The Heart of the Matter

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I plonk on a seat on the train next to a window, where I could sit comfortably and read a book.

The train ride to my first stop is about 45 minutes. It’s peak hour and it’s all stops. This is going to be a long but enjoyable ride, or so I thought.

Halfway through the first page, I heard a man belch loudly. I moved my face sideways, not quite looking at where the sound was coming from. A hint of annoyance could be read from that slight movement of my head.

Shortly after, I could hear someone murmuring from behind me. Deaf from the usual noise when reading a book, I ignored it. I first learned to read in English before I learned to read in my own language, but at this very moment, as I go through lines after lines of English words, I couldn’t read a word. I thought the book is hard to read, but those damn racist remarks won’t stop barging in my head.

I Turned Dyslexic and Everyone Became Deaf

I closed the book and sighed. Cruel words incessantly try and invade my hearing space. Something about Asians, Asians taking over their jobs, how they shouldn’t be in this country. Oh, here we go, I thought, and rolled my eyes. Not quite dark outside, I looked out the glass window as the train hisses past buildings and trees, but not really seeing anything.

The train was filled with all sorts of people. Everyone was minding their own business, busy with their own thoughts, their own reading and, like me, pretending they weren’t hearing anything.

I decided to continue ignoring this man’s ramblings about Asians to no one in particular. Maybe it will stop and he will tire of it, run out of words to say or reach his train station soon.

Leafing through another page, and on and on the man continued. I stole a quick glance over my shoulder, and I saw the man is standing on the aisle, holding a bottle of beer.

As I attempt to correct my sudden-onset dyslexia, it was becoming obvious the man talking loudly on the train had zeroed in on a ”lucky” someone. Slowly, it dawned on me, that someone was me! The man, the harasser, was talking to me all along.

Very Cheeky and Pushing It

Indirectly, he told me to vacate my seat because, he said, I didn’t deserve it. He wanted me to give up my seat to an elderly Anglo-Australian who I didn’t see was standing next to him. The elderly Anglo-Australian giggled and nodded in agreement to what the harasser said. Under a different circumstance, on my own accord, I would have offered my seat to any elderly person. The harasser explained to a non-Asian female passenger, who clearly looked scared, that he hated Asians because Asians took over jobs meant for Australians.

Encumbered with all the stuff I had with me, including a box of birthday cake, I restrained myself from engaging in a potentially messy, chocolate-mud-cake fight. For a while, I vacillitated between wasting A$20 (at that time) worth of cake to smash it across the man’s racist face or to just ignore him as best I could and not to stoop down to his level. In the end, I chose the latter.

Not content with throwing insults in my direction, the harasser blocked my way when I tried to get off the train. With my hands and arms full of stuff, I couldn’t shove him off so I could get out before the train moved. I missed my station as a result. As the train started to move, I screamed out loud to his face: ”YOU ARE AN ASSHOLE!”

No other words were necessary. I thought that was the heart of the matter—he was just being exactly as I described him. There was no need to explain or reason out to him, nor was there any need to expend any energy to try and enlighten him.

He shrugged his shoulder. ‘I hate Asians’, he said, and walked away.

For two months, I was paranoid. I would sit at the farthest back of the train thinking I’d rather have my enemy in front of me where I can see them, than behind me.

Questioning My Own Willingness to Help Others

Would I have helped if it was someone else who was being harassed instead of me? I’d like to think, if it was clear there was someone being victimised and this person appeared helpless, that I would have. My ”Beautiful Serpent”, as author, poet and blogger Ed Pilolla beautifully calls it, rears its ugly head from time to time, and can sometimes be a bit fearless.

I thought about it for a long time. None of the passengers in the crowded train uttered a word. No one bothered to report it to a train guard on my behalf. They were either indifferent or too scared to help. They say there is strength in numbers but, even against an averaged-built man, no one dared to raise their voice. I guess, if I wasn’t saying anything, why would they?

Later that night, as I took a bite of a piece of the chocolate cake that almost never was, I shudder at the thought that people’s deafening silence and pathetic lack of courage to come to my rescue was because they had the same deep-seated fear as the ignorant man.

If you were in my shoes, what would you have done?

If you were one of the passengers, would you have lifted a finger to help a stranger being harassed?

As always, I welcome and appreciate your comments.

Read related articles:
The Racist Workplace by James Adonis
End Racism

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About Earthianne

A lover of OSHO, non-fiction books, fun and laughter, music, philosophy, life, animals, world peace.

Posted on 25/06/2010, in Memories and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. i cannot even imagine what that must have been like. i mean, it’s one thing to confront someone. it’s another to confront someone who has been drinking and spewing racist talk. i don’t know what it’s like to be the target of racism. as a kid, i remember my friend’s father degrading ‘deigos’ in front of me, and i was mortified.

    i think you said exactly what needed to be said. i think you are a hero for saying what you did and resisting the temptation to throw your cake in his face, which he deserved and more.

    it’s amazing and scary how people stay silent. when the bully is on the loose, people giggle and smile becuz they don’t want to be the target of the bully’s focus. people are weak. sometimes they can be strong, but oftentimes they are weak. it’s sad.

    thanks for sharing this. sounds like you kept your serpent at bay in order to avoid a physical confrontation. calling him an asshole was a perfect response. his reaction sounded like he agreed that he was an asshole, even.

