a recent experience in challenging an act of racism

I had an “interesting” experience on a bus recently. It was very much a wake up call about the ways in which racism is (more) prevalent in Australia, to which I have recently returned, compared to Canada. I was one of close to two dozen people who hopped on the bus at a university campus, adding to the one or two people who were on it. It was an mid-evening service, after most classes had ceased. Before the bus had left the stop, a person who was already on the bus exclaimed very loudly something along the lines of “why don’t you shut up you stupid Asians?” (there may have been expletives or other derogatory terms).

The was an instantaneous silence. Of those who had joined the bus, the vast majority were from what I am assuming to be Japan (my generalisation itself is problematic; I may also be wrong on the assumption of origin). I noted one person from what I thought to be South America, and the friend I was traveling with who is from Bangladesh. The silence was short-lived, with those who were obviously the target of the comment soon talking amongst themselves again. Of note, whilst not speaking English, it was quite clear some were explaining the comment to others who may not have heard or fully grasped what was said. We could even sense a level of dismissal and ridicule in this dialogue.

I was the only other ‘white’ guy on the bus. When the comment was made, I turned to look at the protagonist to visually express my disapproval and disgust. I felt an obligation to act, as such behaviour was unacceptable. He appeared to not notice, and any tension seemed to dissipate with his complete ignorance of being essentially laughed at.

The bus moved off and for several minutes the jovial atmosphere returned. Another similar outburst followed, which seemed less profound than the previous one. This may have been because of the implicit-explicit dismissal expressed in the return to jovial conversation by those targeted. This time, I was ready to respond. I retorted “why don’t you shut up” (I have since reflected that perhaps something along the lines of “why don’t you keep you inappropriate comments to yourself” might have been a more effective response). Silence from the protagonist was the result—I was caught up in to the moment and did not note the reaction from the rest of the bus.

What came next took me, and perhaps many others on the bus, by surprise.

A few minutes after the second outburst, A voice came from the seat behind: “what are you blurting about to all of the bus”? It was the person who had made the racist remarks. I was taken aback by the aggressive tone and approach, and the physical imposition of the situation. Fortunately, I held my nerve, and responded along the lines of responding to an inappropriate comment. The person first denied making any such comment, and then stating that it was addressed to one person only. They then went on to excuse their behaviour as a result of intoxication, and tried to start up a conversation unrelated to the incident.

I soon alighted from the bus, with others on the bus taking to opportunity to move away from this person. I was later informed that the driver (either at that stop or the next one) refused to drive off until this person left the bus.

It was certainly an interesting experience…

the shallowness of the shallow

One thing that disappoints me very much is when those who consider themselves progressive do not live their politics. They act explicitly counter to their expressed ideals, often directly harming those around them. On the weekend, I stopped by an anarchist book store to pick up some books for my upcoming travels. The volunteers staffing the store had trouble providing the correct change as one of the volunteers had absconded with the takings. Analogous to this, a friend has been subjected to, and disrespected by, the actions of self-identified progressive male. Unfortunately, it continues (and is getting worse). Why does it seem that men are still perpetuating such self-absorbed bullshit?

In the latter example, the person involved not only acted deceitfully for a long time, they actively tried to engineer a situation in which they could flee without facing up to their actions — to be seen as not implicated or directly responsible. They sought to foster circumstances in which my friend would be forced to confront them, to be seen as the protagonist and, as a result, responsible.

Not surprisingly, the perpetrator continues to act in a similar vein — long after they were found out. They have continued to try and keep their shameful and disrespectful actions private, seeking to live their life as if they have done nothing wrong. Further, they are still seeking to position my friend as the villain, to save face. This person admitted some wrong doing in private — not accepting or taking any level of responsibility their actions. They think their hands are now clean, and are trying to maintain the façade.

