It’s seemingly easy to spot an “other.” Regardless of how similar our background or values may be, we can be quick to dismiss the possibility of shared experiences after a glance at a person’s face. In fact it’s not entirely false to see history as a show of societies racing to create cultural barriers based on outward appearance. In Grace Paley’s “Travelling,” we see a young woman struggling against her given reality as a white woman with innate privilege. Though she may not have fully understood why the rules of her time deemed it strange, Paley knew that her seeing her grandson in the body of the little black baby would not be a shared sentiment in those around her.
The prevalent culture would perhaps judge otherwise, but I find it interesting that in this story, the mother of the child and the man sitting next to Paley have more in common with each other than with our narrator. The man and the mother both share the idea that what is occurring in the bus is not only dramatically uncommon, which is a thought Paley would too share, but also wrong. When the man says, “Lady, I wouldn’t of touched that thing with a meat hook,” he is taking part in the known narrative of his society. The mother of the child understands this, even if she knows that this narrative is cruel and wrong; the nature of Paley’s actions is anything but natural.
I ended my reading of this passage with mixed feelings of admiration and frustration. Though Paley’s actions are undeniably laudable, I want so badly to say it should have been matter of fact. But the truth is theres no doubt in my mind that the same questions of morality that plagued minds then, are prevalent today. I just hope I could be as confident when faced with this kind of conflict as I am right now writing in the comfort of my privilege.