasy crowed with my expert improvisational skills.
Me: UM…UM..NO, BRAD, THEY DID NOT…. HAVE THE CHICKEN FINGERS, THAT YOU SPEAK OF!!! FURTHERMORE-
The bus doors opened and we tumbled down the steps onto the street before any major fallout occurred. The bus pulled away. We stood in silence for what seemed like an eternity until we regained our senses.
Brad tried to explain his gross misconduct.
Apparently, he wanted to ask me if they served either chicken “fingers” or chicken “nuggets”. While attempting to send the words from his frontal lobe to his vocal chords, they got lost in transit, infused with Jameson whiskey, and forcibly merged, yielding the unfortunate result. He swore over and over that he was innocent of any kind of bigotry-related culpability.
Adam and I took his defense at face value and we continued our trek. We even joked about the experience later on.
Yet, somehow I could not rid myself of the likelihood that the preponderance of African-American riders surrounding us prompted his vulgar speech. I liken it to Austin Powers and the Mole in Goldmember. But of course, this was no laughing matter.
Could simple close contact elicit such hateful thoughts from my otherwise loving and mild-tempered companion? Was it possible that such noxious sentiments could lay dormant and suddenly be awakened by a few shots of Jame-o and an awkward moment? Who the fuck doesn’t know the difference between a chicken nugget and a chicken finger?
Whatever the case, it was clear that Brad wasn’t ready to confess ANY forms of racism to us that night. Unacceptable as they may have been, we could have helped. We could have dug deeper, explored his fears in order to rid himself of his racist inklings. I mean hey, acknowledgement of flaws is the first step to remedy.
Now, Brad and I speak in superficial tones. Any conversation remotely related to race; be it a discussion of last night’s Knick game or the recitation of a Rick Ross lyric, is met with apprehension and uneasiness. If only he could come clean.
For the record, every time we walk by a McDonald’s, I can’t help but snicker. They may have brought back the McRib, but I don’t think that product will ever make it to the menu.