I come back to it again, why the fuck is it seemingly always self-identified progressive men who think they are not responsible for their actions? Why do men continue to position women as responsible for pointing out to us when we do fucked up patriarchal bullshit? Why do men then feel like, or try to position themselves as, victims when their fucked up actions are pointed out? What is it that it is often — thankfully not always — women are the ones who (have to) call their male friends on their bullshit? What the fuck are the apparently progressive male friends doing in all this, aside from being complicit?

The protagonist is still trying to hide their actions, even implying my friend is being inconsiderate by not forgiving them. Further still (again) they are seeking to label any attempt to imply they take responsibility for their actions, to own up for their shit, as not a considerate or progressive thing to do!

I’d like to think that progressive males can act progressively rather than self-absorbed and arrogant. Yet it seems far too many are as shallow as their apparently ‘cool’ punk tattoos, short-lived haircuts and fashionista centric clothing.

Own up to your shit! Until you do, don’t think you are, or try to label yourself as, anything but the fucking shallow tool that you are.

a serious case of life: control and ‘bad’ choices.

We all go though life having many experiences that are, to varying degrees, beyond our control. Different political persuasions often have different takes on how we should understand, consider, reflect on and tackle such situations. A lot of rhetoric is thrown around, from many of these perspectives, at contrasting ideas, opinions or ideologies. Radical and leftist perspectives often try to expose and understand the structural basis of the, mostly negative, implications of circumstances that remove ones control over their own lives. Similar can be said of some libertarian perspectives, even some neoconservatives. A question worth reflecting on is how much emphasis should we place on such structural factors, and when can this lead to not being able to see the trees for the forest?

A serious case of life has (painfully) re-opened my thoughts on such matters. I was recently in a situation where control over my, and, directly, some of those dear to my, life was significantly out of my hands. It was a very unpleasant situation that I, whilst not wanting to put myself in for a numbers reasons, largely accepted as it was not really a choice. At best it was a false choice — either accept a loss of control for a certain period of time, or be forced to not be in a position to live life as I really wanted for that, or a longer period of, time, and potentially lose that option. Varying degrees of untenability.

We all go through, with varying degrees of intensity, stages of our lives with such choices. Some are rather trivial, some are choices we willing accept for ethical or moral reasons. Others, like the one I am reflecting on, can be quite challenging, painful and distressing. They can lead to further ramifications, foreseen or not, that can have drastic consequences. Mine has, and coming to terms with it will take a long time…

In my situation, in reflecting, I am concerned that I dwelt on the imposed lack of control — to the point that I wholeheartedly regret my subsequent choice(s). I can see how I made that choice. The influx and combined effects that directly resulted from the initial choice to put myself in such a situation. These snowballed over many months, feeding off and building on each other. After a time, the Forest began to overshadow what mattered most — living and enjoying what I had. The tree’s. I lost sight of the there and now, what was of most importance to me. Why I was willing to put myself in such a position.

With the tree’s being overshadowed/lost in the forest of implications emanating from a lack of control, I and/both took the metaphorical trees for granted and did not provide them with the respect and sustenance they required. Whilst hindsight is valuable tool, should we not be more aware — or at least work on becoming so — of that directly around us. What is most important to us. This brings me back to the question of emphasis and responsibility. 

There are ways and means, aspects of society, that act to remove or restrict our control over own lives and selves. Not all of these are bad things — many are very beneficial. Are we caught up in trying to challenge the negative ones, focussing on their impacts and, as result, often losing sight and not affording to necessary attention to more important aspects of our lives. What level of responsibility should we accept is a question that does not have one clear answer, and often used dismissively by some libertarians/neo-cons. Do we sometimes try to deflect responsibility when things are difficult, and defer to notions of restricted control as a straw man or similar?

My specific experience indicates I dwelt too much on the negative, and it had a number of implications that I lost some sight of. Sometimes thinking about the bigger picture is not alway the most fruitful approach. I sincerely hope that what has resulted from my subsequent choices can be overcome and I (again?) have the opportunity to live life as I really wanted. A willingness to try is not always enough…