Leave it to Me to Fall into Some Racist BS After Meeting Raquel Cepeda

Last night with Raquel Cepeda - Author of "Bird of Paradise: How I Became Latina"
& CoHost of the Show About Race Podcast 
1:47 AM

Supposed to be finishing the next part of my Cuba story so I can post it in the morning. Wishing I would've Ubered home. It took like 30 minutes for this A and now that I'm on it, I'm annoyed. A real life Radio Raheem just got in this car. Wearing a pair of Jordan flip flops with Puma socks. All black everything, even the duffle bag used to house the speaker that's blasting the wackest trap music ever. I want to tell him to stop being inconsiderate and turn it off or at least he can play some Future or Drake, sh't, anybody but whom ever this is saying, "Tell this b^tch to give me some head tonight!" Every-freaking-line ends with with b^tch. Why sir? Why? 

I just want to write my feelings about meeting Raquel Cepeda at the Brooklyn Museum tonight, while they're still fresh. Her energy was piercingly infectious. I keep looking at our picture and I know it will be a legendary poster in some teacher's classroom one day. Seriously, now I know how Oprah felt when she met Maya Angelou. Cepeda has paved the way for aspiring memoirist like me. Her raw candor makes me proud to be an Uptown girl. Her quest to find the roots of her identity makes me proud to be Dominican. I am grateful.

But I can't concentrate. This music is depleting all creativity. My stomach is killing me from the gumbo Meekz and I had. Over-thinking about how I talked way too much tonight. Been 3 weeks since my last therapy session. Although most of my talk was me speaking things into existence, I don't know how my friends do it with me going on and on and on. I'm blessed. 

"Yo, can you chill?" Just as I am beginning to ignore the tasteless rhymes and blah beats, my attention is recaptured by the rasp of his whisper. 

"What? What am I doing?" The drunk, white, guitarist guy had been trying to get comfortable by leaning his right arm on the seat-top that divided them from one another for a minute now. His arm kept slipping whenever he would rest his chin on his fist. He was very aware of his breech of personal space but instead of apologizing, he smirked, fumbled, and restarted the whole process of getting comfortable all over again. 

"You keep elbowing me in my back." His voice has no inflection; straight to the point. 

"No, I'm not." {Mentally insert: "Mmmm-oh-my-God stop fking lying!"}

"Imma smack the sh't outta you if you touch me again." Still no influx in his tone but I notice his ash-covered fist clinch under his dingy white cast. 

"Alright, alright, I'll move over here." He gets up and moves to the 3-seater in the window. Under his breath, he instructs Raheem to, "Calm down... calm down." 

Raheem ignores the guy, lets his eyes fall, and appears to be asleep. Finally, the music goes off. Not sure if his phone died or what but I am grateful. 

Fulton Street. Raheem gets off, he flips the bird to guy and keeps it moving. 

"Did you see that?" Guy was utterly aroused. "Accusing me of elbowing him! I never touched the his ugly, Black ass! And did you hear him say he was gonna punch me in my face! Noooo one is going to punch me in my face. No way buddy!" 

"Yeah! Totaaaallllyyyy! And then he puts up his middle finger when gets off!"

"He was a fucking loser! Seriously!" 

They keep going back and forth. The woman that he's talking to is sitting across from him, on the right of me, screaming out each one of her words; more boisterous than Radio Raheem's music was. It doesn't make any sense for her to be screaming when there are empty seats all around the guy. The entire train car is staring at her right now. We've had enough. 

"Ms., can you move over there with him? You're really loud." 

"Fuck you! If you're so bothered, you move!" 

She attracts more attention with her retorts. I look directly out of the window in front of me, praying the darkness outside of the train can drown out her voice. She continues her banter, louder, l o u d e r, and louuuuuddddeeerrrrr. Still recounting the story of the how Raheem threatened to punch the guy in the face. 

"What an asshole! And then she wants to tell me to move. Fuck her..." She begins going on about me until finally, I say something. 

"You were really loud. And you [looking at the guy] were elbowing him. You did it like 5 times. I saw you. You're drunk and loud and it's ridiculous. Everyone was looking at you because you were so loud. The entire car! Please, be considerate of us. There's room for you to be next to him and talk amongst yourselves."

