In NY, one thing tourists never expect while riding the subway are the teenage b-boy pole dancers. I remember seeing this black boy magic for the first time. It was a full show complete with a hype-man, a speaker and mind-blowing talent. It looks like this: boys running into a train, setting up music, hyping up passengers, doing back flips, pole stunts and all types of stuff in the perfectly-timed train ride with enough time to collect small change. All the shows start the same, “excuse us ladies and gentlemen, we’re about to perform for you instead of sell drugs or rob you.” The travelers give a nervous laugh and the show begins. It’s as if the boys are aware of how they are stereotyped, throw it in the faces of the prejudiced and entertain them instead. For only $2.50, no, $2.75, passengers get a dope show on a boring train ride.

Their dancing is a symbol of the magical performance culture of New York and a symbol of resistance. Recently, I watched a performance with the back drop of the MTA campaign reading, “Poles are for your safety, not your latest routine.” I could not help but put this in the context of race and class. One might assume that the majority of the young people who perform on the train come from lower class income households that warrant the creative hustle mindset. We also know that the allocation of jobs and disproportionate pay scale between whites and blacks forces black and brown families to live at or below the poverty line. In a victim-blaming culture, we tell victims of systemic poverty to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, but we all know we never had boots. Yet these Black, brown and Afro-Latino youth do just that.

The whole of me can’t help but believe that if these performers were white, there would be no campaign targeting them. I believe someone would have had the brilliant idea to turn the dancers into a tourist attraction. Something like, “the last Saturday of each month, pay extra on a metro card to ride the last cart of every train at 2 p.m. to watch astonishing skill.” The whole of me believes that if these performers were not black, brown or Afro-Latino, they would be featured on America’s Got Talent, or showcased on some larger platform. People reveal their microaggressions in subtle forms. An easy way to gauge it is to ask and objectively answer, “if the variables were different, would it still denote the same conclusion?” The whole of me says no, we would be more willing to support white suburban kids with “urban” (black culture origin) talent. Our society would do so by creating spaces where they are not condemned for holding our attention. The whole of me wants to be wrong, but until then, I celebrate the black boy magic on the L train with applause, dollars and praise.


Raven Cras is a new New Yorker, author of “Notes from Life,” poet, activist and Spelman College grad. Her objective as a writer and a thought leader is to create a lasting impact on social cultural progress by developing reader content that challenges perspectives and beliefs. But overall she be chillin’. Follow her poems on Instagram at @apoem2go or read her mind on Twitter @apeacee.