February 8, 2013 – 11:12AM
ABC News presenter Jeremy Fernandez says he has been racially abused on a Sydney bus in front of his young daughter.
Fernandez tweeted on Friday morning that a female bus passenger had called him a “black c**t” and told him to “go back to my country”.
But, in what he described as his own Rosa Parks moment, Fernandez refused to move his position on the bus and, as a result, copped 15 minutes of racial abuse from the woman, who was accompanied by her primary school-aged children.
“Anyone who says racism is dying is well and truly mistaken,” he tweeted.
“Coppef [sic] 15 mins of racial abuse. Bus driver said ‘your fault for not moving) [sic],” he wrote.
“Worst thing is- i had my 2yo daughter with me. She had her primary school aged kids with her. All heard every word of her racist rant.
“It’s a sad thing when a coloured man in 2013 has to show his kid how to hold their nerve in the face of racist taunts.”
Fernandez has been contacted for comment.
Late last year, a French woman was targeted in a racist attack on a Melbourne bus in which she was called a c—, a dog and threatened with having her breasts cut off after she sang a song in her native tongue.
Another passenger captured footage of that incident, which showed passengers verbally abusing French tourist Fanny Desaintjores, 22, and her friends on board a bus in the city’s southern suburbs.
Ms Desaintjores said she and about nine friends were on the bus, having spent the day at the beach for a barbecue, and were singing “French popular joyful songs, not coarse at all”.
Footage of the racist taunts was viewed more than a million times on YouTube and been reported around the world.
Police have spoken to three people over that attack, and investigations are continuing.
My Rosa Parks moment in Sydney 2013
Updated 2 hours 9 minutes ago
ABC newsreader Jeremy Fernandez has long experienced racism since moving to Australia as a teenager, but a 15-minute racist tirade he experienced in front of his young daughter left him particularly shaken. He asks, what makes people so ready to vent their hate in 2013?
Earlier today I had what I like to think of as my own Rosa Parks moment on a Sydney bus travelling through the inner-west from Marrickville to Stanmore.
It culminated in a woman, in the presence of her two school-aged kids, calling me a “black c***”. She told me to go back to my “own country”, and threatened to drag me off the bus as she raised her fist to my face.
The entire encounter lasted about 15 minutes, and is one of the most confronting instances of abuse I have experienced recently.
I am absolutely sure this episode isn’t unique or even rare. I cop racist abuse from time to time – most recently from a checkout operator at Woolworths who had been moaning her disapproval about the influx of asylum seekers to our shores. When my turn came to go through the checkout, she scanned and piled my groceries on a tiny bit of the counter top until everything fell on the floor. As I picked my groceries up from the floor she kept going, sending more groceries off the edge of the tiny bench.
You never know when you’ll be hit next, and having your mug on TV doesn’t offer much of a shield.
However, this episode on the bus shook me particularly strongly because I had my two-year-old daughter with me. In fact, it was in her defence that the confrontation started.
The woman’s daughter had been flicking and pinching my daughter from behind. It was harmless child’s play, but it made my daughter uncomfortable and confused. So I put my arm around her as protection. The little girl kept clipping my arm. I turned and told her softly, “That was my arm.”
The girl’s mother asked what was going on, and I told her what had happened. She denied her daughter had even touched me.
What happened next took me by surprise.
She began hurling abuse and accused me of reaching behind our seats and touching her daughter. Of course, I had not done anything of the sort. This accusation hit me pretty hard.
At this point, I considered moving to another spot on the bus. However, the woman then launched into a racist rant that continued for the longest 15 minutes of my life. I thought to myself, “What would Rosa Parks do?” She would stay put. So I did, especially since it is 2013.
As the woman’s rant continued, I did argue back, telling her she was a piece of work for even talking like this in front of children. She raised a fist to my face, and threatened to drag me off the bus if I didn’t move.
A Caucasian gentleman sitting next to the woman told her to stop. She told him off, before continuing her rant at me. No one else said anything, and for that I have no resentment. Any further outside involvement risked escalating the situation.
I used my phone to record the tail end of the woman’s rant, while she got her phone out to take photographs of me. She muttered threats, saying that she knew where I lived and would round up a few men to show me a lesson.
After she got off the bus to drop her children off at school, a couple of people offered me their names and contact details as witnesses.
The sting was yet to come. As I alighted from the bus, I told the driver that as someone who had carriage of passengers on his vehicle, it would have been nice if he had pulled this woman into line.
He said, “It’s your fault, mate. You could have moved.” I was keen to press the point that I didn’t move from my seat on principle because I had every right to be on that bus in that seat. It surprised me that as a European migrant himself, he failed to recognise that.
Discrimination on the basis of race, colour, gender, economics, disability, sexual preference, and other differences is an unfortunate part of our modern society. People across the country put up with all types of abuse and move on. For me, this incident wasn’t about race. It was about hate.
If I were gay, disabled, elderly, or spoke poor English, this woman would have attacked that, perceiving it to be the most shameful aspect of me.
Racism has been a part of my life since I was a young child growing up in Malaysia, when the fairer-skinned kids would call me the ‘oily man’ because I looked to them like I’d been dipped in a barrel of oil.
I moved to Australia as a 13-year old with a ‘weird accent’, and learned to embrace being a novelty. One of my best friends at school, on learning I wanted to be a journalist one day, advised me not to worry about never getting a job: “There’s always SBS,” he said.
I cut my teeth in journalism when Pauline Hanson was becoming popular. I attended her first speech in Perth, during which all of my belongings apart from a pen and paper were confiscated, in case I used them as missiles. It saddened me equally to see the people who turned out to hear Ms Hanson speak being pelted with fruit and vegetables.
Ever since my family migrated to Australia, I have been asked what I think about racism. I rarely talk about it publicly because there is nothing new to say. Why are we still having conversations about immigration, embracing difference, and acceptance in 2013? And what makes people so ready to vent their hate?
I have to admit that I had a bit of a cry after dropping my daughter off at daycare. It saddened me to realise that I’ll have to teach her how to be stoic and stand up for herself in the face of an abusive person. Perhaps naively, I hadn’t thought that far ahead, especially because Sydney is said to be one of the most open and inclusive cities in the world.
I have been heartened and deeply humbled by the messages of support I’ve received today, many from strangers on social media outlets.
I bounce back pretty easily. But I am now wondering about where and how we can change things so our kids don’t have to explain hate to their kids.
Jeremy Fernandez is a journalist and newsreader for ABC News. View his full profile here.