how to act in public

The dog-walker had not noticed me as he crossed the street surrounded by a pack of Alsatians and other assorted dogs. He did not see me as he set his dogs on the terrified grey and white cat cornered against the wall. But my, did he notice me then as I began yelling furiously, wagging my finger in anger. He escaped, as did the cat.

If I tell you this, I must also confess that yesterday I failed to stand up for a vulnerable group when confronted by another's display of hate. Coming back from the prestigious Buenos Aires book-fair, I had maneuvered myself into a slightly more secure position than the front step of the bus, when there was a sharp rap on the door. A young woman got on the full-to-bursting bus just as the driver was directing another young woman to her location. This second woman did not speak Spanish so well, she was perhaps Chinese or Korean. As she struggled to get off the bus, the first girl began yelling at her - 'Here, you need to get off here!' and then as the door shut she continued, 'I've been waiting ages for this bus, what do you expect, a smile? Then the bus is full of all these Bolivians, Paraguayans, Chinese!' There were ten or more people between me and her; she was spoiling for a fight; and I didn't work out quickly enough what I could say. So I said nothing and instead tried to be extra polite and friendly to my fellow passengers as I asked them to move their elbow out of my face, or their foot off my bag. But I know I failed.

I wondered why I saw today's attack on the cat as urgent, and the unchallenged racism of the young woman yesterday not so much. Racist attitudes are assumed in many parts of Argentine society. I'm not saying that Britain is any better. There are many parallels in the way immigrants are vilified. In the Methodist Church I went to a few weeks ago in a traditionally Italian community, and from fellow students in class, I hear racist comments that often pass unchallenged. I'm still learning how to act in public.

A straightforward, encouraging resource to recommend: Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel

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