Hate-ism

When ABC television journalist Jeremy Fernandez became the victim of a racial attack on a Sydney bus last month, his response resonated with me. 

Jeremy.png

A couple of weeks ago, on a Friday morning, Fernandez tweeted that he was called a “black c**t” and told to “go back to my country” in front of his two-year-old daughter.  Another tweet read: “Coppef [sic] 15 mins of racial abuse. Bus driver said ‘your fault for not moving.”

Fernandez had refused to move from his seat, as the bus driver had suggested, and said, “Anyone who says racism is dying is well and truly mistaken”. 

Speaking later on ABC radio, the shaken journalist said the attack was about ‘hate’. “This wasn’t about race, it was about hate …  it happens every day in Australia, this is not a rare incident.”

He is right. As a young Muslim woman who dons the hijab, the Islamic headcover, Fernandez’s words reminded me of an incident I encountered on a Sydney train last year.

After a long day at work I boarded a typically over-crowded train and squeezed into a corner, gripping onto one of the handles and stood sardine-like. A few spots into the journey, the train approached Lidcombe station and quite a few people got off the train. This was a relief as I knew it would mean a place to sit would likely open up for me. I spotted an empty seat and like a bee to honey, I quickly made my way to towards it. 

But before I had the chance to sit on the chair, I felt a hand press against my back and I found myself being pushed to the side of the train.

Confused, I turned around and saw an older man, dressed in a fluoro tradie’s shirt and clutching an  eski, take the seat I had been eyeing. He snarled: “Sorry love, I don’t f****ing stand for anyone.”

Shocked at his physical contact with me and upset by his rudeness, I responded, “That’s fine, you can have the seat because you are older, but your attitude is disgusting.”  He looked up and appeared to be caught off guard by my reaction.

Little did I know that this was just the start of one of the most racist experiences I have had as a Muslim women in Sydney.

The man smirked and said, “You’re lucky you have a pretty face love because that’s all you have going for you.”

“Look at you,” he spat, as his hateful gaze inspected me from head to toe. “You bought your camels here; I pay my taxes; I have a right to sit down on the train.”

I froze as his words played over and again in my head. Then I began to shake, angry that this man was trying to embarrass me in front of a carriage full of people.

“Not this time,” I thought to myself.

Then I said: “Everyone pays their taxes and everyone has paid for a ticket and we all have a right to sit down but clearly not everyone can. By the way, I’m an Australian so don’t you dare give me that nonsense.”

By now, I could feel the gaze of all the other commuters, but the man carried on: “Yeah, yeah, yeah … I am Aussie, not you! This is my country. I am a plumber, I fix the system, the system can’t fix me. I pay taxes so the government can pay lazy men that will end up screwing you.”

At this point, I was beyond infuriated and especially hurt by the man’s clear sexual reference. That I was clearly becoming emotional was no deterrent.

“This is my country, born and bred and I work hard and deserve to be here,” he continued, waving his hands around.

I tried to stay calm and told myself he wasn’t worth getting upset about. But I felt like a fire was burning inside me and I couldn’t hold back.

“No, this country is not ‘yours’, this country belongs to Indigenous people,” I fired back in a shaky voice.

“This is their land. Your ancestors came here by boat. I came here as a refugee. My parents worked hard to earn their living and offer us a better life and brighter future and they have succeeded and I will not allow you to underestimate or belittle their efforts and the efforts of millions of other Australians in this country. Look around you, look at the diversity in this carriage alone. Wake up to reality; this is not white Australia. We all deserve to be here.”

Applause erupted in the carriage. I looked around and saw eyes filled with excitement for me. Someone grabbed my hand and gently rubbed it. I don’t know who it was, but I felt it and it was good.

A sense of overwhelming support consumed me. The man full of taunts looked at me and shook his head.

The train then pulled up at the next stop, Auburn, and he got off.

“Well done, love. You showed him what you’re made of,” said a woman who was rubbing my shoulders to comfort me.

It was only when I got off at my stop that I started to fully comprehend what had just happened. I headed towards my car and found it hard to stop myself from shaking.

Racist insults are not new to me, since my hijab makes me easily identifiable as a Muslim. However, it had been a year since I had been at the end of a racist verbal attack and I was starting to think that maybe things were changing.

While I felt some pride in having taken on this man to try to punch holes in his stereotypes, it was still a big personal disappointment that after living in Australia for almost 17 years, I have to assure people that I am an Australian.

And sadly, the attack on Jeremy Fernandez did not come as a surprise to me.

Racism cannot simply be addressed through legislation. Education that emphasises the many benefits of cultural diversity can help tackle some of the toxic views.

What do you think of the racist attack on Jeremy Fernandez? Were you surprised to read about it?

Share your views in the comments section. 

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~ by widyanalubudy on July 27, 2013.

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