Approximately eight of us were standing in line on a New York City sidewalk waiting to enter the IFC Center on 6th Avenue. Excited that we were about to see the documentary “While I Breathe, I Hope”, we stood around chatting as we patiently waited. As is common in New York City, the eight of us were a diverse group of individuals of various ethnicities.
At some point during the wait, a disheveled, unkempt white male that appeared to be homeless walked up and began to beg for money. Approaching each of us, the man politely asked if we could spare any change to help him out. When each of us declined his request, this man’s kindness quickly dissipated and he began to furiously berate us by yelling, “what do I look like to you… a nigger, a spic, a kike?”
Shocked, we all looked at one another in a state of disbelief. With a puzzled expression on my face I found myself saying, “is he really serious right now?” How did he go from the kind beggar to the angry racist in a matter of seconds? How ironic that he felt entitled to have his request for money granted because he was not Black, Latino, or Jewish when the very people he was begging were Black, Latino, and quite possibly Jewish. Really? Not wanting to make matters worse, we all returned to our respective conversations while this man went on to beg another group.
On a basic level I recognize that there was probably some level of mental illness contributing to this exchange. However, in today’s racial climate the irony of that experience did not elude me.