Last Sunday evening, YouTube user Kelly Hollingsworth posted a video, recorded from her phone, of a woman on a Croydon tram hurling racist abuse at her fellow passengers.
The first time I watched the video, general observation took a back seat to shock and disgust. Yet subsequent viewings illuminate fascinating details. Above all, the varied reactions of those surrounding the aggravated woman raise numerous questions about the nature of racism and the obligations of bystanders to intervene.
In the face of such unashamed racism, surely anyone present, regardless of race or ethnicity, would be moved to intercede?
Importantly, the person filming the whole incident is a young, black woman. In the end, this seemingly passive form of intervention has had more impact than verbally confronting the woman in the video ever could. Nevertheless, the almost total lack of verbal confrontation is deeply concerning.
A young, white female frowns at the woman in question initially, but soon seeks solace in her mobile phone. Similarly, a white man remains fully engrossed in his smart phone throughout the whole tirade. The main challenge viewers see comes from a black woman who directly addresses the racism and abuse of public order.
It is unfortunate that ethnic minority passengers on the tram were overwhelmingly left to ‘deal with’ the woman. Aside from being straightforwardly racist, her assertion that she represented ‘real’ British people was, in itself, highly offensive. Surely such blatant misrepresentation of British people warrants immediate refutation from any considering themselves a British citizen?
By failing to confront the woman, the white passengers on that journey missed a vital opportunity to disprove her vision of “her Britain”.
In the latter minute of the now infamous video, we do see one white woman standing up to the racist tirade. Yet, I think she sort of missed the point. In saying: “I’m English, what’ve you got to say to me?” this woman implicitly acknowledges a connection between skin colour and ‘being British.’ Further, her sole grievance was the disruption to her baby’s sleep, not the dubious morality of the words spoken.
Yet I cannot condemn this woman; she did a great deal more then the majority of travellers on that tram and, let’s be honest, would the raging woman have taken the particular content of any challenge on board?
The symbolic gesture of the challenge itself, and the source of the challenge, is what really counts here.
Admittedly, even this did nothing to stem the flow of the tirade, but this should never be used as an excuse for inaction.
Passively allowing the (apparently 20-minute long) rant to continue unchecked is almost as damaging as the individuals who have posted agreements with the woman’s views on YouTube. Those who simply stared at the floor, or played with their phones, inferred that nothing out of the ordinary was occurring.
To then leave the most constructive interventions to two black women shows a deep apathy, and intolerable ‘embarrassment’ towards racism amongst many white people in Britain. Undoubtedly most of the white passengers on that tram journey would baulk at the accusation that they themselves are racist, yet, to assume that the situation warranted no action from them does nothing to prove otherwise.
The video inspired zealous condemnation from millions on Twitter. Of course this is good; those harbouring similar views to the racist woman were left in little doubt that, among Tweeters at least, they were in the minority. But it is easy to condemn video footage via the internet. Very little courage or thought is required. To make a stand whilst the incident occurred warrants greater tenacity, and the impact of the gesture is accordingly far more significant.