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.