As Told To Veronica R. Wells
A Little Jewish Girl Spat On Me And Her Father Told Me To Calm Down
Image via Bigstock
I was minding my business, getting off the 3 train because that’s what you do. Regular day. It was in the evening time, in the fall of 2016. I feel it was still kind of warm outside. Getting off the train, waiting on the light to turn. There was a man and his daughter, a bunch of people, actually getting off the train, just waiting on the light. And it was a little girl to my--I can’t remember if it was to my left or right--honestly. So she was jumping up and down. I didn’t pay no attention to her because she’s a kid and I just thought she’s jumping up and down and I didn’t realize--I kept hearing her go Pftuh...Pftuh.
Still not paying attention…
How old was she?
Probably about...I’ma give her six or seven, about that height.
Didn’t think nothing about it, until I hear “Pftuh” and then contact on my face. And I looked, cause then I realized ‘Oh she was trying to spit.’ Because it was just a knee-jerk reaction, I grabbed my face. And I looked down at her. I was confused because it was just...it was confusing. I looked at her and she’s looking at me and she’s licking her lips because it was like on her face, on her chin. And she smiled at me.
And before I could react to say anything, her father goes, ‘Calm down.’ To me. I couldn’t say anything. This happened within four seconds. He goes, ‘Calm down. She’s just jumping.’ I couldn’t even think.
Then I kind of looked and it’s always cop cars on Eastern Parkway, protecting that part of the Parkway. And so they were sitting in front of the synagogue. Then a whole bunch of things start going through my mind. First of all, I was thinking, if I say something to him and start cursing him out, I know the history of Crown Heights that I learned once I moved there. I didn’t know it beforehand being not from the state and just living in other places in New York but I know about the race riots in Crown Heights.
I don’t know about that.
So, years ago, in the early 90’s, a Jewish guy ran over a Black girl.
(In actuality, the Jewish man, Yosef Lifsh ran over Gavin Cato and severely injured his cousin Angela Cato. Gavin died hours later and Angela survived.)
She was killed. Black people from the community, I think they beat him up and stuff like that because it was outrage that he didn’t go to jail and he wasn’t prosecuted. So it was a summer of just riots and tearing Crown Heights apart. So the community is very divided and you can still feel that. So when I first moved there, I didn’t know about--I’d just heard about it. When I would tell people, I’m moving to Crown Heights, they’d be like ‘Oh you better be careful.’ And I just thought, it looked fine to me when I got off the train. But then I learned about the history.
How did you learn about that?
One of my coworkers, actually. And then I was dating this guy from Bed Stuy and he was telling me about it. But it’s news, just Google Crown Heights race riots, it’ll come up. And then different people in the community who’ve been there from the beginning. They remember, ‘Oh yeah, you couldn’t go nowhere without Black people fighting Jewish people, Jewish people fighting Black people’ because it did become--it was a race war. It was ‘You hit this Black girl. Now, if we would have ran over a Jewish boy, this would have happened, that would have happened...but because it was a little Black girl, her life wasn’t valuable.’
So, all of that was in my head at that moment. Because when I told the story to some friends afterward, ‘Well, I would have done this...I would have done that.’ No. Because if I had flipped out and snapped out, the police who were there, not to protect me but to protect this particular community wouldn’t have…
...even heard you.
They would have just seen me going off on this guy and assumed I was being anti-Semitic. Or what I was doing, it was a hate crime on my behalf. Her doing that to me was not a hate crime. She spat on me. But me doing that to him, cursing him out or saying anything to him, would have immediately been seen as a hate crime. And I knew that, in that moment; Being Black in this country, you have to think like that.
And even if I wanted to react, he had already walked off.
Right. After he told me, ‘Calm down,’ there was no…
No! He just walked off and crossed the street and got lost in the fray of people. And I was standing there and a couple of lights went by-- it was like something outside of a movie because I remember just standing there, just feeling like…
So I went home and I took the hottest shower and I was just scrubbing my face. I didn’t cry about it or anything like that. And I’m a really emotional person so it wasn’t that I felt like, ‘Oh whatever, I’m not gon cry.’ I was just in shock. It was just shocking. And not one of those generic reasons, ‘Oh, it’s 2017, I can’t believe this happened?’ No I believe awful shit will always happen. It wasn’t even that. It was just shocking because someone had spat on me. It didn’t matter if it was 2007 or 1967. Someone spat on me. It wasn’t because I live in this bubble.
And it was your face.
It was my face. And she had been trying, unsuccessfully, to do it. That was the thing. She had to put a lot of effort into it because she was short and I’m short. So she was really, like ‘I’m trying to make contact with this and it’s not happening.’
Oh, so she was intending to spit on you.
She kept trying to jump up to make contact. I thought that she was just jumping because it wasn’t that she was jumping up and down like this, it was going. leans in, imitates jumping motion. Like I can’t get enough height. And the third of fourth time, she finally…
It hurt on several levels because ‘Oh, you meant to do this.’ It wasn’t ‘Kids will be kids.’ No, you knew what you were doing.
And at seven years old, you’re way too old to be doing that.
That was the gist of it. I couldn’t pick those folks out of a lineup. I don’t know. Cause like I said, I just know it was a little girl. I take that train all the time. I’ve probably seen her again.
And the thing of it is, who was I going to tell? Who was going to do something about it? Nobody.
