Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ignorance

I just witnessed a hideous display of ignorance and racism while riding on a bus in central Rome, one of the most disturbing I've seen in a while.
I head toward the exit doors as the bus nears my stop and notice a large, young Roman guy (a mix between a coatto & hooligan) who is close-talking with an older Filipino man. At first, I didn't pay attention to the words being exchanged because I assumed they were together based on how close the coatto was to the man's face, but when I actually tuned in I heard this: "You think you have the right to pass ahead of me. This is my country, you should keep your head bowed and shut up. How arrogant of you to think you can ask me to step aside, this isn't your country. You expect me to step aside for you, you immigrant. This is my country, go home..." and on and on. My first reaction, once I processed what he was saying, was to butt in and tell the racist asshole to knock it off BUT I quickly bit my tongue because I couldn't help but think: "What if this crazy mofo punches me in the face?". I have a tendency to mouth off in this city but there are times when it's crystal clear that the person on the receiving end is highly unstable and could possibly hurt me. So I stood there, staring at him with disgust in my eyes hoping he would notice but he was too focused on insulting, humiliating, and belittling a totally innocent man who just happened to be foreign. It was so immensely frustrating and upsetting to just stand there, impotent, not being able to say a word- I can only image how much worse it felt for the man who was being verbally attacked but he too, did not say a word and just tried to avert his eyes. I'm sure he also realized that this asshole was a loose cannon and things could get ugly really fast. My blood was boiling, my body was actually shaking from having to witness this hideous scene and not be able to intervene. The only thing I could do, once we got off the bus, was to say to the Filipino man: "Forget about him, he was just an ignorant jerk", in hopes of making him feel less alone.
It's really frightening and disturbing to see how young people think it's okay to treat someone like this IN public, this asshole clearly thought he was speaking for everyone else and that everyone agreed with him. If a group of people had confronted him and had told him to stop, he would've been forced to shut up. People need to gather together and stand up to ignorant racists and bullies, this kind of behavior should not be tolerated in public.
If only I'd had a Taser on me...

12 comments:

cpietran said...

How sad to have watched this. While I suspect that intolerance or, at the very least, dislike, of foreigners in Italy is more accepted than it is in say, the USA, that type of rude behavior is wrong. NO MATTER whether because the person is foreign or short or a different race or whatever. Polite public behavior is the lubricant in all social settings. That person doing the yelling was a complete and consummate ass. I am glad you wrote about it. Thanks!

mental mosaic said...

Sounds like you handled it the best you could by not getting attacked in any manner by that ignorant racist, and by saying something kind to the Filipino he was harassing. I bet he was pretty shaken up, too! ~Tui

rinaz said...

Surely you're not alone in feeling this way in the bus. In my opinion, someone else would have joined you if you would have spoken up for the Filipino man.

Brad Farless said...

@cpietran: I disagree. While you may not find a situation quite like this in the US, I'd put money on it that there are more racially motivated crimes committed every hour in the US than there are in a month in Italy. We even had to come up with a new classification for it: hate crime. It's nice to think we're better than this, and some of us are, but you can't try to put the US on a pedestal. Not all of us are there yet.


The Italian on the bus was a useless bastard, trying to make himself feel better by humiliating another human being. Unfortunately, he's deluded, so the only one he embarrassed was himself.

I think you did the right thing. I doubt I'd have intervened either unless it turned into a physical confrontation, to avoid unecessary personal injury. I'm sure that after having lived abroad, the Filipino man has a thick skin. He probably blames his government for the incident, rather than the Italian, for creating and projecting such a piss poor image of the Philippines and its people to the rest of the world.

The only way it would be different for me is if the Filipino in question were my wife, in which case I'd have jumped all up in that guy's shit without a second thought.

Romerican said...

Brad- I think the problem is that immigration is still a fairly "new" phenomenon in Italy, and in Rome (northern industrial cities had an influx of immigrants long before Rome did)... so some Italians (narrow minded ignorant ones) are having a hard time adjusting to it hence comments and scenes like the one I witnessed are not as rare as they should be. I spend quite a bit of time in NYC and have never seen or heard anything like this in public- of course, that's not to say that racism and hate crimes do not exist in the States but if a scene like this had happened on the subway in NYC, I'm betting people would've bombarded this asshole with insults.

