This week, a man walked into a busy midtown Manhattan restaurant and began yelling at two people for speaking Spanish. New York City may be a part of the country where a different language could be heard on every block, but it is no more immune from prejudice than any other corner of the United States.
The white male lawyer felt entitled and secure enough in his privilege to lash out, threating to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement. One of the restaurant employees, Oscar Villanueva, told the New York Daily News, “We felt really bad, humiliated.”
The attacker was later revealed to be Aaron Schlossberg, a lawyer who used to have an office nearby. New York Rep. Adriano Espaillat and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. filed a formal complaint about possible disciplinary actions on Thursday.
Over the past several months, other headlines have described similar racist confrontations. A white person feels threatened by the presence of a person who doesn't sound or look like them then calls the police on a black family at a barbecue in Oakland, yells at a Muslim family in Texas or insults a Muslim woman in line for coffee in California.
In 2016, a woman accosted Latinas at a Kentucky mall, telling them to “speak English” and accusing them of being on welfare — which was one of the insults the Manhattan lawyer used in his tirade.
A recent article by The Washington Post’s Cleve R. Wootson Jr. lists the “growing list of things it is unacceptable to do while black,” including but not by any means limited to couponing while black, waiting at Starbucks while black, reading C.S. Lewis while black and AirBnB’ing while black.
Last year, New York City rapper Princess Nokia threw hot soup on a man yelling racial epithets in a subway car. Her fellow passengers helped remove him off of the train. The New York City Commission on Human Rights reported a 480 percent increase of discriminatory harassment on the city’s subways in the months leading to the election.
The story about the racist lawyer may die down, but the number of discriminatory outbursts will not. Now with a camera in every pocket, people of color can share the stories we used to whisper to each other.
We can process the many emotions that go with being the target of this kind of harassment: the fear, the outrage, an anger so furious it can leave you shaking or blinking away tears. We can condemn the actions, take revenge on the offender’s social media presence and talk with friends and family about these traumatizing confrontations.
The damage goes beyond insults. There’s a coded threat of physical intimidation when a white man lashes out with racist language.
It layers violence on top of the already foul racist terms. In the case of the barbecue caller, Jennifer Schulte, the dynamics of white women crying and calling law enforcement on a person of color can be just as dangerous as a testosterone-fueled racist outburst.
A study in the College of Student Affairs Journal examined the intersectional impact of “white tears” in its capability of overriding the experiences of women of color. When Schulte cries to a cop that she’s being intimidated after she threatened to call the cops on a black family, she wants sympathy to absolve her of her racist actions.
While fear of immigrants and xenophobia has a long history in America, its public resurgence has affected many people deeply. When President Trump calls immigrants “animals” is not just upsetting, it’s potentially deadly. It’s dehumanizing in a way that may empower laws, walls and policies that will negatively affect millions.
Those threats of deportation and calling ICE should not be treated lightly or laughed off as immigrant families are being ripped apart and people live in fear of running into racism.
Just six months into the Trump presidency last year, Univision received over 200 reports of anti-immigration aggression — including cases of harassment, vandalism and assault.