Elevator Ellen…Remixed!

This depiction of The Death of Jane McCrea was painted in 1804 by John Vanderlyn

My grandfather whom we affectionately called “Dad” lived with us as he spent his final years preparing for his “Homegoing”. For 35 years he had faithfully served as a Pullman porter on the Pennsylvania Railroad’s crack Philadelphia to Chicago luxury train, The Broadway Limited.

My Grandfather is shown here assisting Janet Leigh with her onboarding. (c. 1954)


He was incredibly wise and loved me deeply. I remember at the ripe old age of 5 that as a young black man, with a large number of mostly white friends, made me a candidate for suffering many indignities. The most evil being the one I understood the least…being alone in any type of compartment, unchaperoned with a white female passenger. Disciplinary actions such as loss of job or benefits were the least of one’s worries were the accused to face such a verdict. Such an action was the most damaging he had witnessed first-hand destroy the lives of his many colleagues during his Pullman days.

His fear for my well-being was made only more sinister by the tears welling up in his steely hazel eyes as he tried delicately as possible to teach me a life lesson. I found such tales upsetting, insane and out of step with my world; until that fateful day my world collided with his where zzffound myself in a.situation where his teaching would serve me well and keep me alive.

Dad lived with us and of course. noticed my chummy interactions with my white friends and often expressed his disapproval of my friends to my parents, chiding them on their lack of involvement as responsible adults. Heated arguments followed, often.

At 5, I was like, “Whatever, Dad..” but never really getting it until my first encounter with a situation that would shatter my innocent view of life, mankind and how being Mark Hughes from that day forward would forever be something that was here to stay.

The Event

1. Mark enters elevator and greets a woman in the elevator

2. Woman who stood in middle of elevator car before Mark fully entered car, sees Mark and jumps into the corner of elevator in terror, clutching her purse and trembling uncontrollably.

3. Mark turns and and faces the woman asking compassionately if she were okay. She does not answer him.

4. Suddenly, Mark realizes that HE was the source of her debilitating fear.

5. The disbelief at his being the source of her malaise leaves Mark confused and instantly nauseous.

6. Without warning Mark throws up on the elevator button panel.

7. Finally, without hesitation, after several seconds that seem like hours, Mark (crying) exits the car at the next floor.

I can remember it as clearly as if it happened today. The entire event from entrance to exit lasted roughly 30–40 seconds.

So it makes perfect sense why still to this day, I no longer ride alone in an elevator or for that matter, any type of limited-access conveyance occupied solely by women of any hue…period.

Welcome to my life.

Lately I just don’t have the free time I once had to stop and give Ellen a lengthy lesson on why microaggressions when combined with her fears (although valid because they are hers) are not coming from a place of logic and will result in outcomes that are the source of misinformation and misplaced fear.

Then assuming the police had been called, always err on the side that they are en route, Code 3, and therefore you have limited time to school Miss Thing on her wretched behavior.

With the time remaining, and cool head at work (assuming the police had not yet arrived at the scene where undoubtedly a Karen is filming the incident with her phone, hysterically crying) I would explain to Ellen that her visible fear and panic have no place. here (provided a knee hasn’t already been applied to my neck and killed me) are why she must cease with the employment of harmful microaggressions altogether and immediately!

That luxury of such free time to teach a lesson is now gone, filled with time devoted to simply relearning how to be a black man in today’s USA and (dare I say it) flourish.

Call them on it!

We must continue to identify bad behavior and pinpoint the perpetrators and carriers of such harmful and systemic Jim Crow thinking. It has no place among us and ignoring it will not make it magically vanish.By calling out such social gaffes, your engagement will actively be helping the world become a more welcoming place, and positively impact many metrics such as extended life expectancy and create better living conditions overall for a demographic that has suffered at the hands of ‘She said-type justice’ for more than 4 centuries!

Making people like Ellen and Karen accountable will have a direct positive impact on black lives lower their chances of being lynched.

Remember that even in 2020, living openly as a black man in America comes with many ‘occupational risks’ as you’re always just moments away from having a ‘real swinging time’ should any encounter with an Ellen, Becky or Karen suddenly ‘go left’ and leave you hanging.

Which is not a good look for anyone.



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Mark Hughes

Product Designer and published Historian of American Slavery and Modern Digital Media.