Stepping in and speaking out against racism

A student’s experience witnessing a racist altercation on Concordia’s shuttle bus

I am a third-year student at Concordia. In all my time at this institution, I had never witnessed a racist altercation. That changed on Oct. 23.

I was on the Concordia shuttle bus heading to the downtown campus when I overheard a conversation between a white male student and a black male student. The white student told his peer that he wouldn’t excel at teaching a certain subject because he is black. The white student went on to state that certain things should preferably be taught by white people instead of black people.

I was completely shocked by the comment. The black student, a Concordia Stingers player based on his attire, tried to calmly explain to his fellow teammate that the comment was offensive, racist and untrue. Not only did the white student deny that his comment was racist, he also became verbally aggressive, calling his teammate various vulgar names.

As a witness, I was extremely taken aback by this situation. Not only was I shocked that something like this would happen in an arguably progressive society, but that it happened on the school bus. Shouldn’t the school bus be a safe and comfortable space for all students? We all come to school for the same reasons—to get an education. In this day and age, especially at a school as culturally diverse as Concordia, I would assume students would be safe from this type of behaviour.

Following the incident, I continued to feel unsettled and angry that this happened, and was frustrated with myself for not stepping in when I had the chance. I noticed a few other students around me looked uncomfortable, but not enough for them to react apparently. Everyone simply sat quietly in their seat.

Personally, the fact that the white student had become loud and aggressive stopped me from speaking up. I was afraid of angering him and making the situation worse, as well as putting myself in a compromising position.
The situation made me wonder: Why did the white student feel he had the right to talk down to his peer and question his abilities? The fact that the white student would not acknowledge that his comment was racist is an even bigger issue. The presence of this closed mindset in our generation has deeply affected me. Needless to say, the colour of a person’s skin or where they come from should not make them inferior nor superior to anyone else.

Truthfully, while the white student’s comment was appalling, the reality is that there were many people at fault in this situation. Every Concordia student on that bus played a very important role, myself included. The fact that none of us stood up for the young man or spoke up against the blatant racism is completely wrong. I thought our generation was better than that.

By pretending we did not hear the racist comment, by downplaying what the white student said, by telling ourselves that the situation didn’t concern us, each one of us on that bus reinforced the notion that this type of behaviour is normal. This lack of response desensitizes us to this kind of behaviour, and that is unacceptable. Our apathy must end. The only way we can end racism is by educating each other through intervention and by sharing our stories.
We have to start with ourselves and make our school the best place it can be for every student and faculty member. If every student on the bus that day had spoken up, perhaps the white student would have changed his mindset and taken the situation seriously.

Concordia prides itself on being open and safe, and it should be. Everyone should feel comfortable and safe at school. I hope that, by sharing my story, I have helped raise awareness about racism on campus and the importance of intervening when something like this occurs. Witnessing this event truly opened my eyes to the problem of racism. From now on, I plan to intervene and stand up against this intolerable behaviour.

It only takes one person to start a chain reaction of positive change. If this piece helped open the eyes of just one student to this issue, then it’s a step in the right direction.

Graphic by Zeze Le Lin

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