I resisted the fear and stood up to racial abuse…but should I have?
Last Tuesday 14 April I was sitting on a train bound for Melbourne’s CBD at about 11am. All around me were voices in various stages of peaceful conversation, when suddenly a very loud male voice disrupted the calm. At first I thought it was a one sided phone conversation, so I turned to see who this inconsiderate person was. About four seats behind me across the aisle sat a well dressed young man wearing sunglasses looking straight at the window opposite his seat. In seats beside him but facing the rear of the carriage sat an Indian couple; I could only see the backs of their heads at this stage. The young man began to yell and scream obscenities obviously referring to the couple which alerted me to what this was all about:
Speak English you f…… c…. you f…… dogs why don’t you go back to your own f…… country you c…. I have to sit here listening to you f…… dogs talking in another language no-one can understand you f…… c….
This tirade continued in an atmosphere of complete stillness. I was feeling flushed and angry while looking around for an emergency button. Then, the abusive man began to punch with his fist, the window right beside the woman’s head. How is it that window didn’t smash with punches reverberating throughout the carriage? Enough! I stood up and asked:
Does anyone know where the emergency button is?
A young man right behind my seat pulled out his earplugs and said as he pointed to a spot behind me:
There is one beside that door.
It was an intercom so I pressed the button and a lady answered:
Can I help you?
Could you please send someone down to this carriage, there is a racist abusing a coloured couple and he is banging the window beside them with his fists. It’s becoming violent.
She asked again if I needed help and I replied in a strong voice:
I sat down again. Still no response from other passengers, none of whom was looking anywhere in particular.
The abuser continued yelling:
Go on call the cops I don’t f…… care, you f…… dogs ….you f…… c….
Then he stood up threw his backpack over his shoulder and looking straight ahead, walked past me down the aisle muttering to himself, until he heard the click of my phone camera. He turned his head slightly in my direction and shouted
Go on take photos you f…… dogs Call the f…… police you f…… c….
He then walked through to the next carriage. I watched him through the doors, standing facing his former carriage, his mouth still working.
The photos are not very clear as my hands were shaking and I was not brave enough to take a photo lest I should provoke this maniac further while he was in full violence mode. The backpack was quite distinctive though, with a bright blue pattern and he was of medium height and solid build.
At the next stop a young woman with a pram who had been sitting in front of me said as she passed by:
Thank you for what you did.
The Indian woman turned and explained in her very soft voice:
We were speaking very quietly, it’s not as if we were speaking very loudly….
I stood up and replied:
You are free to speak your own language anywhere you please.
As the young mother exited the train the young man behind me suddenly lept up and ran out of the train as two policemen walked past the windows. Just before the door closed I heard him describing the abuser to the policemen.
I wonder why not one other person stood up with me on that train. I know we have to be careful, the man may have been armed, but do we just sit there and allow a woman to be verbally abused and maybe have her head smashed in? This man was angry, and that anger was palpable in the carriage, as was the other passengers’ fear. I wonder too, if anyone would have come to my aid if the abuser had turned his attention to me. But then I have pale skin. Perhaps my anger was visible and audible too?
As my train journey continued, I wondered if we were all a bunch of cowardly hypocrites. Oh yes, we all share our outrage on social media (in safety) at the injustice of racism, but when it comes down to it, should we just pretend nothing is happening or should we stand up and say ‘enough’! Is there safety in numbers? I certainly don’t have all the answers.
I don’t know what the outcome of this racist attack was, or if cctv was used by police to identify the man, but I do think it was a very serious incident and I can only imagine how terrified that couple was.
– Copyright To Anne Frandi-Coory 16 April 2015 All Rights Reserved