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violence and nonviolence

I had an odd experience on the tram today.

I was at the park street and sydney road intersection at the north end of parkville/south end of brunswick. It was just after my doctor's appointment, must have been around 4pm ish.

On the west side of the intersection, about where the red old lodge style apartment building is, a man with a scruffy grown out crewcut and a big beard was trying to get into fights with random Asians.

He didn't pursue or invade the personal space of any asian he encountered, he just yelled a wide variety of creative racist comments, about the "asian gooks" who were "all over the place" and taking up his "white country" and how he would "smash them into an ambulance in a vegetative state".

The asian guy on the street corner just ignored him and walked on his way, leaving the big bearded man to yell after him.

This worried me, more than a little. Actually I had to admit I was scared. This guy was coming straight for me, and would be boarding the same tram as me. (number 19s are the only ones around)

A tram is not a big space to fight in, and the victim is always the party who sustains the most damage.

This means lose-lose. Either you do get your ass kicked by somebody 150% your weight, or if you do beat him, you have to beat him severely enough to stop him because a tram is a sealed aluminum box that doesn't open for you to run away. That makes you the bad guy unless you simultaneously manage to get crippled yourself (then you both become "non-ideal victims" of reciprocal crimes).

Add to this, I was carrying a full hiking backpack of dirty sweaty sandy clothes from the lorne genome conference, complete with a sleeping bag. Running would not be easy if I wanted to keep my supply of underpants.

I made a quick decision to wimp out. I walked away and watched as he boarded the tram. And then I saw through the window that there were other asians on the tram. A boy in his teens with an untidy haircut, and an old man.


I got on the tram.

When I boarded the tram, the bearded man had already taken up residence over two bench seats and was challenging an old greek guy to fight him. Once again, the bearded guy didn't move into the greek guy's face. This is really weird behavior from a racist belligerent. They're usually little talk and all action. And 4pm or 5pm is a little early for this kind of behavior. Fighting alone is not unusual. Fighting on trams is now more common than trains, which makes me sad because I like trams.

Anyway the greek guy shines him on. The greek guy reaches into his old-man "shopping jeep".

Now here comes the odd part.

The bearded racist guy sits down and puts down his backpack. He's also carrying a couple of other bags. The bearded racist guy sits down with his back to the greek guy, reaches into his eco-friendly coles bag and pulls out a bottle of scotch.

At that point a light goes on in my head. I understand this man.

Poor guy probably lost his job today. Or if not today, recently enough for him to be walking around with his worldly goods in relatively nice bags, and recently enough for him to still have half a bottle of scotch.

If anybody understands what it's like to be under conditions where hope is fading and everything you ever wanted is slipping further and further away, this year, that's me.

I feel less afraid of this man. He's not going to fight anybody.

When the asian man and his 14 year old daughter get on later, I don't worry so much for them, even as the racist guy wagged a warning finger at the empty seat in front of him and said "I'll smash 'em if they sit there. If they fuckin' dare."

There's plenty of seats. He just can't see them. He just thinks he's going to lose his.

This man has lost something precious to him. He thinks that he's angry at asians for it, but really he's only angry at himself. That's why the only person he's hurting is himself.

It makes a welcome change from the racist fuckers I've previously had to deal with.

I watched him as he got off at queen vic markets. I guess if he has any money, he'll buy more scotch and run out of steam at some point. If he makes a big enough mess, then somebody will call the cops.

Should I have called the cops so that they could expend precious effort to take him away let him cool off? The only crimes he committed is public drunkenness. And maybe hate speech if such a thing is a crime.

If he was going to swing, he would have by now. If there was any danger of a fight, it would come from other people with quick tempers and thin skins and bright bright chisel ground knives.

When I got to my mother's place, I prayed for the bearded racist bastard. I prayed that whatever was hurting him would hurt less, and that he would find a less wasteful way to find justice in his private world of wrongs.

I prayed that prayer because today I know I understand him. Even though I do not hate any person nor any group of people, by God, I do hate.

It is my sincere hope that somewhere out there, someone is praying the same prayer for me.


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 19th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
I surfed onto this, and I have tears in my eyes now. This is such a profound and impressive post you've written, and next time I have a similar experience I hope I can remember what you've said here and see the human pain that so often underlies hatred.

Feb. 20th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)
This post is incredibly, fantastically, almost impossibly loving. Thank you for reminding me that it is possible for human beings to be this kind.
Feb. 20th, 2009 05:52 am (UTC)
If anybody understands what it's like to be under conditions where hope is fading and everything you ever wanted is slipping further and further away, this year, that's me.

Oh, Jin. You make me want to hug you and make it better for you. Which is both inappropriate, and unusual for me.

Anyway, a much less sympathetic story:

We have a new RA at work who is quite young and very forthright in her opinions. Obviously this makes us natural enemies, because there is only room for one person with forthright opinions in my lab, and it is me.

Also, the fact that her opinions are usually quite selfish and often close minded/ignorant brings out the worst in me.

I find myself needling her by paraphrasing what she just said in the most un-PC way and then agreeing with her. Things like, "Yes, it's wrong to see mixed-race couples. People should only breed within their own ethnic group." And "I can never tell the difference between Japanese food and Thai food either - they all look alike and taste alike, as far as I can tell."

Hilariously, I don't think she's noticed yet.

See, your way is to pray, forgive and understand. My way is to mock relentlessly.
Feb. 25th, 2009 02:45 am (UTC)

You have an unbelievable gift to bring hope into the world, you know that?
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

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