"Get this librarian b^tch a life! This isn't the fxcking library b^tch! Turn your headphones up if you don't want to hear me. This b^tch can't be serious! She clearly hasn't been laid in a really long time!"

(She is right about that last one. Is it that obvious?)

"I didn't disrespect you. I didn't call you out of your name ... Like, you're being so rude about it for what?" 

The guy re-enters the conversation with ad-libs out the wazoo! 

"She wasn't expecting the back talk! They* never do!" - Is all I can really remember him saying before I finally said, 

"I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to the lady. You have so much to say to me now but you were silent when that guy said he was going to smack the sh't out of you. He dead-said he was going to punch you in your face and you simply got up and moved. But since I'm a woman, you can stand up to me right?" 

He is silent. The entire train car is on my side. I can hear people saying, "Exactly!" and "She right!", before the woman starts with me again. 

"They're* alllwaaaayyysss loud but she wants to be the fxcking volume police on me!"

With every 'they' and 'they're' I feel more and more offended. "You and your privilege! You think you can...." 

"MY privilege?!" She is appalled. She laughs at me and so does he. I am heated but I have no choice but to keep my temper under control. I notice that although it's almost 2 AM, there are children on the train, watching my every move. I quickly remember that above all, I am someone's Ms. Clay. I find myself grateful for my understanding that in this very real moment, I am teaching these children how to handle conflict while being of color-in-public, even though I don't even know their names. I can't let them learn what not to do or how not act. This isn't VH1, this is life and those curiously innocent Brown faces are counting on me. 

I move to close my argument. "You wanted this. I never said anything back to you after asking you to be quiet. You were disrespectful and I left you alone. But then you brought it back up. You purposely started with me when you saw that I was minding mine, looking out the window. I wasn't saying anything else to you. But now, I've said too much. I'm not going to finish being loud and ignorant with you. You're on your own."

"Fuxk youuu! Turn up your headphones. Read your book, library b^tch! WAMP WAMP b^tch! WAMP WAMP!" 

"She's insane!! You're insane lady!!!" I suppose she took him off mute and gave him the cajones to start speaking again after she hit me with all of those  F-bombs. 

"You're crazy! You're really fking crazy lady!"

"Yes, I am crazy but there's no doubt that you need some therapy too." 

That is the last thing I say. Don't ask me why I'm not switching cars or how I can sit here listening to them talk about me; the woman with her endless f-hers and racial slurs and the guy with his unnecessary repeats of everything she was saying. I feel a stronghold guiding me and telling me not to let them move me, neither physically nor emotionally. 

59th Street. Finally, she gets off, making a show of that too. She's up hugging the guy, saying, "It was so nice to meet you tonight!" Her friend leads the way out and she adds, "Thanks for holding me back!" She looks at me but my eyes are averted toward the window. I am unbothered. I wont be moved. 

"Get home safely!" From his seat, guy sits there barking, relentless in his perpetuation of ignorance. "Make sure you tell this story tomorrow!" He yells.

"I will! My favorite part was poking the bear!" She sounds stupid. Who glorifies talking sh't to someone that chooses not to respond? 

The conductor announces that our train is about to begin running-express. Guy hops up, "Nope! I don't want express!"

"Good! Get out!" A Hispanic lady on the other end of the car folds her arms around her sleeping son as she tells the man to get off. She dares him to say something back to her but he doesn't say anything at all. He leaves, stumbling and struggling to carry his guitar. 

My mood is remorseful because I really shouldn't have even said anything to her in the first place. I should've let her look dumb by herself - I whisper out loud to myself, not thinking anyone was paying attention. 

An older Asian man sitting next to me spoke without looking up from his Bible. "You know better next time but you still handled yourself well. She continued fighting at you because the moment you stopped acknowledging her, you won. Well done. Always remember, the Arctic expresses the sum of all wisdom - silence."

*The use of they and they're implied a generalization about people of color.


  1. Wow! that was intense, I got upset just reading this. The Asian man is right you handled yourself well. I honestly did not see anything wrong with you saying something in the first place, you showed her respect and made a simple suggestion. We can't always sit in silence sometimes we have to speak up.


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