The civil rights movement bloomed precariously in some New Jersey towns in 1964 during all those hot-on-the-trail gatherings of various hate groups. But after a two-day vacation in Asbury Park, NJ, August 1964, the train headed toward Manhattan.
At age 22, pregnant, and overcome by morning sickness, I had to go to the john, which required passing between train cars. Suddenly, a middle-aged man in a three-piece suit blocked my way.
The year, 1964, the place, New Jersey. There had just been a Lincoln Rockwell Neo-Nazi gathering there. Did the middle-aged man who beat me up in the train just come from that meeting? Out of his mouth flew racial epithets calling me every word he could ramble, but finally focusing on one ethnicity he thought I looked like.
Whoops! He got the wrong ethnic group. But why would it matter? Was there a tumor on the right lobe of his brain perhaps causing intermittent explosive disorder? He babbled like a bubbling fountain of hate words, all of which were racially incendiary slang.
No way to tell for sure, since he was dressed in a business suit and with his wife who wore a black velvet pillbox hat with a mesh veil covering her forehead--a 1964 millinery style. She didn't see him physically assault me in the train, but came on the scene from the back of the train car as he was holding me and I was trying to walk away to the next car of the train. Was the man's scowl and words more about his own pride?
Or more about me not obeying his order to wait until the train stopped before returning to my seat. Ironically, his wife passed between the cars with no comment from him. His wife returned to her seat somewhere in the back of the train car. She apparently didn't see yet what happened next.
The man scowled over his shoulder in a voice dark as lava, "Wait ‘till the train stops in Elizabeth."
"But I’ve got to get back to my seat," I begged.
The bald man shook his head ‘no.’ I rushed past him toward the john.
He grabbed my jaws, forcing my head between his thighs in a vise-like grip. Then he took his knee and squeezed my skull between the metal of the inside train car and his leg. Like a puppet, he twisted me, lifting my flailing body upwards and kicking it down inside the car.
I tried to run in place like a fool, but he was holding me steadfast while my legs circled as if pumping a bicycle. The wife finally got wind of what was happening and walked toward him. "Let her go dear," his wife whined a child-like tone when she saw my outstretched arm flailing and my wiggling fingers with that bright gold wedding band flashing.
The middle-aged man let me go at last, but not before he gave me a swift kick at the base of the spine and threw me forward, bodily into the next car. With that, he yelled to me, "You dirty (racial epithet) !" Followed by a stream of more epithets... I thought I looked likein the movie, ‘Cleopatra.’ He saw curly dark hair, tanned Sicilian complexion, and knee-jerked explosively to some caricature hate literature stereotype.
Not one of the other passengers rose to my aid. No one cared to look up from his newspaper. I trotted back to my seat in silence and never told my husband or parents what happened.
He hit me for disobeying his command to wait until the train stopped before I tried to pass in front of him. It’s the litmus test of man’s humanity--how a society treats its women.
The racists who came to strangle me were shrinking my world like the most delicately tinted of bubbles, shrinking in ever narrowing circles from the upward gush of my own infancy. You've got to be crazy to see a psychiatrist. Don't call me if you're gnawing on a bad day, and all you want to do is have a discussion.
Are racists our mirrors? Some individuals who reflect how we feel about ourselves at the moment? Is every racist a mirror of his or her own failures, and every victim a reflection of his or her personal successes?
If you want to combat racism, find a void in society and fill it. It's no wonder a sharp promoter saturated the market with racists feeling their own inadequacies.
The words of racists fall like an embroidered saddle on a jackass. Remember when racists felt like failures when career success eluded them? Racists don't expand into saints. They're squeezed into silver plated girdles where their only private space is a purse. Some years later, I moved to Sacramento.
Could this happen in any city? Cut to 2012 on the light rail from Arden Arcade to downtown Sacramento. The man sitting next to me, of a different race than the man in Asbury Park is listening to some broadcast or music on headphones.
Strangers on the Sacramento Light Rail
All of a sudden, he turns to me and yells a racial hate epithet. This time it's a nasty word never used in public regarding his own race. Was he listening to that word repeated on his headphones? The girl sitting opposite him of his race who knows him says something I didn't quite hear, and laughs.
I don't react. Suddenly, he turns to me and says, "I'm sorry." I nod slightly with a motherly expression--as if to say I wasn't startled even though you tried to make an impact on me. No reprimand-type looks. The girl sitting opposite me says, "Where you from?"
"New York City," I reply. She gives a loud chortle, then a belly laugh as if it's okay as in "everything goes" in New York. But then again, I'm a white-haired woman over-70 who moves very slow, and I wonder: Why is race mentioned so often between strangers on a train?
The next week I sit on a bus going down Marconi Avenue toward the light rail. A woman of one race suddenly blurts out a scream and loudly calls to the elderly couple of another race seated to her left side of the bus aisle. "You people sold us the drugs, made us poor..." she shouts with an angry but sobering voice.
The elderly couple look once at her and then at each other and say nothing. From the looks of their clothes, the couple look like recent immigrants from the Middle East or South Eastern Europe.
The lady across the aisle raises her voice, ranting, babbling, shouting hate and history and racial epithets, hate words, and more accusations. At the next stop the couple, hand in hand leave the bus.
The lady keeps on talking to everyone on the bus, but no one is looking at her. Finally, the last stop....And it's everyone goes his own way waiting for the light rail to downtown Sacramento, 2012.
I say nothing but think, why can't we all get along instead of culturally clashing day after day about the frustrations of personal images expanded to include a history of the world?
Why can't we all join hands and sing "Kumbaya" like we did when I was a college student in the 1960s? Does everybody have to look the same and be in similar economic straits for a country to be happy?