How to keep the seat next to you on the train empty

Chris Wilson examines an argument recently made by a writer about how he is able to keep the seat next to him on the train empty:

In an op-ed in today’s New York Times, Wideman describes how, during his regular commute between New York City and Providence on the Acela, he almost always enjoys a double seat to himself. I call that divine intervention. He chalks it up, after considering and rejecting the alternatives, to being black…

Wideman, a successful writer, describes his observations as a “casual sociological experiment.” But he lacks any controlled variables. Granted, the only direct way I can think of to test his hypothesis would be to adjust his complexion while holding everything else—dress, demeanor, reading material—as constant as possible. The ethics of doing this notwithstanding, the makeup is murderous to your pores.

A couple of thoughts:

1. It would not surprise me at all if race was the important factor in this situation.

2. But this is a nice illustration of how one could go about testing this hypothesis: devise an experiment where the person next to the empty seat alters their appearance/features and then sees how people respond.