Sep 26, 2009 Letters
Being in a crowded New York subway car is no fun. You are literally pushed up against hundreds of cultures from around the world, all with its nauseating odours and its alien, even irritating mannerisms.
Couple this with the fact that almost half the people on the train don’t speak English and everyone has a New York attitude which basically says, “It’s all about me. I come first” and you have your daily commute to and from work.
But this story is not about common New York rudeness which residents excuse as being “hard-nosed” in a large tough city. It’s about women, specifically brown immigrant women and their attitude and expectations of the opposite sex.
The woman standing in front of my seat looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties. She was maybe Vietnamese, Philippino, or some sort of darkish Asian blend and her handbag, or pocket-book as they say, was slung over her shoulder, but it was so large that it ended up resting its weight on my $300 iPod Touch which was on my lap. I gently moved it away from the screen. She glared at me and angrily said: “You could have said excuse me.”
Surprised and irritated I responded: “You could have said sorry. Weren’t you aware that your bag was resting on my lap?”
“Don’t you touch my bag,” she hissed.
“Look, just keep it off my lap,” I replied.
“Oh shut-up,” she retorted, “you’re not looking good and you’re spoiling my day.”
My irritation was getting the better of me (which I must say is something that should be controlled in the NY subway).
“I don’t want to look good to you and anyway, with a face like yours you can’t avoid having a bad day,” I snapped back. At this point my wife rested a restraining hand on my knee and tried to refocus my attention on the news app I was reading on the iPod. The woman continued to mutter something under her breath but I ignored it. The situation returned to normal as if nothing happened and she got off at the next stop.
“That’s your girl?” The black gentleman, perhaps in his early fifties pointed to my wife.
“Yeah,” I said, with inward sigh of ‘here we go again.’
“She didn’t know that,” he said about the girl using the suitcase-sized handbag. He smiled a bit and I knew he had more to say. “She wanted you to see her as an attractive woman. She was watching you since she got on the train. She didn’t realise your girl was already next to you.”
I was surprised. I was so busy reading the news that I did not pay attention to anyone around me.
“That’s funny,” I said, a bit embarrassed. Growing up in a home with many older sisters, knowing my wife as my high school sweet heart, and having a woman boss for a number of years have perhaps conditioned me to see women first as people, rather than mere sex objects. Being happily married for 18 years, I thought, has long taken me off playing those games. And living in the western world where feminists rightly insist on equality makes me see a human first and gender second.
“Oh boy, you know all I could think of at that moment was how rude this person is to rest a bag on my lap. I didn’t see it as a man/woman thing. I saw this only as a lack of manners from a person who is not aware of their surroundings,” I said. “This kind of thing happens all the time in the subway.”
“It’s a bit deeper than that,” he said gently, “our minority women are being taught to see themselves first and foremost as sexual objects, they are being taught to focus on their sexiness first because this is mostly what they want to be used for. That girl would have said ‘sorry’ to any woman, but not to you. As a man she expected you to see her as a sexy woman first, rather than a person.”
“Strange,” I said, “Actually, if she had first said ‘sorry about my bag’ I would have paid her more gracious attention because I would have found her awareness to be an endearing, smart and classy quality.”
“You’re like Eddie Murphy in Coming to America,” he said. “Remember when he said ‘I want a woman who stimulates my intellect as well as my loins’?”
I smiled and thought, could he have a point about women of colour? My friend’s daughter, a dark Indian girl had taken up with a white boy. She told us proudly that he told his parents that he was going out with an “exotic” girl. They were later married and then divorced two years later. She still only goes out with white guys. She likes how they make her feel special, she says. Her relationships last an average three months. She appears to be more of a fetish for these guys who use her and when sated, dump her.
One of my work colleagues was seeing a girl who he told us was “oriental”. I explained to him that she was Asian, that oriental is a word that applies only to objects, “you know, like an oriental rug?”
“Whatever man,” was his reply. “I like tapping Chinese chicks. They’re easy.” The girl was Korean.
So, is there any truth to the claim that minority women get giddy if told they are exotic? Could it be the new colonial mentality among brown women in the Diaspora?
Are women of colour being singled out for their sexiness first? Will their brain become less useful and so atrophy because they think being a “bodacious babe” is what it’s all about? Will their intelligence undergo an arrested development?
Justin de Freitas
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