Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Australian buses, where all the best racism occurs

Another one of these incidents.


("Learn some manners.... stick that up your mother's c**t." Oh the irony.)

And this one a month ago...

A lot of people will use these sorts of clips as proof of what a racist country Australia is. But I think it's important to view these things in context. Drunk or mentally unstable underclass types on buses are not really representative of mainstream Australia. Of course, that doesn't make it any easier to bear if you subjected to this kind of aggressive racist tirade. Is it fair to draw links between this sort of behaviour and broader systemic examples of racism? To an extent. But it's a complicated picture. 

What bugs me in these videos is the relative lack of bystander intervention. It's understandable to a certain extent that a lot of people don't want to draw the ire of someone who is in an aggressive mood and thus potentially dangerous. But it's the silence that these types of people interpret as agreement. It's notable that the first action taken by the driver in the first video is not to warn the woman who is spewing invective, but to ask the target of her rage to sit down. I'm not sure how they operate on Sydney buses, but I've never known standing up on a bus to be a significant societal transgression. Unless perhaps you are the wrong ethnicity.

10 comments:

  1. Whereas this kind of overt display of behaviour is very annoying, even hurtful, it is not necessarily criminal and the level of racism is still rather shallow. I had to endure this kind of stuff on a regular basis when I lived in the USA.

    Real harmful racism would include hate crimes, or restrict of access to housing, education, transportation, employment, freedom of association, public security, privacy, etc.

    Lack of bystander intervention is also disturbing, but it could be worse. I was mugged at knifepoint on the New York subway, and not a single passenger in my car even batted an eye. In Washington, DC, I was beaten unconscious in a pool of blood and a motorist saw it and just pulled into her garage adjacent where it happened.

    Where I live now (in HK), I was hit by a taxi on a crowded street full of people and knocked down. Not one single pedestrian or passenger checked to see if I was alright or if they need to help me call the police.

    It is more disheartening to be around indifferent bystanders when a crime is being committed or when someone is injured. Racist tirades by people who are most, unpleasant, do not necessarily require intervention. The perpetrator is already embarrassing himself.

    Now, if the bus driver refused to let the passenger board for racist reasons, that would be a very different case.

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    1. Hmmm, I think that bystander intervention is important even in these lower-level racist incidents. Obviously these bullies are emboldened by a lack of intervention from those around them, but the effect on the victim is significant too. When I look at the Asian tourist in the second video, I have to think, what is his impression of Australia? Or the boy in the first video - what does he take away from that situation regarding how his ethnicity is regarded by the white population?

      A lot of non-white people in Australia have deep angst about what they see as a thoroughly racist country. I don't blame them for that, but I don't think that's really an accurate portrayal either. Most people are well-meaning and not especially prejudiced. But when bystanders do nothing, it adds to that perception that they don't think it's a big deal.

      I think if a few passengers tell the racist person to pipe down, or extend some sympathy and support to the person being abused, it shows them that the abuse is not accepted by the majority. Everyone knows there are going to be some nutcases around who yell abuse; but if you get the impression that they are just saying what everyone else is thinking, that's a terrible place to be.

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  2. Unstable underclass types? Maybe examine your own prejudices;-) But otherwise, I agree with you, most people are decent people most of the time.

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    1. It's not nice to talk about class, but if you look at the first video, and the other high-profile instance of the family who made racial comments and threats to the French tourists... their social class is pretty clear from their speech patterns.

      Not to say that middle-class or wealthy people are not racist... but it manifests itself in different ways. Yelling abuse on buses is a strictly lower-class activity.

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  3. So, do you normally intervene yourself when this stuff occurs?

    How much is explained by bystander apathy and how much is explained by genuine, albeit tacit approval of what is transpiring?

    I suspect that most people simply do not want to complicate their lives and get involved with a stranger's problem. Unless someone is trained to intervene, most people won't, even in life or death situations.

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    1. Haven't really been in one of these incidents, but I have intervened to defuse an imminent fight on a train once. So I think I would do something. I think at very least I would try to reassure the person who was being abused. But I admit it's hard to say until you are in that exact situation.

      How much is explained by bystander apathy and how much is explained by genuine, albeit tacit approval of what is transpiring?

      Assuming that there are a largish group of bystanders who don't get involved, let's say 10% is approval, 30% apathy, and 60% not wanting to make themselves a target of the aggression as well.

      But the point I was trying to make earlier was that the recipient of abuse can easily INTERPRET non-action as tacit approval. If I'm being verbally attacked for no reason and no one around me appears to give a damn, I may well conclude that it represents a society that either is racist towards me, or doesn't think racism towards me is worth making a fuss over.

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  4. Lack of bystander intervention is neither an expression of a person's condemnation of the act nor does it mean that the person who does nothing is condoning the racism however to sit back and do nothing is so weak.

    I am thankful that I have the ability to drive myself around so I am not usually subjected to the wonderful experience that is the Aussie public transportation system. Private cars ftw even though Adelaide is trying to become a less car orientated sort of city (probably won't work unless the system is no loner crap however pollies get chauffeured in air conned Statesmans that they don't even own - why would they really care). The service is somewhat appalling and does not appeal to those who don't have to use it. Who rides the bus because they want to...

    In my experience why is it that when someone talks down on Asians or an Asian person I am the first to stand up and respond, even in the presence of other Asians. I like to think to myself that I just beat those other Asians to it, I am quicker to defend the group than they are.

    Either that or they are just SOWs who deny our mistreatment. No middle ground. If I was not there then would those other Asians who didn't say anything have stuck up for the group or the person disrespected like I did and will. Sadly, standing up for the group can lead to confrontation but that is the risk you take when you are not ashamed of your race.

    If I was mistreated by someone on the basis of my race, like on a bus, I would not expect a non-Asian to say anything to the oppressor let alone give me eye contact (don't look in his eyes, pretend he doesn't exist, he's just a go ok anyway so he should be used to this), maybe another POC but not a YT.

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