On Friday, I was on the train to New York to do a teach-in on Ferguson at NYU. Beats headphones on (ed: a brand of wildly overpriced headphones marketed to inner-city blacks as a status symbol), lost in thought, peering out the window, I suddenly saw a white hand shoving my work carry-on toward me. Startled, I looked up to see the hand belonged to a white guy, who was haphazardly handling my open bag, with my laptop perched just inside to make space for himself on the seat next to me
That he wanted the seat on the now full train was not the problem. That he assumed the prerogative to place his hands on my bag, grab it, shove it at me, all while my computer was unsecured and peaking out, infuriated me. I said to him, “Never put your hands on my property.”
His reply: “Well, you should listen when I talk to you.” That line there, the command that when he, whoever he was, spoke, I should automatically listen encapsulates the breadth of the battle against racism we have to fight in this country.
Buoyed by his own entitlement, his own sense of white male somebodiness, this passenger never even considered that he might simply try harder to get my attention before putting his hands on my stuff. His own need to control space, his own sense of entitlement to move anything in his way even if it held something of value to another person, his belief that he had the right to do whatever he needed to do to make the environment conform to his will are all hallmarks of white privilege.
In the reverse scenario, a black man would never get on the train, snatch up a white woman’s bag, and shove it in her face. But then black women are rarely entitled to the courtesies proffered to white women, and black people never presume they are entitled to occupy interracial spaces so aggressively.
Brittney “TheCrunkFeminist” Cooper is an Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers, and has written a startlingly large number of bat-shit-insane things over the years.