Live and Thrive Wherever You Are

Breaking the Bystander Apathy

Massachusetts Bus

Photo from media.wbur.org

“Driver, I want this guy thrown out of the bus. He swore at me. Pull over and kick him out…What? You’re scared of him coz he’s Black? You’re probably white aren’t you? You’re fucking scared of him. Fucking cowards! C’mon, you want to fight me? I’ll kick your ass.”

This was a few weeks ago, inside the bus. I watched as a Caucasian man claiming to be blind provoking the young Black man, crowding him, whispering incessantly until the latter stood up, changed seats, and told the former to fuck off. That set off the Caucasian man to launch a vitriolic attack on the young man. He kept on going citing the young guy’s skin color (though he kept claiming he was blind) as a source of violence. When the older guy stood up and said to fight him, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I felt so much rage at what I was hearing.

“Hey! Sit down and shut up!” I don’t know where I got the courage to yell at him but yell at him I did.

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The old man sat down and kept mumbling. Then he called over the driver to stop and call the MBTA. When the bus driver didn’t stop the bus and do what the older guy asked and told the passenger that he saw him provoking the young man, the passenger walked over to the bus driver, saw that he was Black and demanded to know his employee number and threatened to call the MBTA.  He went back to the seat and kept calling everyone, “fucking cowards.”

“Shut up!” I yelled at him again.

Eventually, the bus driver flagged down a passing bus and we were told to transfer. I approached the young guy and asked him if he was okay. He shrugged. He was the last to leave and join us on the new bus. We left the angry guy on the other bus with what I believe was a supervisor.

On the transferred bus, one of the ladies who tried to placate the older guy and got yelled at herself, sat down and spoke to the young man. Nearer my stop, I went closer and heard the young man say, “I didn’t realize there were still good people around.”

Let me state that a disability does not excuse a person’s foul words nor the intent to harm someone, whether physically or emotionally. Someone with Tourette’s Syndrome is an exception, and even then Coprolalia is not common as depicted by South Park.

As an Asian in the United States who is here on borrowed time, I felt the extent of Black-White tension in the country. There was a previous incident in another bus where a white woman yelled at a black driver to “Learn English!” even though the driver was talking to her in English and merely asked for a clarification. At that time, the only thing I could do was to tell the driver that he was doing a good job after I got off the stop. That prompted another passenger to echo my words.

It’s not that I’ve never experienced discrimination because of my race. I have in Melbourne, Australia, but the degree of hate here is vastly different.

In that bus trip, I saw how people looked away, concentrated on their gadgets or increased the volume of conversation to drown out the discomfort. No one said anything until I yelled at the guy.

I can understand the fear. I can understand not wanting to get involved. I can understand the desire to just go home. I understand Bystander Apathy. I understand it but I also understand that it needs to be broken. It could be a guy being verbally abused, or a woman being harassed.

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

Look up from your gadgets.

Take the first step, yell out if someone’s in trouble or Dial 911 or whatever helpline is available.

Remember that if it happens to someone, it can happen to anyone. It can happen to your siblings, your parents, your significant other, or even to you.

Break that Apathy or Paralysis and be a decent human being. Who knows? You might be saving a life and someday that life could save yours.

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