“Thinking you have the right to remove somebody from public transit because they annoy you is a perfect example of white privilege in action…”
On Thursday night, a young person of color was almost thrown off the N train here in San Francisco around 30th avenue because the two men said he was listening to his music too loudly. I ride the N all the time because I live a block away from Judah, but I wasn’t on the train the night of the incident.
I wasn’t there, but I can imagine exactly what happened because I see it all the time.
A group of black and brown teens get on the bus. The postures of all the passengers become tighter. Their eyes roll, and their lips quiver, and they want to say something, but they don’t want to be thatperson. So, they sit on the bus, clutching their purses and their backpacks tight against their chest, biting down on their lips, covering their ears, and looking down or smirking and shaking their head with another person annoyed by the “loud.” And when these black and brown teens get off the bus, they exhale. But I’ve seen a group of white teens get on the bus harassing passengers and screaming and yelling across the bus and the passengers just smile and say they’re just being snotty kids. But a group of teens of color don’t get the same immunity in public spaces.
So, even though I wasn’t there I can imagine exactly what happened.
A black or brown teen gets on the bus and the air thickens. But, if they get on with music, you’re just waiting for the blow… I always wonder, if it were a different music genre would it be a problem? I’ve seen people get on the bus screaming, drunk and drooling, having loud conversations on the phone, and everything between. So, why is music a problem?
Why was it a problem for this boy to listen to music to the point where they physically grabbed him and tried to throw him off like it was okay? They weren’t police, bus operators, or anybody. But actually, a title wouldn’t make that okay either. No one deserves to be grabbed up and thrown out of somewhere for music.
Two grown men assaulted a teen. You can hear a shaky “leave him alone” or two being shouted, but no one got up to actually help. When I heard the faint “leave him alone,” I wondered, how many of those passengers were secretly hoping he would just get off with his music too?
It is problematic (and potentially dangerous) to generalize people based off of broad assumptions we have about them. Instead of seeing this kid listening to music on the bus and assuming they’re a threat because of their clothes or music (because of crazy stereotypes or possibly a past experience), get to know them. Get to know about the fashion. Get to know about the music. Just take a minute to try to understand. What do those pants mean to them? What does that music mean to them?
I used to get on the bus with my airpods in and listen to Kendrick Lamar (my favorite rapper ever) and I always was afraid I had the volume up too loud. But recently, I haven’t cared because if anyone asked me why I was listening to him or why I had it so loud I would tell them the story. It’s because I love this music. It’s so vivid and articulate. Kendrick Lamar is a Pulitzer prize winner who talks about blackness and the experiences and identity that come with that. He also has a whole album that follows the journey of his adolescence in Compton which contains a lot of the struggles and experiences I also endured in the neighborhood I grew up in. He has beautiful lyricism and the beats are melodic and he’s incredibly talented and he’s just as sophisticated as any other genre. If people would ask more about people, strangers, they would know/understand. They would understand and they would call the cops less, assault less, stare in disgust less.
I actually think about the music people listen to on the bus a lot. So many people have earphones in and album covers glowing on their locked phone screens and I always want to ask, what are you listening to? I am a major music lover and I feel what we listen to is very telling of who we are or how we are feeling or where we are at that point in the day. Some moments I’m Kendrick Lamar, some I’m Elton John, some I’m Metallica. And, I always want to know what others are listening to. Once I had a Lyft driver who said he loves country and ska music and he was so passionate about it. Music makes people light up when you ask them. I’m working with eighth graders at MLK Middle School and one of the kids was drawing a picture of XXXtentacion (the young rapper that was murdered over the summer) and he lit up with surprise when I knew who it was, and we had a whole conversation about it and he told me why he liked this rapper who everyone says is controversial and violent. And just getting to know someone’s story (or as many pieces of it as you can) it changes things. It may even make the music seem less loud if you just knew a little of his story, or even a little of his music interest.
I saw this video on Facebook and because I ride the N so much and because I can see the distaste in faces when kids get on the bus playing music, I clicked play and then I had to share my reaction on here. And, as always with social media, I am always curious to see what people are saying in the comments. Some of the comments:
“Too much hip hop!”
“What happened to kindly asking him to turn it down? Is that not in our languageanymore?”
“Regardless of the ethnicity, you have to realize that you are in a public space. What happened here was a physical assault, that said noise assaultwas the seed that started the entire drama.”
“These two men should be arrested and charged with assault. Putting someone in a headlock and forcibly trying to push them off the train is a violent offense.”
“Anything can happen on Muni if someone isn’t acting right. To avoid a problem, common sense in respecting the rights of othersis a good idea.”
“Boy’s got to learn to respect all the other riders and keep his music to himself and there wouldn’t be a problem to start the problem!”
Curious to know what you all think. Comment your thoughts below…