I mean, it hasn’t happened since but for a while after that I didn’t get off at the 3. I would just get off at the stop before that and walk the extra two blocks to my house. Because I wasn’t scared--and again, oh I scare very easily. But it was just, ‘I’m good.’ Because I just felt like there’s no protection for us. Not in the same way. And if this happens again, I don’t know how I’m going to react. Because now I’m aware of it and ready because now I’m on guard. And I don’t know if I’m going to react a certain way and then am I going to be retaliated against? Because I just had a very human reaction. It’s like if somebody slap you, you’re going to slap them back. But then you’ll be arrested. So all of that was going through my mind.
In an ideal situation, you’re able to adjust quickly and he’s still there with the little girl, what would you have done or said?
I probably would have asked him ‘Did you know your daughter just spat on me?’ Because it’s a rhetorical question because of course he knew because he reacted, he defended her immediately. But I would just ask him ‘Why did she do that?’ ‘Why did she do that?’ I don’t think he would have been able to answer me.
Having conversation or a confrontation, it’s not always about confronting somebody, it’s about you being acknowledged, wanting somebody to acknowledge that this happened to you because you’re a person. So it would have been wanting him to acknowledge that this happened and apologize. Because I’m a person. But he didn’t see me as a person. He was just like whatever.
And I did wonder, if I was a blonde girl, would you have said sorry? ‘Oh I’m so sorry.’ It would have been innate.
In an ideal situation, I would have gotten an apology. If we can dream. I’m old enough to know and I’ve lived long enough in the world to know that I wasn’t ever going to get one. But in an ideal situation, yeah. Hell, in an ideal situation, that wouldn’t have happened. But yeah, I was on guard for a while after that.
So aside from taking a new route home, were there any other changes you made?
Yeah. Now, I’m just extra aware when I get off the train and I try really hard, not to touch anybody, in a way that I wasn’t aware of before. I just don’t want to be too close to anybody because I just don’t want it to happen again. Because a lot of times people in that area, will just bump into you. And I don’t know if it’s just rudeness or 1. I’m not supposed to talk to a woman outside of my religion. 2. I don’t see you. 3. I don’t know if it is because of the history of Crown Heights.
It could be a variety of things.
And it’s all these things that we’ll never know because the conversation isn’t had. And we’re not allowed to have these conversations. So I just feel myself being on guard. I’m fine about it now because months have passed...I should rephrase. I’m not fine about it but I’m less angst-y about it. For a while, I just wouldn’t, if I could help it, go that way for a long time.
Really, honestly what made me want to do this, [launch No Sugar No Cream], a number of reasons but I don’t know if you listen to “The Breakfast Club,” with Charlamagne tha God. I love his interviews and I think he’s really brilliant and good at his job. But he’s also really problematic as far as women’s issues, diversity...he just doesn’t get it. But one thing he did say that helped me understand his thought process is ‘I had no idea that Black women felt this much sadness or this much angst or this much depression. I just always looked at y’all like you were strong.’ And I’m just like...I mean, we are that but we’re still human beings. And the whole world looks at us like they can just dump and dump and dump and dump and we’re just supposed to be ok.
Which is why, a lot of times I didn’t tell anybody that that happened. I forget how it even came up with us, I think we were just talking. Because the knee jerk reaction is always ‘What did you do?’ ‘Did you jump up on a table and cuss him out and fuck him up?!’
Could I just have a human reaction and be sad at the moment? Cuz that’s what I felt. I was just sad.
‘But you ain’t cuss him out and do this that and the other?’
Nah. I was just sad. I just wanted to be sad.
And I wanted to be sad.
I wanted to be sad. I didn’t want to ‘Tell him…’ I didn’t have that in me. I got that in me but…
...it didn’t rise up that day, at that time. And that’s the thing people don’t really understand trauma and the reactions to trauma. Sometimes your reaction to trauma is sheer shock and paralysis. And it’s very natural and human. You don’t know what you would do in a situation until you are in that exact same situation. You don’t know.
It’s easy for you to say what you woulda did. It’s good for you to paint yourself as this strong hero. ‘You know I swooped down and I had a talking to with that man. And then I grabbed him by his lapel and I flagged down a police officer and then we had a discussion.’
No. I was just sad because it was messy. That was messy and disgusting and gross and dehumanizing and I reacted like a human. I was sad.
And I didn’t cry about it not because I’m a strong Black woman, I just...I was shocked.
The thing is too, I had lived over there for so long…
When I first moved over there, I would speak to my neighbors just because you know we’re from the Midwest, we speak. And that was another thing, that’s when Black people in the neighborhood would be like, ‘Don’t...you can’t be speaking.’ “You can’t be talking to them.’ ‘They don’t talk to each other.’ Well I didn’t know. I feel like you need to have rules. And some of my Jewish neighbors, they do speak to me too. It was a guy down the block him and his kids would get in the minivan every morning and speak to me. ‘Oh, hey. How you doing?’ So I think when it happened, it was just one of those things like ‘Oh no!’ It was just so gross.
And so racially tinged too. I mean spit is just…
And that was another thing, like I said, I didn’t know if I had been White if the father would have said he was sorry and if I had been White if the little girl would have wanted to do that. Because that’s learned…
First off, no child should be spitting at seven. Because kids do that but at 2 and 3, you stop that. But why wasn’t she reprimanded. You don’t want him to beat her in the street but say something.
He didn’t even pull her collar. Just ‘Calm down.’ That’s another thing too that’s also racially charged, Black women always being told to calm down.
You didn’t even do anything!
I didn’t have words. I was like this, grasps cheek. He was going ‘Calm down.’I think that was another thing that shocked me too because I was thinking, ‘I didn’t say anything.’ I’m as calm as someone can be right now.
So it’s like a double offense. It’s not only the spit, it’s the complete disregarding of your feelings.
Umm hmm. Don’t you have a reaction.