Transit Rage: The Important Lesson a TTC Fare Collector Taught Me about Anger
The TTC, Toronto's beloved transit service, is one of a few things that can really mess with the flow of my day. From detours and track closures to bus drivers who leave you on the side of a dark street after midnight because they were too busy chatting on their cell phones to notice you at the stop (true story), the TTC can be a real pain in the ass. But last week I had an experience that really set me off. I'm talking full-out yelling, customer service calling levels of pissed.
My boyfriend and I were rushing for the RT when we realized he didn't have exact fare. It was either pay $2.00 and short change the TTC, or just drop in $4.00 and cut his losses on the extra fare. Being the honest type, he decided he'd part with the extra 75 cents and dropped two toonies into the fare box. I flashed my Metropass and we scooted through the turnstile to catch our train. Everything's great, right? Not exactly. The fare collector in the booth piped up from behind his glass window and says, "You're the fourth black guy to do that today."
Thinking the collector is referring to overpaying fare, we laugh it off as my boyfriend explains that we were in a rush so we didn't think it was a big deal. Much to our surprise, the fare collector replies, "It's not right, man! Y'all can't complain about racial profiling and do things like that." He launched into a rant about black kids and dishonesty and racial profiling. I really didn't get why he was so worked up that we'd paid more than we were supposed to. And then it clicked—he thought we'd paid less. Something in my mind just snapped!
I was so angry I started to shake. My voice was sharp with fury as I tried to explain to the fare collector that not only was he wrongfully accusing my boyfriend, he was doing so on the basis of the very racial profiling he felt we were contributing to. Worse yet, he was a black man playing into the same stereotyping and prejudice that he seemed so angry about. I ranted and raved, I demanded apologies and threatened to report him to customer service. I was making valid points and I knew I was within my rights to be angry. But you know what he probably heard and saw: an angry black woman with a hot temper and an attitude problem.
As my boyfriend and I sat in the mall food court a short while later, he tried to get me to see the fare collector's perspective and to understand where his frustration stemmed from. While I had been pacing the station angrily waiting for customer service to pick up my call, he'd been trying to have a calm conversation with the collector. He wasn't excusing the behaviour, but he had taken a step back and tried to understand it.
He explained that he was frustrated that he'd watched three young men cheat the system and evade the fare. He was frustrated that they were engaging in behaviours that not only fulfilled the negative stereotypes about black people, but that could land them in a courtroom. He, like me, probably sits in front of the news and hopes that when a suspect is described, the words "black male" won't fall from the anchor's lips. And like me, he let his frustration get the better of him and turned his valid concerns into angry ravings that did more to aggravate than to educate.
Retrospectively, I really wish I'd taken the same step back that my boyfriend had, because I do understand the frustration. It drives me crazy to see black people unashamedly living up to negative stereotypes. I hate to see it because I feel like it makes our collective struggle more difficult and I just want to see us do better.
But I learned an important lesson that day. Anger and frustration are often valid. They are legitimate responses to unfair treatment or bad situations. It's absolutely ok to be angry. But you need to rule your emotions, not let your emotions rule you, and I feel this is especially true of “negative” emotions like anger because they tend to be the most explosive. Anger is like gasoline, it can fuel a car or burn your house to the ground. You have to learn to harness anger and use it in ways that are productive, not destructive. Use your anger to inspire you to do and be better. Use your anger to put power behind your words. Use your anger to drive change.
If I had taken a step back from the situation to acknowledge my anger rather than just blowing up at the first spark, I might have been able to have a productive conversation with that fare collector. I might have been able to explain to him that, as an older black man, how he responds to both good and bad behaviour from younger black men can influence the decisions they make in ways he might never know about. I might have been able to tell him how we have to be better than those who believe we all live up to the negative stereotypes and have faith in our own. I might have been able to remind him of the importance of making sure that we check all the facts before accusing people of wrongdoing. If I had kept my head, I might have been able to remind him that there are a lot of young black people out there who are trying to do the right thing even when we're expected not to. I imagine if he'd paused to acknowledge his frustration and what fueled it, he might have checked the fare box to make sure he wasn't making a false assumption. He might have had an opportunity to have his faith restored in our youth.
Next time I get angry, I’ll remember to take a step back and ask myself two important questions:
1. Why are you angry?
2. How can you use that anger to make a positive difference?
And I encourage you to do the same because understanding those two things can take the same anger that would’ve burned you up inside and turn it into anger that sparks change.