[Warning- Video contains swearing and racist, abusive language]
A woman has been arrested and charged after a video entitled ‘My Tram Experience’ went viral, sparking off widespread outrage across the internet.
If you haven’t seen the video, I’ve linked it above. Less than a day old, the video has already gathered over 2,500,000 views, due, in part, to it being spread around social media websites like wildfire. In the video, the woman in question launches a tirade of abuse and racist comments at fellow passengers, ranting about how Britain is “no longer British” and focusing her attention on passengers of ‘ethnic’ origin who she claims are not actually British. Such inflammatory quotes from the woman include:
“You’re black; you ain’t British. Go back to where you came from.”
“None of you are f**king English. Get back to your own country. Sort your own countries, don’t come and do mine.
“What has this country come to? … with loads of black people and a load of fucking Polish. You ain’t English either. None of you are fucking English. Get back to your own fucking, d’you know what?”
The video was posted online and was quickly spread around, with internet users quick to demonise her and assert their own moral standpoints. I was glad that there was such a public outrage to such blatant, harrowing racist abuse against docile passengers on public transport, and I actually thought it was a good thing that the video was made publicly available for people to criticise and discuss. It is encouraging to see the heightened level of public outcry at such racism.
And then I began to feel uneasy… The public outcry and the condemnation, I felt, was a good thing. Racism should not be tolerated. But I was uneasy about the extent of the backlash and the calls from members of the public for her to be arrested.
Piers Morgan even got involved, commenting on the video via Twitter and calling for the woman to be named and shamed, and deported – quite where she would be deported to remains a mystery:
“Most disgusting thing I’ve watched in years. I want this woman arrested, and deported. Makes me ashamed to be British”
“That video’s all over Twitter now. Someone must know the repulsive racist wretch. Name and shame her.”
The problem is, many of the tabloids will report this and shame the woman, despite the fact that many of her ill-informed, racist views regarding ethnicity and immigration will no doubt be fuelled by the right-wing media. Tabloids won’t ever pause and reflect on whether their biased reporting and twisted use of statistics has contributed to such examples of racist rants.
Also, the woman in the video seems a bit ‘odd’, to use a term. I don’t know her background or anything, but it seemed to me as if she was drunk, on drugs, or even mentally ill. Not because of the racism, but because of her demeanour and speech… But this is precisely it: we don’t know her, or her background, and neither do we know what led up to the video. The video begins when she is already ranting, we don’t know what set her off or what happened prior to the beginning of the recording. Now, racism is never justified and her ranting is disgraceful and shameful, but the moral outcry has negative as well as positive aspects.
The internet outcry reminded me of the backlash to the London riots this summer, which at the time shocked me, to be honest. There were calls for the rioters/looters to have their benefits removed (after being imprisoned), for them to be evicted from council housing (whole families, even if their son/daughter was the only one who was involved in the riots)… there were calls for martial law, for live ammunition- for protestors to be shot on sight, for the military to be drafted in alongside the police… calls for water cannons, tear gas… calls for social media websites to be shut down in a bid to censor the internet, and much more. Essentially, the public outcry was almost as shocking as the actual riots themselves. Thankfully, the rioting stopped without any draconian measures, backed by public calls, to be implemented, though the outcry (I believe) contributed to the harsh sentences passed on convicted rioters – designed to send a “message” rather than to dole out justice.
The issue with the woman on the tram is complicated. On the one hand, she has a right to freedom of speech. This is an important right that people often ignore; freedom of speech, it seems, is fine unless someone says something you do not agree with, or they say something inflammatory. On the other hand, she clearly was being abusive and there are laws against hate speech and the like. What is worrying is just the extent and the lengths of the public outcry at such ‘events’ – it is often reactionary, ill-informed and short-sighted, I feel.
The police already have laws in place to deal with this sort of thing, and should we be so quick to call for a woman to be arrested or even deported because of an argument? It is a touchy subject, and I in no way endorse her racism. I think it is disgusting, and like I stated I am actually happy that so many have come out to decry racism in this country, but we have to be very careful we do not set a precedent with this matter. Should all people who hold racist views be imprisoned? Should we prevent people with inflammatory or ill-informed views from speaking their mind, infringing on their right to freedom of speech? The benefit, and problem, of social media and the internet today is that such videos, events, etc., can spread virally within seconds. Public ‘campaigns’ can be created and disseminated within minutes; the first UK government e-petition to reach the 100,000 mark needed for parliamentary debate was the petition for convicted London rioters to lose any benefits that they were receiving, which I felt would do nothing to deter future looting nor would it help ‘rehabilitate’ convicted rioters back into society. As Sunny Hundal wrote:
“…to criminalise simply being offensive or swearing in public would have half of Britain in jail.”
I agree with Sunny, who also said:
“I would much prefer such racism to be open and visible because there are still far too many Westminster commentators who think racism is a thing of the past”
It is very encouraging that the video was disseminated online and in the public domain. It opens it to public debate, and does help to show that racism is very much still alive, especially in ‘tolerant’ Britain. My issue arises with the way the online discussion is conducted, and the way some people seem more keen to assert their moral standpoint than actually denouncing racism. Calls for the woman to be deported, for example, are ridiculous, and should we be so keen for the police to arrest people? To imprison people we do not agree with? You cannot consistently lock people up because you feel insulted, or because you disagree with their comments… So I feel uneasy about the whole affair. On the one hand, perhaps she should be arrested for hate speech. On the other hand, perhaps she should be entitled to freedom of speech, to speak her mind, whether her views are ill-informed or shameful. Is it not enough that this woman is publicly shamed online? Is it not enough that fellow passengers stood up to her and disagreed with her comments?
It is a difficult issue, no doubt.