Monday, April 19, 2010

When Helping Is Hurting

I had a most bizarre experience today. On the subway coming home, a young black man stood up and asked if anyone could give him fifty cents. He assured the crowd that fifty cents was all he needed to take a bus. Sounded fair to me, so I dug in my purse and gave him fifty cents. Had I known the fire storm it would create, I would kept my two quarters to myself.

No sooner had I deposited the money into the young man's hand than another black man exploded with anger. How dare this young man impinge the dignity of all black men by begging. "Get a job" he screamed, and our beggar, I mean young man, wasn't about to take that retort quietly.

"Are you gonna hire me?" he asked the other man, who clearly avoided answering that question at first. "Why is it that Mexicans will help me, white people will help me, but n-----s never help me?" asked the young man. I wanted to melt into my seat. I wasn't alone. Most people stared straight ahead, or looked down. Anywhere but where the screaming was coming from.

These two men continued the same argument for at least two more stops. Everything calmed down after the young man exited, still feisty, still making his point about needing help and not getting it from his own. The other man, well, he offered the young man a hand, showing only one finger.

Frankly, I could see both their points. The young man wasn't asking for much - just fifty cents. But the other man, well, I noticed him when he first got on the subway and he seemed pissed off then too, so it didn't take much to send him over the edge. That edge was a black man, jobless, asking people for money. He didn't see much dignity in that.

However, the ensuing argument was devoid of dignity as well, and not just for these two men. For a full 15 minutes, we were all robbed of dignity.


  1. Sounds like an interesting exchange to me, an enlightening, too. Why did it upset you so much? Were you scared? Someone asked for help, and you helped. Why should you regret that? Last time I was on public transportation, I was yelled at by a stranger for making too much noise with Jacob. No one stood up for me. Trust me, be glad you weren't being yelled at, and you just got to watch.

  2. I kinda felt like I was watching a family fight and it wasn't comfortable. Anger has a way of putting people off, and this was no different. Truth is, even if I didn't help, they would have fought. I have no regrets - just could have lived without the fireworks. Sorry about you being yelled at. Know I would have stood up for you!