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boarded a train in brooklyn today. the cars before the one in front of me were pretty packed, but this one wasn’t. just as i was getting on, i noticed a man covering his nose, and shortly afterwards, saw a few others clenching theirs. near the back of the car was a person covered in a coat, leaning forward, surrounded by plastic bags. there were stares of contempt, as if this person was disrespectfully sullying our commute.
when the train reached the next stop, many hurriedly moved to other cars. the thought to do the same entered my mind, but it was followed with another thought that made me pause.
discomfort in solidarity.
i was offended by the disgust some people seemed to have. not with the smell itself, but the ostensible disgust with the person emitting the smell. it occurred to me that as uncomfortable as everyone in that subway car was, no one was more uncomfortable than the person we all wanted to distance ourselves from. none of us knew that person’s story, and i’m sure very few even considered it. we know casualties of this culture exist, but despite that, we often blame and reject the individual, instead of pointing to our corrupt system as a highly plausible factor behind some of the uncomfortable social experiences we face.
in a moment, after having the thought to be uncomfortable with and not because of that person, i understood this. i understand how easy it is to enter or remain in poverty and homelessness. i understand pride and how easy it is to unnecessarily suffer because of it.
not only are so many jobs not offering livable wages, the jobs themselves are simply atrocious– repetitive, mind-numbing, body-numbing, spirit-numbing, dull. we are in a culture that seeks to numb and dull us. don’t let this system harden your heart. don’t let repeatedly seeing abject poverty and homelessness normalize those conditions. they’re not normal and they’re not necessary in a social system that is an entire human fabrication.
feel. connect. empathize. i’m all about feeling good, but there is a wholeness to the human experience that capitalism and class and media tell us that we can and maybe even should avoid. still, there is so much beauty in sometimes making the decision to suffer with people in solidarity.
â€” Malcolm X