An argument over subway etiquette spiraled into a shouting match about racism and religion aboard a 4 train last week.
The incident happened aboard a Bronx-bound train just before 9 a.m. on Thursday morning. Straphanger Chris French captured the escalation of the argument between an orthodox Jewish man and a black woman on video. "You said I'm being racist, so you tell me who I'm being racist towards," the woman shouts in the video below. "Because you're Jewish, and I said if a Jewish family got on here, somebody would have gotten up. That's not a racist statement! That is a factual statement!"
MTA, you never disappoint. pic.twitter.com/QpFx81klcG
— Harry Plotter (@chrisfrench_) May 24, 2018
"You need to learn the difference between race," the woman continued. "Judaism is not a race. It is a religion." When the man asked her to calm down, things escalated: "No," the woman responded. "I need to calm down because I'm schooling your ass? You guys think you're so fucking smart, but I'm going to teach you a lesson on this fucking train."
The man countered, "No 'you guys.' I'm a person, you're a person." "No, we're different. Understand that. We are different," the woman yelled. "You know why we're different? We're different because your people treat my people different in our community...You treat us differently in our community. You don't even rent to us. What the fuck are you talking about?"
"I don't even own a house," the man replied. "'Your people!'" the woman responded. "You said I was racist, so I'm addressing your people. You said I was a racist, right? Because I brought up Judaism, right? You wouldn't have called me racist if I said a Mexican family came on here, right? You wouldn't have called me a racist then, right?" When the man called her "hateful," she responded, "I'm not hateful. Let me school you...did I say Jews are dirty? Did I say they stink?"
The man in the video has since been identified as Yossi Wolfe, a 31-year-old software engineer for the Wall Street Journal who lives in Brooklyn. He spoke to Israel National News and offered some important context for how the argument started:
"An African-American lady got on with three kids, and then another African-American lady got on. I was standing, and no one was really getting up for this lady with her three kids. So this other lady started screaming at everyone around her, saying 'Why are you guys not getting up? This lady's here with her three kids,' and then she finally said, 'If it was a Jewish family y'all would have gotten up!', at which point I said to her, 'Can we please not make this a racist thing?'
And then she started going on a tirade about how it's not racist. She was yelling for a good amount of time, and we were going back and forth and I said, 'We're individual people. You can't say these things apply to all Jews' as she was yelling. Eventually after a while an elderly African-American lady tapped me on the shoulder and she said to just put my headphones back in and it wasn't worth arguing with her about it."
Wolfe said that someone explained the woman was having a bad day before the argument started: "Before that lady who was yelling had gotten off the train, she said the reason she was in such a bad mood was because her husband had just gotten arrested the day before. I did feel a little bad for her after that, but at the same time it doesn't excuse anti-Semitism, just because you're having a bad day."
I ask you all, is Anti-Semetism a real thing? Yes. Is being human a real thing? Yes. Is gentrification a real thing? Yes. Is prejudice a real thing? Yes. Let’s ask ourselves these tough questions before hitting send on a tweet. Be blessed y’all.
— Harry Plotter (@chrisfrench_) May 29, 2018
Wolfe added that he is glad he spoke up and the incident was captured. "A lot of people in Brooklyn have told me, 'We always just kind of sit on the sidelines when we hear something like that, and we have this mentality like we don't want to say anything because there could be cameras' blah blah blah," Wolfe said. "But they said, 'Thank you for doing this, Yossi; not a lot of people would do that.' And to me it just seems like a no-brainer, when someone is attacking your people you have to do something about it. We say 'Never Again' but do we mean it? That's something that's stuck in my mind."