It’s 2011 and racism is live and kicking. When The #mytramexperience youtube video went viral at the start of this week, several other videos (‘Welcome to London’ and ‘My Train Expereince’) have come to light highlighting just how racist bile is being transported around the heart of our multicultural capital. The fact that this youtube video does not represent a standalone incident means we live in worrying times.
For those of us drawn to London Universities with the lure of diversity, watching home feed after home feed showcasing this video was a disheartening experience especially as a London student. For me, my education thrives through the plurality of voices and backgrounds of my peers. Imagine the threatening spiel “go back home where you came from” or the “speak some f***ing English” every time you step into the network system that connects you from your home to your university becoming the norm and you the target of hatred.
When news broke that the offending foul mouthed mother on the tram was arrested, I was thrilled that the power of new media through the uproar on Twitter and Facebook mobilized the justice system into action. But there has been the emergence of voices condemning the arrest as the wrong way to deal with such an incident.
One such voice comes from the Guardian’s Comment is Free contributor Sunny Hundal. One of his views is that she did not pose any physical harm because she was a woman and was carrying a child on her lap. How about the psychological impact Sunny? Just because she did not inflict any visible scars does not mean we should overlook the invisible.
Whilst many of us understand the severity of how racism of any form can offend, we neglect how a tirade of swearing added to the mix can actually humiliate and degrade those at the receiving end. The power of language should never be underestimated. When workplace and education institutions enforce policies against the use of such offensive language, why should the London transport system, a service we pay to take us safely from one location to another be any different?
I’m an advocate of the public space for debates and conversation including uncomfortable topics because that’s the core of a democracy. But the tram incident cannot be equated to a public space. Her so-called ‘freedom of speech’ was a verbal violent assault on innocent bystanders.
And those that fear the use of the Public Order Act for her prosecution because they disagree with it’s use in the past or for future instances and thus it’s overall threat to freedom of speech, let’s not divert from the particulars of this context. Even freedom of speech has it’s limitations when it turns abusive and threatening. And quite frankly that’s a separate debate so let’s not get side-tracked from the path of justice because of our wider political agendas.
As a Postgraduate student of the social sciences, I am aware how my political views and thoughts can often move to the realms of abstractness and often criticize the things that are black and white. But it takes incidencts like this, where I like to keep things real. She was a repugnant woman who would have offended and degraded me if I was present in that carriage. I hope she will be prosecuted for her visicious attack against plurality.
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