On Racial Profiling

We had just arrived at the train station in Paris. We purchased our tickets for the Metro and proceeded to the platform.

As usual there were throngs of people waiting to board the next train. It would be packed as this was prime time Paris, at the Gare du Nord!

The train pulled in, the doors opened and people began to disembark. My husband, was waiting patiently, as people stepped off the train. He stood just to the right of the open doors…. giving everyone room to get off. I was standing just behind him, over his left shoulder.

I noticed the young black gentleman (who I perceived to be of African decent) only because he came into my peripheral vision, at the exact moment he forcibly shoved my husband, out of his way, pushed past him and boarded the train.

He actually pushed him so hard, that Nick bumped into me, causing me to take an unwanted step backwards.

How fucking rude,” I thought.

We boarded the train, the doors closed behind us and we all stood there… huddled, awkwardly together around the pole in the centre of the coach.

I could see clearly that my husband was agitated and he immediately said something to the young man (in French) who was standing less than a foot away from both of us.

*It should be noted here, that I do not speak a word of French, other than “hello, good-bye, please, thank you and where is the toilet,” so I didn’t have a clue as to what he said.

The young man responded in an unmistakably indignant tone; one which I remember thinking was perhaps a bit too loud for this situation. People around us looked uncomfortable and I felt the energy in the carriage change.

For the next 3-4 minutes (the time it took to get to the next station) the young man and my husband exchanged, what sounded like heated words. In the breaks between their “war of words,” the young man huffed and puffed and spoke loudly to the uncomfortable strangers around him. He spoke in a tone that led me to believe HE somehow believed, that he had been wronged? This confused me, because I clearly saw him push my husband, out of his way!

I thought it odd when he got off the train at that very next station. I mean, WTF? He had pushed and shoved and was hell bent on getting on this particular train, only to get off a quarter of a mile up the line? Odd, indeed.

It wasn’t until the doors closed and the train started to move again, that my husband looked at me with anger in his eyes and said, “I know he has my wallet, I know he does!”

Wait… what? Wallet? What wallet?

I was gobsmacked! I looked at my husband in disbelief. My mouth literally fell open and I said, “What? Your wallet is gone? What… are you sure?

He was sure. Yes, we’d been in France less than 15 minutes and his wallet was gone.

Oh, believe me, it could have definitely been worse! All that was in the wallet (I say “all” like it was nothing!) was cash (Pounds and Euros) and the remainder of the book of train tickets we had just bought. Thank goodness his credit cards and IDs were elsewhere.

After we got off the train, we were able to discuss the ordeal, ad nauseam. We compared notes, talked about what we believed we experienced and observed; and we searched our hearts and consciences for the “truth.”

How horrible would it be to wrongly accuse someone of something like that?

However after much rehashing and going over our movements again and again, we both came to the only logical conclusion there was… that loud, brazen, rude man had very efficiently and methodically pickpocketed my husband’s wallet.

My husband had his wallet in his possession when he purchased the train tickets. He put the train tickets in his wallet, and he put the wallet away. It was less than 5 minutes from the time we bought the train tickets, walked to the platform and were ready to board the train. We had had NO interactions or even close encounters with anyone else, within those 5 minutes.

There was no good reason for this young man to shove Nick out of the way, causing a scene, while people were still trying to get off the train. His false bravado, although an award winning performance, was unnecessary and frankly a bit over the top. It did however succeed at putting Nick (and me) on the defensive as his drama created an effective diversion. He sounded so very aggrieved and convincing, I could actually feel many of the people around us, becoming empathetic to his predicament.

We are 99.99% sure he took the wallet (one can never know anything 100% can one?) It was probably passed back to a “colleague,” before the train had ever left the platform. His friend would be waiting for him back at the Gare du Nord and they’d meet up later, to have a good laugh, and split the loot.

Live, learn, and trust Karma,” that’s what I say!

That’s just the beginning of this unfortunate story… because after that incident, I was very uncomfortable, the entire time I was in Paris. Not with everyone and everything… but (said in an embarrassingly tone) with every young, “African looking” man (whatever that means?) who got within 5 feet of me.

I was innocently bumped a few times on the street and found myself immediately clutching my handbag and checking that my camera was still there.

If a small group of young, African looking young men happened to be walking down the street, towards us, I became a uneasy and somewhat paranoid.

On the Metro train, as we headed back to the Gare du Nord, to leave Paris, I was sure I was being “sized up” by two gentlemen, who moved their seats, so that they ended up sitting on either side of me (diagonally) each a few seats away. (It wasn’t obvious, to anyone, that I was with Nick… as we could not get two seats together) The fact that these two men appeared to be texting each other, constantly looking around and I (without a question of a doubt!) saw the man on my left, look at the man on my right, wink, nod and smile, did nothing to put my mind at ease!

WTF? This isn’t me! This isn’t who I am!