    • Thank you, Ed, you take genuine interest in understanding people and reading their stories.

      It was horrible. Though I didn’t include this in the story, as soon as I could, I cried buckets. I had to release it somehow. And I didn’t realize how much I’d sacrifice to make sure there’s a cake for a birthday celebration! I’ll be honest though, I had periods where I regretted letting him off “lightly”.

      Yes, you’re right in your assessment that he agreed to what I said. It was a huge consolation for me in a way – that he didn’t deny he was being an asshole, although he felt it was justified because of his hatred for Asians (I think my jet black hair gave me away, lol).

  2. Hi Earthianne,

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog – Thank you.
    My sympathies are with you, but you and Ed seem to have a good grasp that the asshole was just that. Well said!.
    I believe he didn’t really hate Asians. It seems to me that he felt like he was worthless, and the only thing he had to make himself feel a bit better was the crutch of an invented “hatred”. Rather a “sad” case, who collapsed and acknowledged his worthlessness as soon as he was faced with a little bravery.
    Interesting that your own self-worth overpowered his in the end…

    • I’ve considered that and you may be correct. I didn’t really see hatred in his eyes when he was telling me of this “hatred”.

      Thank you, I feel good knowing you (and Ed) see him as I saw him, and that my reaction was the correct response—perhaps the only correct one—at that time and under those circumstances.

  3. Bravo, my friend, yet again a very interesting piece. I know how you felt because I have been a victim of racist comments myself and times like this I have just felt like blowing up but my inner good spirit held me back from becoming one of them. I held my head up high & had fun to show them that they have nothing worth in their lives that is why they pick on individuals they think are weak but then again by calling him an “arsehole” he realised that his victim was not so weak but brave & courageous – hats off to you for showing that to him. For the others who just sat & acted dumb were just plain ignorant, showed how society just allows disgruntled people to get away with such low degrading behaviour.

    • Thanks, Christine! The less we say, the better, I think. We don’t owe anyone any explanation. The ignorants and intolerants will one day get it, so let’s remain calm and patient. 🙂

  4. I’m so very sorry that you were the target of that. I was more and more heartbroken as I read this article.
    Hate is such a strong word….such a strong emotion. I never learned racism, and it is a learned attitude.
    I’m sorry Earthianne …I wish I’d been on that train with you…Not that there would have been violence, but someone else would have been there to take the brunt of those words …A knife cuts the flesh, but words cut the heart.

  5. I have an abiding respect for the Japanese martial arts of Aikido, for all of the reasons I love other martial arts, but also for its commitment to defence only and to an empathic regard for any ‘opponent’. It is the Hippocratic martial art – first, do no harm.

    I read a story once about a young American in Japan studying Aikido. Proud of his developing skills, he was excited to encounter a drunk Japanese worker on the subway – a man that was belligerent and threatening: the young American was sure that he was experiencing an opportunity to put his abilities to justifiable use.

    As he prepared to engage the drunk in defence of a woman he was threatening, an elderly Japanese man sitting on the other side of the drunk intervened by engaging the jerk in pleasant conversation. He distracted the drunk and launched into a story about tea and how he and his late wife used to enjoy their small persimmon tree and garden. Using gentle voice and an utter absence of aggression, the old man soon had the drunk worker softly crying.

    Where the young martial artist had seen an opponent, the old man had seen a victim. Both sought to confront the drunk’s anger and violence in their own way, from their respective places of understanding.

    The young American felt appropriately self-chastised, recognizing that his eagerness to find a justification for his desire for violence was evidence of his own lack of maturity; an incomplete understanding of the reason for his study.

    You were absolutely correct to stand up for yourself, and your particular observation was accurate. In no way do I intend a criticism of the way you handled your situation – rather, I applaud you for taking ownership and confronting that man’s ignorance.

    I’d like to think that, if I’d been watching, I would have interjected on your behalf. I’ve done it before in similar situations. I hope also that, more and more as I grow older, I would choose the most deflective and peaceful way to do so. That way is often still not my instinct – I get riled up when faced with that kind of ignorance and all my urges tend to be confrontational – but I keep trying to ‘lean into the light’ and grow. It’s all we can do, and being on that path is the most important part.

    Again, thank you for your fearless honesty. It’s a gift I feel privileged to be part of.

    • Interestingly, a long time ago, a friend said to me he considers Aikido the best of the martial arts. I guess for the same reason you said above.

      Someone also said to me something like ‘real power is knowing you have it, but you choose not to use it’. And from experience, I notice those very aggressive and intimidating people are actually wimps.

      That’s really a great story of using patience, understanding, wisdom on people who appear tough on the outside but, really, are weak and perhaps feeling insecure inside. And it’s a lesson for us hot-headed people to pause and see past someone’s aggression and see the perhaps sad and scared individual within.

      I can relate very well to what you said about your natural urge of confronting, for example, ignorant people. I’m the same. In spite of my believing in this we-are-one philosophy, I forget. Sometimes, it takes a tremendous amount of effort to keep myself in check and remind myself I now know better.

      Many thanks for paying my blog a visit and sharing your story and thoughts. It’s so much appreciated.

  6. I’m sad to know that you had to face this. Yes, you did the right thing. Bullies need to be shown that their target is not timid. I don’t know what I would have done if it happened to me – I guess I would’ve ignored as far as I could – just as you did.

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