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Subway swastikas scrubbed away by New Yorkers in a stirring act of anti-racist teamwork

This was inspiring.


Chris Tognotti


Posted on Feb 5, 2017   Updated on May 25, 2021, 1:45 am CDT

Sometimes, in the face of overt shows of bigotry and racism, the only answer is teamwork and determination. 

Which is precisely what happened on a New York City subway car this week, when a number of riders realized the car was drenched in Sharpie-scrawled anti-Semitic hatred. As a New Yorker named Gregory Locke described in a Facebook post, after boarding the 1 train at 72nd Street in Manhattan’s Upper West Side, he and his fellow riders discovered something startling. Namely, there was a “swastika on every advertisement and every window,” with the Nazi icon scrawled over the subway line map underneath the words “Jews belong in the oven.”

According to Locke’s account, the people on the subway were “silent, as everyone stared at each other and wondered what to do.” This is an easy reaction to imagine having, however galling and appalling the graffiti might be. It’s an all-too-common phenomenon that groups of people, when faced with the most uncomfortable and extreme situations, will sometime shut down in a moment of shared social awkwardness rather than speak up.

But ultimately, speak up someone did. Locke wrote that “one guy got up and said ‘hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie,’” prompting all the people on the car to turn out their bags for any Purell on hand and to get to work scrubbing out the hateful messages. In other words, a positive show of teamwork in the face of bigotry.

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People in the comments section of Locke’s post were appreciative, albeit simultaneously disturbed that such anti-Jewish bigotry was on flagrant display in the subway. Some on social media denied the account, reflexively accusing it of being a hoax. In short, in the hyper-polarized and suspicion-drenched age we now live, it increasingly seems like every story involving bigotry is now seen as a political challenge to be fought out. 

In any case, it’s truly a worthwhile lesson for anyone who sees a hateful message scribbled in Sharpie in a public place, both in terms of the right way to respond from a shared responsibility standpoint and in terms of how to get it done. It might require asking somebody for some hand sanitizer, sure, but assuming everyone gets on the same page, that’s a small price to pay for scrubbing a little hate out of the world.

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*First Published: Feb 5, 2017, 12:59 pm CST