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Racist Ranters on Public Transport? Be Mad, but Save Your Outrage for Where It Matters

Posted on the 08 February 2012 by Periscope @periscopepost
Racist ranters on public transport? Be mad, but save your outrage for where it matters

A London Underground tube train. Photo credit: Coolinsights

It is an immutable law of this world that crazy people ride public transportation. It’s like gravity, or the speed of light, or the fact that at any given moment, somewhere in the world an episode of Friends is playing.

This is because public transportation is a nearly filterless experience, a place where virtually all walks of life can and must collide (excepting, of course, the 1 percent, who ride elephants or poor people or unicorns or whatever to get where they want to go). And for that reason, it’s a place where people are so studiously minding their own business, confronted with all that humanity, that it’s practically lawless.

My husband and I saw a man smoking crack – actual crack – on the 29 in Camden Town.

I once spent a fraught 15 minutes on the Picadilly line being berated by a woman entirely clad in purple screaming about Chinese immigrants and lesbian experiences, until I realized that she was actually addressing the empty seat to my right. My husband and I saw a man smoking crack – actual crack – on the 29 in Camden Town. Yesterday, I rode the bus with an angry drunkard who, after beating on the closed bus door to be let in, retired to the back of the bus where he moaned some sort of dirge that largely consisted of the word “f*ck”. This was 3 in the afternoon on Tuesday.

Crazy people love public transport because really, where else can you be as drunk, or nuts, or maybe just have a nap in warmth and be let alone?

So should it be surprising that some of these nutters and drunks are also racists? In fact, there doesn’t appear to be a form of public transport in Britain that can escape the racists, if the latest racist viral video is any evidence.

So should it be surprising that some of these nutters and drunks are also racists?

Last week, footage of a woman riding the Central Line on the London Underground, insulting her fellow passengers in a racist screed and peppering her rant liberally with variations on the word “fuck”, went viral after being posted on YouTube. “Ninety per cent of you are f****** illegal. I wouldn’t mind if you loved our country,” she rages, throwing her hands in the air. The video follows the now infamous “my tram experience” ranter, Emma West, who launched into an expletive-riddled tirade against immigrants on a tram, her hapless toddler perched upon her lap. And then there was the woman on the 29 – a bus service that collects crazy like a drain collects hair – who tried to kick an “Afro-bian” male passenger and fell over in the attempt.

After the tram ranter, British media engaged in a bit of soul-searching: Commentators wondered whether her vitriol was the result of an erosion of the pride of the working class, and while some claimed that Britain was better than that “vile, bigoted creature”, others wondered if that were really true.

But this kind of thing often happens on a tram because trams are the kinds of places angry, untreated mentally ill, drunk, or otherwise busted people go. And really, it shouldn’t be shocking to anyone who has ever ridden public transportation. Saddening, frustrating, disgusting, but not shocking.

The point isn’t that these people should get a pass because they’re on public transport and they’re clearly unstable – they shouldn’t. They hold repugnant and ignorant opinions born out of a lifetime of anger and frustration, sure, but a pigheaded unwillingness to see other humans as humans as well.

But these are not the people who make the rules. They are not CEOs whose companies hire only the few Asian people they must for image’s sake. They are not the police officers who are more likely to question a black kid in a hoodie than a white kid in a hoodie. And they are not the (only) reasons why social and racial inequality remains so deeply entrenched in Britain, just as it is in America, as to be institutional. The real problem is much deeper and won’t be solved by publicly shaming someone who is either insane or obviously deeply angry and deeply wrong.

The tram ranters are not the people who make the rules.

A few figures: Black people in Britain are six times more likely to be arrested for drug offenses than white people and 11 times more likely to be imprisoned, though there is no evidence that they are more likely to deal or do drugs than other ethnic groups, according to research from 2010. Black people in America are eight times more likely to be jailed for the same drug crimes than whites. And though ethnic minorities are better represented at Britain’s universities than they have ever been, their presence at Oxbridge remains lower proportionally than in the general population. Other research suggests that despite finding more places at university, ethnic minority graduates still find a more difficult time finding jobs than their white counterparts. And out of more than 14,000 British professors, only 50 are black.

So yes, the images of these women (and for some reason, many of those who have gone viral are women) berating their fellow passengers are disturbing. But the real outrage ought to be the reserved for those who have the power to actually change the social dynamic of Britain, to confront racism in its more virulent and damaging forms, and who don’t. It should be reserved for figures like those above, ones that reveal a Britain that still suffers from institutional racism, even at time when overt racism is actually on the wane.

Crazy people are on public transport aren’t the problem; they may be a symptom of the problem, or they may just be crazy people on public transport. Better to train that soul-searching gaze on places where racism materially prevents people from living their lives and leave the ranters to rant.

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