Brad Farless said...

Using NYC as an example isn't quite fair for getting an overall feel for the whole US, since NYC is one of two places in the US that have a very, very long history of immigration and foreigners taking up permanent residence. But ya, if something like that happened here in NYC it goes without saying that the guy would have been lucky to only be thrown off the bus or train at the next stop.

There are towns in the Midwest though that are still all white, and where people of other ethnicities are passively driven from the town to keep it 'clean'.

It's all a matter of time, but in a way it's ironic isn't it? Rome was an empire that incorporated people of wide and varied ethnicities. Now they're bucking under the supposed hardship of having foreigners in the city.

Romerican said...

Brad- I agree that NYC certainly does not reflect the general attitude in the USA (unfortunately ;) ) but let's not forget Rome is a big city, Italy's capital city so it is somewhat fair to compare it to other important cities such as London or NYC, as opposed to comparing it to Des Moines or Topeka. Rome needs to step it up: it wants to be considered an international metropolis but it keeps behaving like a provincial rinky-dink town.

Brad Farless said...

Ah! I see the point you're trying to make. That's very true. If Rome wants to be taken seriously, they can't have hillbillies in the city acting like that. People shouldn't have a problem with immigrants, regardless of where they're from, as long as they're in the country legally.

Anonymous said...

I have to say sometimes Italian behaviour is so rude and aggressive that it makes my blood boil. They can be the loveliest of people but also the most judgemental and harsh. I recently helped a Nigerian man and his wife find a supermarket, gave them a lift in my car and chatted to them. When I got out to say goodbye, the man started crying. He said it was the first time someone had treated him decently here for a long time. It was really upsetting. I can understand fear and wanting to be cautious around cultures you may not understand but I can't understand bullying and belittling people to make them feel small and yourself big. It's ignorant and unpleasant. I'm glad you said something to the Filipino man. Those kinds of situations are very difficult to deal with.

Ikabod Grinwud said...

Here in Manila there are also some who look down on other foreigners. In my younger day I've seen people gang up on a schoolmate of theirs because he talks different.
But then again when i was just a small kid I had to hit two Spanish classmates of mine with a long stick who were trying to bully me. Though we later became friends after the incident.
My mom's a Filipina. Thank you.

Tour Italy Now said...

During one of my Italy vacations I also experienced one incident of an Asian, I am not sure if he was a Filipino or not, being humiliated by a person younger his age. I also did not interfere inasmuch as I did not know what's happening around...

chedolce said...

I came across your blog today and just read this post. I too am American living in Rome. i've been here almost 2 yrs now. I must say that my assessment overall of the immigration situation in Rome is that it seems to be relatively tolerated. and while we hope these types of things aren't the norm, I remember an incident about 15 years ago while I was travelling through Rome. I was at Termini in line to buy my train ticket and there was a young (late teens) girl with her parents right in front of me in line. She was verbally assaulting a black man (at the time I didn't understand a word, but can imagine it was along the lines of the guy you described). I too was appalled and shocked at the site, she had the typical, Roman aire of entitlement to say whatever she felt like saying. But what appalled me the most was that her parents just looked on in casual nonchalance, uninterested in this very public display from their daughter. "maleducato" and "deficienti" are terms that come to my mind often when riding the "mezzi" in Roma. From what I have observed, my conclusion is that Italians in general are very racist and live in a very class segregated society. There is a clear line (or shall I say a literal barrier) between the "Haves" and "Have-nots" so one can only expect that this kind of behavior would also trickle down the social ladder as well. you mentioned the buses with no A/C in another post I came across. Haven't you noticed that those lines are usually the ones packed full of immigrants who live on the outskirts of Rome? And have you also noticed that the windows are permanently sealed shut? (so that no air is allowed to circulate, even in the sweltering summer). this, to me, seems to be a very clear and deliberate act of racism by the city (or ATAC) towards these people and a constant reminder they are not considered Roman/Italian.