I’d like to say (…but Donald Trump has truly ruined it for me and everyone else!) that I don’t have a prejudice bone in my body! However, I am honest enough with myself to know that I am human! I am quite sure, that I (like all people) have some weird, unsubstantiated opinions and idiosyncrasies regarding different types of people… but the race has NEVER, EVER been a “thing,” for me.

I’ve dated men of colour and not just experimentally, but long term serious relationships… Two of my three grandchildren are mixed (black/white) race. And yes, (don’t laugh) some of my best friends ARE in fact black.

…so where is “this” coming from?

Had it been a young Asian man, would I now be leery of all young Asian men in my personal space?

What if it were a young, female? Would I cringe every time a young woman approached?

What about a young Scandinavian, gender neutral looking person?

Or a middle aged man, dressed in a clown suit, what then!

Where does it end? Where did it begin?

I don’t like this. I don’t like this once single bit… I do not appreciate having my thoughts and behaviours (subconsciously) fucked with (and negatively influenced by) some random act of human greed and stupidity, carried out by ignorant, lazy, inept, tool!

Automatically, thinking suspiciously of people is not the type of person I am! I don’t base my opinions of people on race, nationality, gender, sexual preference, religion, etc… If you’re nice, you’re a nice person. If you’re an asshole, we’ll, I’m sorry, you’re an asshole! I wholeheartedly believe it has nothing to do with the colour of your skin, who you sleep with or what God you pray to.

I’m sure this disturbing, jaded veil that has covered my eyes will (in time) be lifted, it has to be, because it’s NOT who I am. It is not who I want to be.

The whole thing however, has shaken me to the core. It has made me more leery and acutely aware of my fellow human beings (and my own personal space) than I ever wanted to be.

More importantly it has made me question, reassess and reevaluate ME.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. I just wish it weren’t dumped on me! As most introspection goes, it’s awkward and it’s uncomfortable and it’s so NOT how I wanted to spend my weekend in Paris!  

10 Comments

  1. Very thought provoking and if I was a person of colour I would feel this vibe coming from white people and would therefore act more suspiciously through an annoyed, resentment. A horrible experience. I am sorry it haunted your Paris trip. Currently in Madeira in a 1930’s time warp.

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  2. 20 years ago my (then) husband, 13-year old daughter and I spent Christmas in Brussels with friends. We went shopping one day, then as we stepped onto the tram going home, my daughter felt somebody lift her wallet from her back jeans pocket. The tram was crowded, we had to stand and my husband began giving my daughter a lecture on taking more care of her things. While this diatribe was going on, she and I both saw a person’s hand going inside my husband’s jacket and coming out with his wallet. She always says she wasn’t going to say anything given his constant nagging – he had been very cutting and judgmental towards her about various things, and this felt like a delicious revenge to her. However I spoiled things for her by grabbing the man’s hand and and screaming ‘You thieving bloody toerag!’ I did speak reasonable French, but it all disappeared in the panic. The toerag and another man and a woman got off together at the next stop.

    We were told when we got back to our friends’ flat that there was a known gang of Romanian pickpockets in the city, mainly operating on the trams and the Metro. My response was very similar to yours. I’m half-Polish myself and have always bristled about generalisations about ‘East Europeans’. However afterwards I did have strange unpleasant thoughts and feelings about Romanians, although I know perfectly well about the dangers of letting the bad apples colour our judgement of a racial group. Like you, I really resented my mind being messed with in this way.

    You will get over this because fundamentally you are a decent person. I must add that in recent years I’ve twice been very grateful towards young Romanian men, both about the same age as the pickpocket. One was an electrician who fixed my lights when a squirrel had got into my loft and chewed through the wiring. He went above and beyond his duty by getting rid of the maggot-ridden squirrel corpse for me. The second was a nurse in A&E who cleaned and dressed a fresh wound on my leg a few weeks ago.

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  3. I know exactly how you feel
    My husband was at Brussels railway station when he was distracted by a North African gentleman asking for directions when his accomplice stole his suitcase. He went to the police and it was captured on CCTV. It shook him up so much he will not let anyone, who offers to help him with his case, touch his case. If he goes off to buy tickets or similar I have to actually hold on to both our cases.
    It does seem awful that the genuine, helpful people are not trusted by ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh Melissa, so sorry this happened on your Paris weekend, although anytime is awful! Your emotional response seems normal and you will come to realize your are just pissed at that particular person, not everyone who looks like him. Barry had his backpack lifted in Greece and I was really anger at young Greek men for about a week. If they were around I watched them like a hawk! I even thought about not returning but I love Greece and have come to understand the difficulties of foreign travel issues, especially the pickpockets! We were even warned here in Slovenia, it is increasing with the influx of tourists unfortunately. You as a racist, that’s too weird to even contemplate!!

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  5. Awe… thank you! I n3eded someone to tell me I was a racist… I wasn’t Donald Trump!!!! Thank you!!! Yes, I am angry that the stupid man… He upset my weekend and ALMOST spoiled Paris for me!!! I am happy to hear that your experience did not jade you for life!!!! Many thanks for your kind words!!!!!

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