Monday, 13 May 2013

Facing racism on the London tube

A friend witnessed a verbal racist attack on the London Tube. He witnessed it but did nothing, and though he claimed he didn't care, he made the effort to tell me about the event. He told me about the firing rage in the eyes of the attacker, while she was yelling hysterically "go back to the place you came from!!!" He told me about the helplessness in the eyes of the lady in headscarf, in vain looking around her for some sort of solidarity or support, shaking her head and muttering something like, "this woman, she's completely crazy."   We talked about the issue of intervention. "Why should I intervene?", he asked, "I am myself a foreigner." We were thinking whether is it good, necessary, beneficial for a bystander to intervene? Isn't there a danger that intervention might have an opposite effect to the one desired? What are the costs and what are the benefits of intervention? Why put oneself in danger? Isn't it a bit vain to believe that one could change the world, if things like that happen all the time? 

In an anti-racism campaign that ran in Germany a couple of years ago, a group of people enters a train wagon, and Julia is asked to imagine that in place of the instructor there are in fact three Nazis who are attacking a foreigner/black/Muslim person. Her job is to practice her courage: "Mut proben"

She says: Leave the man in peace, he's done nothing to you!!

She does this three times. First, her voice quivering, she seems awkward and almost embarrassed of having to call people's attention to her own presence. She is instructed to try again, this time with a little more passion. The second time she is a bit louder, but approaching the imagined racists, her instructor warns her that she mustn't come too near because that might put herself in danger, possibly becoming a victim herself. The third time she is assertive, convincing, full of rage, her eyes menacing, her presence now grounded.

She made it, and as she smiles, one of the passengers in the train asks if he can try it too. Intervention is no longer a burden, no longer controversial, but a skill one desires to perfect, an achievement that, if done well, is rewarding and something to be proud of. And for those who claim - why should I intervene? why should I put myself in a dangerous situation? who cares if I did nothing? For those who believe that we would all be better off if everyone minds their own business, for those there is a second video:

Would you like some more? Asks the docile, de-sexualized mother, as she pours some artificial flavored drink out of a bottle and into the cup of her daughter. The family affirms all the secondary virtues the Germans are so famous for: discipline, cleanliness, politeness, plenty, quiet, peacefulness, avoid unnecessary talk, avoid arguments. Each of them focuses on their own thing, each fulfilling their expected role in a system that must function reliably, like a perfect machine. Flames erupt in different parts of the room, but people seem to notice first when the butter catches fire, slightly sliding the butter away, first the father, then his son. But ignoring does not make the flames of racism and hate go away. In fact, they seem to spread. Like in Goethe's poem, the sorcerer's apprentice,  a system, finely tuned to maintain stability and regularity in times of peace, now ruptures when confronting unexpected situations.  Finally, the flames catch onto the skirt of the mother. Why she? one might ask. She, of all people, she, who has served her family, her community and society with dedication and servitude, she, who has done everything expected of her without ever raising her voice, why must she be the one whose skirt is now on flames?


  1. What great YouTube clips.

    I think we don't spend enough time teaching people with power (and, I think, we all have power in certain situations, and most of us don't have power in certain other situations) how to respond. We might feel uncomfortable,we might want to say something, but we've never really been taught how to resist or confront in productive ways.

  2. What a nice great touchable video clip you posted my brother. That really touched my emothins and feelings deeply. That clip could change people`s minds about the racism in all over the world.
    I also liked the comment of Mr Jason Mihalko. It really great.
    No racism, yes equality

  3. what a touching video clip. it really touched me emotionally. people should think twice about racism.