A Perth cultural studies expert says overt racism – like that displayed in a recent shocking altercation between two women on a Transperth bus – often goes unreported because of its common nature and the fact many people all but accept it.
The Transperth incident, which was captured on video and uploaded on to YouTube, was not reported by any of the passengers on board: something that did not surprise Curtin University’s Jon Stratton.
The video, which was filmed on the Circle Route bus on March 5 near Hilton, shows a woman verbally abusing another woman, who she refers to as Chinese, for speaking in another language.
Comments such as “f… off on your boat you dog,” are yelled at the woman.
No response is heard, but a short time later another woman appears to try to intervene by yelling at the abusive woman.
The intervention does nothing to stop the woman’s abuse, other than divert it towards the third woman.
Insults based on race, sexuality and appearance are exchanged, with the woman who was defending the “Chinese” woman then also hurling racial abuse, before the argument turns violent and the two begin a fight which ends with both on the floor of the bus, one pinned under the other.
Professor Stratton said although some people may have chosen not to report the incident because of the potential of of being a witness if the case ever went further, there were others who accepted that race based-altercations happened in Australia.
“We like to think of ourselves as multicultural and accepting of others but when it comes down to it, it’s only really OK when someone of another race is in their place like serving food at a Thai restaurant,” he said.
“It’s okay for racial differences to crop up in restaurants provided ‘they’ stay out of sight.”
Public Transport Authority spokesman David Hynes, who confirmed the incident was not reported by any passengers, said the type of behaviour involved was not confined to public transport.
“Statistics suggest an increase in this type of behaviour and violence is less on public transport than in the general community,” he said.
“That’s a bit of a sad comment on society. Perhaps people are being a bit desensitised to this sort of thing.”
Professor Stratton said racism and xenophobia often spilled out on public transport because people were cooped up together with people from all different backgrounds, who they might not usually spend time with.
The Perth incident is not the first racist episode involving public transport to recently make headlines.
Earlier this year, ABC News presenter Jeremy Fernandez went public with his recollections of racial abuse on a Sydney bus in front of his young daughter and Melbourne commuters were subjected to a horrifying display of racism and threats of violence on a bus when a French woman was abused for singing in her native tongue.
Professor Stratton said the fear of people speaking languages other than English in Australia had existed since the 1950s.
“You don’t know what they are saying, they might be talking about you, saying nasty things about you and if they are speaking another language they have not assimilated,” he said.
He said since the John Howard era, Australia had instituted a number of assimilation-based policies and there was a need for more policies which allowed education and understanding.