Don’t Judge Me!

My fingers race across the keyboard as I type up an article about life insurance. To my left, two Australian students – a boy and a girl possibly in their early twenties discuss Financial Accounting going by the title of the books strewn out in front of them. Directly across from me at the table, sits an Asian man solving multiple choice questions in a textbook. I cannot make out if he’s Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean. The four of us are immersed in our work, the only sounds being the discussion of the students and a few sniffles every now and then from the Asian guy, none of which seem to disturb any of us. I notice an elderly heavyset shabbily dressed man sporting a long white beard make his way to our table. Seating himself at the head of the table, between me and the other Asian, he proceeds to spread out some newspapers and some papers from a bulging folder. Suddenly he mumbles something to me. Unable to hear him clearly, I ask him if he needs anything. He leans toward me conspiratorially, yet in a loud enough voice so everyone at the table can hear him says something to the effect of ‘That Asian man is sniffling. I hate people who sniffle. It seems to be a cultural thing.’ Suddenly, everyone at our table goes quiet. The man continues. ‘Asian countries seem to have a very high level of tolerance towards such unhygienic things. I know people spit, they trash the roads.’. I am not sure if the statement is directed towards me or if he thinks he can kill two birds with one stone. I recover from my dazed state to defend the Asian saying he might not be doing that intentionally, maybe he has an allergy or is catching a cold. Unfazed, the man continues with his rant. 

Chaos erupts as the Asian questions his reference to the word ‘culture’ and then launches an offensive attack picking on the man’s own sense of hygiene suggesting instead that he’s the one who smells and who should be taking a shower. He calls out the Aussie on his suspicion that his disgust seems to be stemming not from the sniffling but from something much more deep rooted than that. Swearwords are freely exchanged. I try to show my defiance against the Aussie too supporting the Asian man who seems well educated, who had been minding his own business, and was calm and composed up until then. I hate confrontations of any kind and I do my best to avoid them. Plus, I cannot deny the fact that at the end of the day, I am an outsider in this foreign land despite the fact that there are arguably more number of Asians residing here than Australians. Do these emotions make me weak and cause my defensive arguments to sound feeble to my own ears?

I am pleasantly surprised when I find the two Aussie students also supporting us, showing their repugnance at the Aussie man’s statements and summoning the library staff to get the man to leave their table. The Aussie finally resigning himself to the fact that he won’t find a supportive audience at our table moves elsewhere but not before he  points his finger at the Asian man yelling ‘You people come here to study and you rip our country off. I fought for my country. But what did you do!’. As he moves away he defends himself stating that he is not a racist and he doesn’t care about language or the color of one’s skin, but the damage has been done.  

Children teach us the way to acceptance and tolerance. Say No to Racism.
Image source: Front.Moveon. Org
The Aussie students try to comfort the Asian man and show their aversion towards such racist people. With his exit, there’s silence at our table again but a deep mental unrest too and the episode leaves me shaken to the core. I had heard of racism being rampant in Australia but this was the first time I was witnessing it.I think about the politically driven agendas back home too which provoke the masses to drive out all non-Maharashtrians from Maharashtra. We talk about racism being prevalent in foreign nations, but that isn’t this racism too? Be it domestic or international, how can we profess to be an intelligent race of people, how can be we evolve as a species if we cannot even be tolerant of other cultures?  One can learn a lot from the kids in the picture, don’t you think? If you had been in my place, how vehemently would you have stood up against the unwarranted verbal attack?

I would love to hear your views!