A few days ago I was in the Metro (Subway) in Rome with a dear friend. As always, we are lost in conversation, but not so much that we forget to keep our hands on our purses to prevent being pick-pocketed. The train pulls up and the doors open. While entering the train, I am bumped from the side and instinctively pull my purse more to the front of my body without giving it a thought. Within moments, I hear my friend scream from behind me. I turn, make eye contact with her and ask what is wrong. She points to a young Romanian girl about 16 or 17 years of age and says “she was trying to get into my purse.” I go into mama bear mode ready to protect my friend, then I remember the bump few seconds earlier and turn to look for other thieves. Standing near to the left of me is a young girl with a FAKE pregnant belly. I looked directly into her eyes and asked “are you with her”, pointing back to the girl standing next to my friend. Trying to look innocent, she points to her belly, which I can see was wrapped with bandages holding it in place. I shake my head NO, not real!! By now, everyone on the train car was watching this drama play out. My friend runs to enter the train from another door. I holding court just inside the doors near me. By now there FOUR pickpockets on train, including one with a fake pregnant belly and another with a fake baby in her arms. As the train bell starts to ring signaling the closing of the doors, I think OH hell NO, they are NOT about to ride the train with me. I turn and announced LOUDLY to the entire train while making a giant circle above the heads of the perpetrators “attention everyone these are thieves … tutti (all) thieves”. The girls look around nervously and jump off the train just as the doors were closing. I was in complete awe of what had just happen but knew we had been targeted because of speaking English and looked to be engrossed in conversation. What they did not know is I TRAIN others (including my friend) how to look out for pickpockets. We looked like easy marks, but were not. Now for the lesson.
Later that day while walking on the train platform for our return trip, a young Italian girl was playing near her parents and stumbled in my direction. I immediately clutched my purse tight to my body. My movement was so fast, that it scared the poor child, and she ran to her parents. Afterward I felt terrible about my reaction. Then it hit me,had I been white and the child Black, the clutching my purse would have been perceived by many as racist. It made me relies that people that have been previously victimized are fearful of it happening again, and are more on alert. In that alertness, we clutch bags, move to the back of elevators, lock our car doors at crosswalks and even jump from children. Being outside the United States is teaching me that everything is not about race, and fear like love, has no color.