Friday, 9 May 2014
A few days ago, I shared the following status on my Facebook profile:
Just called out a racist on the bus who was yelling at a woman “I DON’T WANNA HEAR YOU TALKING IN FUCKEN MANDARIN”.
I leaned in and said “Hey buddy, keep your voice down. She can talk in whatever language she wants.”
He responded by challenging me to a fight.
I have friends who can’t believe that this kind of racism happens in Australia.
It happens every day.
Wake up to yourselves.
I received several messages of support and a few enquiries as to how it played out, so I followed it up with this:
I say, “That’s very big of you, challenging a guy on a walking stick to a fight” (I’ve torn a ligament in my foot, so I’m hobbling around like Yoda)
“That’s bullshit, you’re faking it. That walking stick is fake. Come on, let’s step out like men and fight,” he demands.
At that moment, I was inspired by a brilliant move that Bruce Lee pulled in Enter the Dragon.
“Fine. After you, sir,” I say, gesturing towards the door.
He hops off the vehicle, the doors close behind him, and the bus drives away without him.
Props to the driver for his comedic sense of timing.
And do you know what the stupid thing is? The lady was speaking in Thai.
Every word of this account is true, though obviously it’s been written to heighten the comedic effect to lighten the more serious issue of racism that I’ve had more than a few things to say about.
With that in mind, there is more that I want to share, which I think will come out in the details.
The man in question was a Caucasian with scruffy hair dyed black, wearing John Lennon sunglasses even though the winter sun was close to setting at 4pm. Judging from his minimalist black jeans and leather jacket and the manner in which he spoke, I judged him to be aged in his mid-to-late 40s, though years of smoking and drinking had taken their toll on his complexion. Judging from the bus route and the A1-sized poster he was carrying, he’s probably from Marrickville or Newtown or one of Sydney’s inner-western suburbs, heading into the city to meet a friend.
I only took notice of him as I entered the bus because I heard someone yelling incoherently while I swiped my bus ticket – he was sitting right behind the front door.
I thought, “Ooh, crazy person on the bus. What’s he saying?”
When I realised he was complaining about someone speaking in Mandarin, I immediately looked and listened for a person speaking in Mandarin – but I couldn’t find that person. That’s when I took a second look at him and realised he was leaning over his seat to yell at a woman who was talking on her phone.
She looked maybe 21 or 22. Asian. K-pop colours. Student. And she was definitely speaking in Thai.
She was oblivious to him at first. Then came the realisation that someone was yelling at her, and she looked annoyed, confused and threatened.
That’s when I decided to act. I used the same tactic as I would normally use on my kids to snap them out of a tantrum, cutting in over him with “HEY BUDDY.”
It worked. In the moment that he fell silent to take my measure, I discreetly shepherded the young lady towards the back of the bus, where she continued her telephone conversation.
When the man challenged me to a fight, I was a little surprised: I had at least a 15kg advantage over him. Maybe he had a concealed weapon, or maybe he was just crazy. Either way, if given a choice, I had no desire to fight him: it’s not the example I want to set and my useless left foot would very likely be injured further.
I looked up to see if any help was coming my way: surely someone on the bus can see what’s going on?
Every person on the bus, which was at about 90 percent capacity, was either staring out the window or staring intently into their smartphone screens. I question how many of them were blissfully unaware or consciously avoiding any involvement.
Either way, I was going to have to do this alone.
…which, come to think of it, is pretty standard, I guess.
I wish I had my camera ready when the door closed on that man. The look on his face was priceless – indignation, defiance and abject humiliation all rolled into one. It’s not something I get to see from racists very often, but it’s how I want to remember all of them.
When all was said and done, with the exception of the bus driver, it seemed as though no one on the vehicle knew what happened. Not the pregnant lady sitting two seats behind him, not the lady sitting next to her (I had to explain to them what just happened) – not even the young woman I helped, who shrugged the whole thing off as though it were a passing irritant and continued to babble away on her phone.
It was this complete and total lack of awareness from everyone on the bus that, on reflection, took me by surprise.
In the past, when I read about outrageous incidents of racism in the news, I somehow fantasised or maybe even developed an expectation that everyone on the bus would be united in their stance against racism and that there would be cheering after a racist is shamed and booed off the bus. At least that’s the way the media seems to characterise things.
The reality is quite the opposite: nobody knew what was going on. Nobody else got involved. Not even the supposed victim. To most of them, nothing happened. There was no applause, no word of thanks, nothing – not even after I explained to some of them what had just happened.
Dealing with racists is something I’m very familiar with, so this incident isn’t something that bothers me very much. It was, however, the first time I’ve ever had such an opportunity to come to someone’s aid.
The only thing I’ve learned from this experience is that when you defend another person from racism, it’s no different from defending yourself against racism: you’ll be doing it alone.