Etan Thomas performing a poem. (via Flickr)

Etan Thomas is used to making headlines for his basketball skills, but if you’ve seen his name pop up on your news feed recently, it’s probably for a very different reason.

On Friday, Thomas posted an account on Facebook about an experience he had while riding a train in an unnamed city. He wrote that he asked to sit in the empty seat next to a white woman, and she told him it was taken. Moments later, however, when a white man asked for the same seat, she moved her things for him. This, understandably, upset Thomas, who wrote:

I ask ummmmm did you just not want ME to sit next to you ? Were you scared ? Not comfortable with a Black Man sitting next to you ?

Thomas took a photo of the woman and the clearly uncomfortable but “nice guy” now sitting next to her. The woman objected and called the train conductor, who instantly recognized Thomas, who played for the Wizards for seven seasons.

The conductor, Thomas noted, also thanked him for his work in the community. explains that, since retiring, the 6-foot-10-inch player “started a national movement around black fatherhood and edited a volume of young poets’ work that addressed topics like racism, Trayvon Martin, President Obama and the HIV/AIDS crisis.”

Thomas’ post sheds light on forms of racism that African-Americans in the U.S. face daily. Not only was he denied a seat on a train, he also notes that the woman’s defense against his accusation of racism was, “I dated a Black guy in college.” Worse, perhaps, is the fact that Thomas felt he had to “soften [his] voice as to not frighten her” when asking politely for the seat.

While some people might see this as just an uncomfortable situation that has gone viral, Thomas’ experience serves as a reminder of the racist microaggressions ingrained in our society.

—Posted by Emma Niles

Wait, before you go…

If you're reading this, you probably already know that non-profit, independent journalism is under threat worldwide. Independent news sites are overshadowed by larger heavily funded mainstream media that inundate us with hype and noise that barely scratch the surface.  We believe that our readers deserve to know the full story. Truthdig writers bravely dig beneath the headlines to give you thought-provoking, investigative reporting and analysis that tells you what’s really happening and who’s rolling up their sleeves to do something about it.

Like you, we believe a well-informed public that doesn’t have blind faith in the status quo can help change the world. Your contribution of as little as $5 monthly or $35 annually will make you a groundbreaking member and lays the foundation of our work.

Support Truthdig