Friday, December 19, 2014

the mind of a seat snatcher revealed, accidentally

I've always been both fascinated and disgusted by people who take up extra seats on a crowded subway. The people who feel their shopping bag needs a seat more than their fellow passengers. What kind of a person is that?

I mean, there are those weird people who put a bag on a seat and stand next to it, and while that's a waste of a seat, at least with them you can say that they just don't understand the appeal of sitting. They're happy to stand so it may just not occur to them that others like to sit.

But those people who sit next to their bag (or, as sometimes happens, between two bags) know the importance of sitting down, because they're doing it. They know that when you're on the train, it's better to sit. they just don't care that they're preventing someone else from sitting.

It drives me crazy. Inspired by "Men Taking Up Too Much Space on the Train," I've even considered creating a Tumblr called "Bags That Need a Seat More Than You Do," but that's a project for a later time.

Sometimes I just want to ask these people, what the fuck? What sort of entitled person thinks that their own comfort is all that matters?

One seat snatcher has answered that question in an article in Salon meant to be about racist white people that turned out instead to be about the writer's own narcissistic selfishness.,

The article, '“Listen when I talk to you!”: How white entitlement marred my trip to a Ferguson teach-in.', by Brittney Cooper, begins thusly:

On Friday, I was on the train to New York to do a teach-in on Ferguson at NYU. Beats headphones on, 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.
So, a woman sits down on a train, puts her bag next to her, puts on headphones and stares out the window.

In an empty train, I will put a bag on the seat next to me, but if I do that, I constantly monitor the train to make sure it's not getting full. If the train starts to fill up, I put my bag on the floor, or my lap, because I don't want to be an asshole. If I'm wearing my bulky winter coat, I pull it close around me so it doesn't block the other seats. I have bad feet, I have bad knees; I know how important a seat is.

Cooper acknowledges that the train was full, and says she understands why someone would want to sit. But she objects to someone picking up her bag after failing to get her attention. She says he should have tried harder to get that attention, although if she thought moving her bag was a sign of white male privilege, it's hard to believe that a tap on the shoulder or a white hand waved between her eyes and the window would have not have set her off as well.

What she never acknowledges in the article is that she had no right to take up an extra seat. No, "yes, I was in the wrong to take an extra seat on a crowded train, but it is inexcusable to grab someone's bag." Because it really is an asshole move to grab someone's bag; in spite of my bad feet I would never do that.

Cooper seems very angry that a white man did this, but it's hard to believe she would have been that much happier if a black man had grabbed her bag, or a pregnant white lady, or an elderly Korean. And that could have happened; I think we all know that pushy intrusiveness is not limited to any one race.

That's the fascinating thing about assholes; they will unselfconsciously tell you what assholes they are because they feel completely justified in all their asshole behavior. I'm sure that white guy would be willing to sit down and write an article about how he had to grab some stranger's bag and move it with the some obliviousness to his breach of social norms. Rather than being an article about white entitlement, this is simply an article about two entitled assholes facing off.

Most people in the comments section reacted as I have, taking her to task for her own bad behavior. But there is the occasional comment that says, "white people just don't get it." This is a pretty common statement when discussing racism, and a true one. White people don't know what it's like to live in a society where they are considered the other, the ones to be mistrusted and watched out for. We didn't grow up in a society where a "flesh-colored" band-aid is off-white, where the white guy is the television detective and the black guy is the street-wise junkie, where a preponderance of black faces in a neighborhood makes it "bad." We totally don't understand the black experience.

But what does that have to do with being a jerk? Does it mean black people get a pass for being assholes? Is that part of reparations?

An asshole is an asshole. It is condescending to say we are not going to hold Brittney Cooper to account because she's black and upset about Ferguson. It is patronizing to say, "well, she's black,
she has a right to be an ass," and unfair to all the polite people of all races who show consideration for their fellow humans.

When that guy grabbed her bag she had a choice. She could think about how her inconsiderate behavior created a situation, or she could decide that the real problem was racism. She chose the latter, and that tells me a lot about the sort of person who lets you stand so their bag can sit.