If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me

A woman has gone viral for defending a Muslim couple against a bigot, when all she really did was deny them a voice

Ashitha Nagesh
Saturday 18 April 2015 09:58 BST
The man and woman were targeted by a fellow passenger
The man and woman were targeted by a fellow passenger

You may have already seen the video from Australia that has gone viral today. It shows a middle-aged racist in a train ranting at a young Muslim couple, making some confusing links between the woman’s hijab and the Islamic State, Al-Shabaab’s attack in Garissa, and Muhammad “marrying a six-year-old” or something. She made no sense, as hardline racists never do.

But cue superwoman Stacey Eden! A white knight in shining armour swoops in to save the day, protecting the couple from the onslaught of abuse being hurled at them from across the carriage. “She wears it for herself, OK? She wears it because she wants to be modest with her body, not because of people like you who are going to sit there and disrespect her.”

Isn’t it good Stacey was there? The couple were naturally mute and incapable of independent thought. Hell, they don’t even seem to have names, judging from most reports. They needed Stacey to save them.

Except… they didn’t.

Personally I found this video uncomfortable, but not for the reasons most other people seemed to. Yes I was disgusted by the racism, but I also felt patronised. It is just an incredibly patronising video. The couple are treated like children who can’t possibly be expected to deal with a crap situation by themselves.

The problem with videos like this is that they perpetuate the idea of the helpless minority needing a "white saviour" to stick up for them – and the attention has shifted so strongly onto Stacey that we don’t even know who this couple is or how they actually felt about the whole situation.

Many reports state that the couple remained silent. Watch the video again. Actually, the man tries to speak but is unable to – Stacey is shouting over him. In trying to “protect” him she literally denies him a voice.

What did he want to say? How did the couple decide they wanted to react? Perhaps they were tired already and just wanted to ignore it until they got to their stop, wanting nothing else but to avoid drama and get on with their day. Or perhaps they were going to try and calmly counter what the racist said. Or maybe they wanted to scream at her to shut her mouth and enter the 21st century.

Whatever it was, I would actually like to know – because it’s their voice that matters here. But they weren’t even allowed to speak.

From personal experience I know how destructive racial hatred can be. There’s little worse than being made to feel like an unwanted stranger in the country in which you were born or brought up in.

But what doesn't help in such a situation is having a white person assume I’m incapable of dealing with this situation myself. And then filming the situation. And then sharing the film around, making it look like I was too weak to defend myself to the entire world while they enjoyed praise and adulation online.

Even if I keep silent – that’s my choice. Silence is not always a sign of weakness. BAME people have a thicker skin than you can imagine. We have suffered at the hands of both overt racism and the more insidious, and arguably more dangerous, discrimination in pretty much every area of our lives. We’ve seen our parents go through it, and in a lot of cases our grandparents. We are strong people and we deserve the chance to speak out and defend ourselves.

So while the thought is appreciated, I say no thanks to white saviours. It may be well-intentioned, but their "help" does more harm than good.

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