Fear and Racism in the Empty BART Seat


This is an account of unspoken racism on the BART train last week. It was sad to see the fear while it made also made me angry.

It’s Wednesday morning, and I’m on my way to San Francisco on BART. As I enter the crowded train I take I take the first empty seat I see, next to an older White woman.

When I sit down, I turn around and see another empty seat behind me facing the other way next to a Black man whose face I can’t see. Not only is the seat next to him empty but so are the straps and standing space. However, on the other side of the car that he faces, there is a large group of assorted White people standing close together.

My first thought, “This is weird, there’s an empty seat next to this Black man and there’s all these White people choosing to stand. The man is dressed in what looks to me like construction type of clothes. I’m thinking, I need to blog about this- crowded train, empty seat next to Black man, and a gaggle of White people standing together away from him. WTF

I hear him on the phone with someone who sounds like an employee talking about color matching, and saying, “Don’t worry, you can’t please every customer.” Then he looks up and says to his employee on the phone, “This is crazy. There’s an empty seat, all these White people are standing and no one will sit next to me. This happens way to much here. I’m sick of this racism.”

Close-up of a young African American US Marine Corps soldier saluting over brown background

I can’t help myself, and I jump up, sit next to him and say,”I heard you and I was thinking the same thing.” He tells me he was in the military, his father was in Viet Nam, his grandfather fought in World War 11, and his son and daughter were in the military in Iraq, and then he shows me their pictures.” “My whole family has been in the military. We fought for freedom and for this country and then have to deal with this racism. This is not what we fought for.” I learn his name is Clarence and he owns an auto painting shop in San Francisco. He counts numerous people in the military and law enforcement as his clients. We spend the rest of the trip talking about our families and the need for people to get to know other people who are different.

We make choices every day in the “land of the free.” We can choose to live in fear, separate ourselves and stay in isolation or we can refuse to stay stuck in bias, meet someone new and live in learning and love.

Join me and choose learning and love.




Simma Lieberman

Author Simma Lieberman

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