Bias and Redemption on the Q Train

I admit it. Trolling for news about racism can be a bit of a downer. And, when I first heard what happened on the Q train on the local television news last night, I was braced for the usual ka-thud of ‘bummer’ that runs through my head when hearing yet another news item about racism, hate crimes and anti-Semitism. I know, not very intellectually sophisticated, but there you have it.

And then, the story took an unexpected, Capra-esque, turn.

Short clips (2:40) from local tv affiliates are already up on YouTube. It’s definitely worth watching to the end for the redemption:

For those who’d rather skim than watch and listen, a young Jewish couple, Walter Adler and Maria Parsheva, got on the Q train and said “Happy Hanukkah” to the folks on the train. A group of white christians took exception, started getting aggressive, and one guy lifted up his shirt sleeve to reveal a tatoo of Jesus and said, “you killed him.” Very original. Then, the “Caucasians” (as they’re referred to throughout) started beating the crap out of the Jewish couple and no one did anything….until a Muslim guy from Bangladesh, Hassan Askari, stepped in, stopped the fight, and took a beating for his trouble. And, now Adler and Askari are friends (or, at least friendly); Askari attended a Hanukkah celebration with Adler. There are a number of memorable quotes, but this one, from the NYPost, sort of tickles me:

“A random Muslim guy jumped in and helped a Jewish guy on Hanukkah – that’s a miracle,” said Adler, an honors student at Hunter College.

There was no information included in the report about whether or not Adler had ever taken a sociology course. The other favorite quote from the clip is when Adler says that this is a “tragic step for New York City because we’re like the Mecca or the Jerusalem of multiculturalism.” I don’t know whether or not it’s a miracle, but it’s certainly an example of some pretty powerful individual agency to confront a decidedly nasty situation. As an act of resistance, it reminds me of the response in Billings, MT. to anti-Semitism, or, more recently, the pink t-Shirt response to homophobia from Nova Scotia. There are lots of lessons to be taken from this incident on the Q Train. And, since it’s finals week and the holiday season, I hope you’ll indulge me a little Capra-esque analysis and say that the lesson I’ll be taking away is this: it just takes one person, standing up and saying, no, not here, not in my town, not on this subway car, to make a difference.


  1. Will

    As much as I have wanted to disagree with the “it only takes one” After watching the video I can’t help feel slightly optimistic that at least someone stands up for others, when the chips fall.

  2. Seattle in Texas

    I just wanted to say quickly that I think it is interesting how the gentleman used the term “Caucasian” to describe the man with the Jesus tattoo, rather than Christian. It’s okay to refer to non-Christian groups by their ethnicity, but not Christians (unless there is a positive situation being described—when negative situations, such as the one above occur—it seems that Christianity becomes invisible). (Jews, Muslims, and Caucasians?) I suspect if he would have referred to him as “the Christian man” rather than the “Caucasian” there would have been some serious uproar from the Christian communities framed in a way that made the man who is Muslim look like a terrorist (or evildoer, I know I know) of some sort—which clearly was not, wouldn’t have been the case. But it shows how just as whiteness is invisible in this society, so is Christianity and various white ethnicity(s). I suspect there is something there with him not using either the terms “white” or “Christians”—or both put together. Caucasian, is no better. But it seems there is more leeway for members of the white community to use a broader array of words/terms to describe social situations than people of color and/or ethnicity (for lack of a better word at the moment) in many cases—which carry less serious consequences both on the (white) individual and group levels in many ways.

    And being intoxicated or under the influence…hmmm…interesting suggestion for whatever reason. It’s funny how that can be used as an excuse to both shift and remove blame from these types of events (even if there were no substances involved). No excuse, sorry—regardless of the assumptions behind that suggestion. (plus I saw no evidence in that short clip that suggested anybody was intoxicated at all) Why is it okay for Christians to wish everybody a Merry Christmas but a Jewish couple cannot wish somebody a Happy Hanukkah? (especially people who worship a man who was Jewish both ethnically and religiously…) They brought it on themselves eh? Just like wives bring on beatings from their husbands because they didn’t obey? (or partners/significant others, etc. in any type of abusive relationships) Or Matthew Sheppard instigated his own brutal death because he was gay, or James Byrd instigated on his own horrible and unspeakable death because he was black (and Eric McMillan in Idaho—as well as so many others, both known and unknown)? The Jewish communities instigated the Holocaust too—right Annette? The African Americans in this nation instigated slavery, lynching, Jim Crow, and ongoing racism too? American Indians instigated genocide and ongoing hostilities of various sorts? Should I keep going? (Plus all of the above lied about their situations and histories, right?—it seems that should be oxymoronic to both admit a situation, then suggest it was nothing but lies…)

    Flip the situation—suppose the man with the Jesus tattoo would have gotten attacked for wishing a non-Christian Merry Christmas, what would have happened? Would that be a hate crime? But, bypass the whole hate crime stuff, as the non-Christian(s) would get sentences heavily for assault, etc. even without hate crime laws (which are only recognized in certain regions throughout this nation—we have a very long way to go…). What legal consequences will the person who attacked the Jewish couple face? (as compared to the latter scenario…not that either should occur in the first place, in an ideal world).

    A high five to Will here–there’s hope.

  3. Seattle in Texas

    And I have to share this most groovy story, haha. I love it. This is in Texas, in Texas. The radio station I listen to has these random comments that are most often too funny. This particular one said something to the effect: “Sorry we don’t have a Christmas tree this year, because somebody sat the *name of radio station* Christmas tree too close to the *name of radio station* Menorah.” This was in Texas! J Hear that Sea-Tac??? Blahahaha!

  4. Seattle in Texas

    And, I have to say that some of the most radical anti-racist people I have personally had the honor meeting are *drum roll* a few white males who were born in Texas and raised in very impoverished environments. Very cool folks they are.

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