Some people say good intentions are like shooting your gun into the air & having the bullet accidentally hit someone in the arm. You can say you didn’t mean for them to get shot but they still have to go the hospital.
But then I had this epiphany on the train tonight. As I sat on the end seat by the door of the train headed uptown. It gets packed around 34th St with the type of folks that used to like to get off before you hit the hundreds but that’s gentrification for you, I guess. Just as I was nodding off in protest of this teeming crowd I was jostled violently by someone standing near the door. I ignored it at first because it was a crowded train after all but it continued and so I forced my eyes open only to find myself staring up into the ass of the white girl who was adjusting her position on my shoulder, which she had somehow taken for a seat. I was briefly appalled that anybody could be that rude and disrespectful to another person’s space but it came to my attention that this girl was paying me no mind at all. The train lurched and she tumbled forward a bit, immediately apologizing to the white guys in front of her and settling back down on my shoulder to stabilize herself. She wasn’t even rude about it. She was just completely oblivious to my existence. She didn’t mean to sit on me, she thought I was a piece of train she was leaning on & never thought to turn around & check first.
That’s when I realized that I was still irritated. I am a person and I wanted to be received by her like the people in front of her were received. I wanted her to be as wary of violating my space as she was of violating theirs and to rush to apologize when she accidentally upset that space. I wanted to be important enough for her to have turned around & checked for me before she sat on me.
That’s why good intentions don’t make it better. Not just because the offense is still there, but because I live in a world where I have to make sure that everyone is comfortable and not offended and not scared and not harmed by my existence in order to be “successful”. White people don’t live in that world & as a result don’t have to think about me until I bring my personhood to their attention. Many of them do think of me to varying degrees but they certainly could get along equally as well either way. So when they unintentionally hurt me, it is because they don’t have to consider me & therefore did not consider me. It hurts more to know that how I might feel, react to, or be harmed by another person’s actions was and will always be irrelevant.