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Rules & racism
An encounter with another reality
As I walked towards the platform, three railroad employees were standing in front of a train door in yellow vests with DB Security1 written on them. They were arguing with someone inside the car, a woman as it seemed. They repeatedly yelled that only a single piece of luggage per person was allowed, a rule which I had never ever heard of.
When I moved closer to the train, it quickly became apparent that the center of their attention was not the woman. The men were yelling at a young couple with a toddler. As it seemed, they were traveling with four large pieces of luggage and a handcart and were now supposed to leave the train – in the evening and a random small city in Germany.
Within moments, the police arrived. At the same time, three young people joined, agitatedly talking at the train employees and police officers. They instantly played the racism card, and I assume that the three railroad employees could not have failed to notice that the family was black either.
Watching the spectacle unfold, my mind was racing:
Should I do something?
Brave of the passersby to intervene
I feel sorry for the family
There is little chance that I can seriously do anything about the situation
I feel bad for not doing anything
Rules are rules
The train is practically empty
Who knows what the history was there
Good to know that as a train passenger you are only allowed one piece of luggage
I do not feel like interfering
I trust the police to handle the situation
How interesting that no one on the train takes care of the luggage out of solidarity
My divided view on the matter led to the conclusion that my best possible response was to be a neutral observer of the situation. But even as I am writing this, I still don’t know what would have been the right response. I did not know the whole course of the incident. At the same time, I could have done more to max out the moral possibilities of the situation; regardless of how insignificant my influence would have been, I could have at least addressed the family with calm and goodwill, thereby making their situation a tad bit less terrible. That, I feel terrible for.
The likely net result of the situation:
The family taking a step away from German society outweighs the probability that the family will learn from their offense for the future or that the train will be affected by the extra baggage.
There might be a snowball effect that could begin due to this incident when the family tells their friends and family about their experience of German hospitality.
When the three security staff tell their friends and family, they likely won't omit that these people were foreigners, thus adding to the divide from the other side.
Every situation can be understood as racism. It could also be understood as coincidental sensibility when breaking the rules. That these DB employees resort to enforcing the rule of law in such a situation did not surprise me. The policemen and policewomen failing to convince the staff that this is a trifle might have been poor judgement.
In my personal bubble, I am rarely confronted with such dilemma, let alone the subject of such a situation. And I admit that I like it that way, just like the majority of people. But this situation has caused quite a bit of after thought and it led me to question my own behavior as well as my perception of the trials and tribulations some experience on a regular basis. I know that some people hate other people that are sufficiently different from their own kind to safely hate them for no cause – and act accordingly.
I can hardly think of a positive finish to this piece so I left it sitting for several months. I wish that the situation has given me better judgement but I’m afraid that the next won’t present itself in the same fashion. What still worries me is how rules were placed over a possible family tragedy, either stimming from the past or arising from this very situation. There has to be an alternative to pulling a young family from a half-filled train because they carried a few extra belongings with them.
Deutsche Bahn is probably only a catalyst here. I don't mean to imply that the company has a systemic problem with racism.