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…