On the evening of September 25, 2014, I went home and saw that my mother’s eyes were red. She told me that random strangers on the street had verbally abused her about her culture and religion earlier that day. A couple of years ago, she began to wear a hijab (of her own volition!); now, not only was she a Woman of Colour in a predominantly Anglo-White society, but also visibly a Muslim (as is her right to be).
Although my mother was targeted because of her religious beliefs that day, racist attacks play out in a similar fashion: a person minding their own business is abused by random strangers in a public space or workplace.
I myself was racially abused a couple of months ago. I was on the train home late one night, when a White man approached me and said, “your people need to be more Australian.” My “people” of course being all dark-skinned people.
Putting aside the problematic notions raised of collective punishment and the dubious call to an “Australian” identity that no one seems to be able to define, this was not the first time I had been a victim of racial abuse. I’ve been called a “Black c*nt” and been told to go back to my own country, amongst other things.
However, what truly upset me that day, and similarly upset my mother recently, was the fact that no one intervened on our behalf. No one came to our defence. None of the people (other White men) who were in my carriage on the train that night said a comforting word, let alone a protective one. It was a very lonely moment. I felt worthless. But I spoke up for myself; I engaged the man in conversation, and just before he got off the train he said to me, “you’re alright.” That wasn’t all he said (he proceeded to make another generalization about my “people”), but it was the most important part.
By challenging this perpetrator of racial abuse, I was signaling to him that his actions are not without consequences. If I, as a victim, can challenge the perpetrator, then you, as a bystander, also possess the courage to defend the vulnerable.
But how? What can you do to intervene and support the victim?
Here is a practical guide you can use if you are witness to an act of racial abuse:
1. If the racial attack is an act of physical violence and/or the situation is unsafe, call 000 (or press the ‘Help’ button on a train for example)
2. If it is safe to do so, record the attack on a mobile phone or similarly capable device and present the evidence to authorities (you may also choose to upload any footage to Facebook, YouTube, etc.)
3. Speak up in defense of the victim(s). You don’t have to be aggressive; it can be something as simple as, “leave that person alone.”
4. Comfort the victim(s) and let them know that they are not alone
5. Sometimes, a seemingly safe situation can turn unsafe for you once you’ve intervened. In these situations, realise that the victim is grateful for any attempt you’ve made to support them.
6. Have a little bit of courage. As Adam Goodes, the 2014 Australian of the Year said, “…if you say nothing or do nothing, nothing changes. So take a stand.”
However, what if YOU are the racist? What if you believe that a person should be abused because of the colour of their skin or their ethnic or religious background (or indeed their gender, sexual orientation/preferences, etc.)?
Here is a practical guide you can use if you feel like racially abusing someone:
1. Keep your racist opinions to yourself and do not abuse or harass anyone with said opinions
2. Quietly vacate the immediate area so that you can distance yourself from whoever/whatever has stirred up your racist sentiments
3. Reflect on why you have racist views and what might be causing them.
4. Make a commitment to yourself to stop being a racist. Do your own independent research and seek help from support groups.
So, remember, if you see or hear something, then say something. You might not know it, but your intervention could make all the difference in the world to the victim(s).