OK

So often in the discussion of mass transportation, we, quite logically, examine the environmental impact and benefits of using mass transit versus individual vehicles. I'm not going to say I'm a heavy bus user. I like my car, and I want an electric one soon, to ease the burden on the planet and our use of fossil fuels. However, I've been trying to ride the bus on a more frequent basis, especially to congested areas like Downtown or the Theater District here in Houston, places with great locations to hang out and have fun, a drink or take in some culture. However, parking is a chore, and it just occurred to me I should try the bus more often. It's a bit more environmentally responsible and Houston is constructing an ever growing lightrail system to get people around from the University of Houston, to the Medical Center, Downtown, Theater District... everywhere major, really, in addition to their bus routes. Regardless of which vehicle you're taking though, I've come to realize, everyone should ride in mass transit on at least a semi regular reason, and for reasons that go beyond environmental concerns.

Ethnically speaking, I've seen Asian Americans, African Americans, Anglo Americans, Mexican Americans, and more. Economically there's been lower wage workers on certain routes and at certain times, and groups that skew in the middle class and slightly higher on different routes at different times. I've seen couples arguing, one man having a sexual conversation with his girlfriend in the back of the bus, a few men debating how little money they're making at their job. One was assisting his wheelbound mother, another pair of friends were taking their young daughters to the Rodeo. One young man jammed out on headphones whose volume was too high and one girl was carrying so many shopping bags I wondered how she'd get them all out of the bus.

They've looked shabby and nice, worn second hand clothes and suits, had different attitudes, agendas, and destinations. What's intriguing though, is the slice of life you get when you are simply around others. I find it hard to think you could be unsympathetic with the poor if you had to bus with a few low wage earners every day of your life. I think you'd find it difficult to continue hating gay people if you got to overhear loving conversations or just normal, day to day talk, instead of always perceiving them as caricatures communicated to you by talking heads. I don't think you could continue being racist, or at least you could find your prejudices softened, if you had to interact with other people of different ethnicities each day of your life.

This sort of gets back to the concept of "The Bubble". We often use it to refer to the echo chamber that's developed in Republican circles, especially with the closed loop of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, Breitbart and the Daily Caller, among others. But as creatures of habit, everyone is subject to creating their own bubbles at times. We get used to our usual, our particular group that is economically and ethnically like us, even if we intellectually and even emotionally sympathize with people of differing backgrounds.

And this isn't a call to always be challenging yourself at every single moment to spend time with people different from yourself. There's nothing wrong with the norm, your usual, as long as you get exposed to something else once in a while. The bus is symbolic in that sense, of a limited means of seeing people similar and dissimilar from yourself, and at least getting a glimpse of life outside your norm. And sure, once in a while, try something really different. Mix it up, see what others are doing. It's difficult to imagine sympathizing with people you don't associate with whatsoever, after all. If you're associations are always in a closed circle, The Bubble can become strong, and it's a tricky thing.

Yes, this means a willingness to talk with Republicans too. I always find it strange when I hear about people wanting Republicans off of tv shows and cutting them off as friends. There is occasion for that, sure. If you find out someone you know is a virulent racist that is absolutely impossible to talk to sensibly, might be a good idea to rethink that association. Others, though, are Republican for various reasons. Some are fiscally conservative, and have little use for social conservative ideas that would cut off different groups from the American Dream. I've got a few Libertarian friends that, while I absolutely disagree with their hands off view of government, and who I find to be naive about the consequences of a government that is uninvolved, I still associate with positively on a number of social issues. Finally, there is just plain crazy, the sort of people that think Obama is a Marxist Kenyan who's planning to turn the country over to the U.N., and who spout nonsense like that one guy at CPAC who said he'd still be okay if slavery was going on. That's a little nuts.

Usually, though, people aren't caricatures. They're complicated and have complex backgrounds and approaches, and discussion with them helps understand where they're coming from. This is just good advice for everyone. Get to know people unlike you. Because I still have concerns about my city.

Houston is often touted as diverse, and I'll give you that it is, but it's diverse in a way that's still segregated. Take the nightlife. There are places where black people go, and places where white people go. Hispanics tend to fluctuate between the two types of places depending. I can go one place and be the only white person in view. Nothing wrong with that, but you can categorize these places as 1.) Hardcore hip hop playing locations with 2.) Almost entirely African American attendants. Go to another place and I'm one more grain in the white rice. There's a mix of 1.) Soft, dancey hip hop with dance and rock mixed with 2.) Almost entirely white attendants, with maybe two or three African Americans in the mix. Then you have places where all the Asians go, or they go there on particular nights, like Tuesdays and Saturdays, while the African Americans go on Fridays.

So we've still got work to do integrating diversity. It's a step by step approach, but one day I hope to be able to go to some of my favorite places and not have to worry that someone's going to come up to me and say "What are you doing here, cracker?" Because please guys, I'm just here for the music.

Originally posted to DAISHI on Mon Mar 18, 2013 at 06:33 PM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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