March 23, 2006 | Graham

Was it racism?

Stephen Hagan says that it was racism that saw Aboriginal elder Aunty Delmae “left for dead for five hours” after she collapsed at a Brisbane bus stop.
Apparently hundreds of commuters passed her by and finally it was a group of Japanese students who helped her.
But is this really an example of racism? Was everyone who saw her racist? Or is there something else in human nature at play?
I can’t help but juxtapose it with another case where a woman was left on the ground, this time to die. Dianne Brimble went on a cruise and less than a day later was dead, lying in her own faeces, stupefied with a “date rape” drug and alcohol, after one of a group of four men had had sex with her.
Perhaps she needn’t have died if a thirty-something school teacher who was shown her lying on the floor of a cabin by the man who had raped her had bothered to check to see how she was. You can read the teacher’s account here, as well as piece together the details.
I’m not a big fan of Miranda Devine’s but she nails it with this op-ed.
It’s become fashionable to blame too much on racism. Often it’s really callous indifference, or maybe the fear of getting involved, that is to blame. Sins of omission, rather than sins of commission.

Posted by Graham at 4:40 pm | Comments (9) |
Filed under: Society


  1. In this instance I tend to agree. I don’t think this was a case of racism. I think it was a case of general human indifference, which is probably just as concerning a social issue as racism.

    Comment by Guy — March 24, 2006 @ 8:53 am

  2. I commented on Stephen’s article that I have had personal experience of a drug addict, who I thought was ill, turning on me violently. Nothing to do with racism or indifference – I just have no wish to cut my valuable little life expectancy short by being a Good Samaritan.

    Comment by Kevin — March 24, 2006 @ 10:14 am

  3. I think that ‘studied indifference’ is also involved, particularly with the elder case. She would most likely been judged a drunk, and averting one’s eyes is equated with ‘being tolerant’; like ignoring fondling teens or defecating dogs. In the past,I believe someone would have at least called the police to remove an ‘apparent drunk’, an even easier task today with mobile phones. The 2nd case shows just how untouched some people are by horror and low-life activity; and we’re told there’s little to fear,its all media beatup!

    Comment by malcontent — March 24, 2006 @ 7:31 pm

  4. Hi Ambit Gambit
    I was also a reader of Stephan’s article and a strong critic of it. I was very unhappy with his treatment of what was a very trivial incident when compared with the eventual content of his unjustifiable tirade. Racism is a very natural thing and is part of human behavior. It must be, it is expressed in all cultures, religions, nations and at all levels of the communities contained within them. Racism is an evolved product over a long period of time of humans banding together to protect themselves from predators and other bands of humans (often also the predators). This has been going on even before we descended from the trees to walk upright and grow large and innovative brains. It is essentially our biological imperative. So to see it manifest itself in our modern world is of no surprise, at least to me anyway. Another of those basic behaviors is the avoidance of hazard and I mean by that, the avoidance of humans with disease and disability. These individuals are in fact magnets for predators and so are shunned and avoided. A human lying and apparently dying is a good place to be caught by the disease or the inevitable predator. So what is a normal well adapted human to do? Run like the wind!
    We do however have reason, and it is this that makes us attempt the unification of the Global village. However we are still bound to follow the multitude of adapted behaviors that have kept us from harms way over the last several million years. The case that Stephan talks about is probable explainable for many reasons. These probably include a) risk avoidance, I don’t want to get caught up with a sick person; b) They are not from my band of humans so I don’t want to get caught up with a stranger; c) They are just having a lie down (there is no stop watch on this person so for every commuter at that bus stop, she will have only been there 20 minutes); d) Its offensive to my sensibilities so I will block it all out and hey there must be someone employed to take care of this anyway?? Or e) I just don’t know what to do I have no training in this so I will leave it to another who does.
    We need strong messages of unification and positive encouragement if we are to reprogram our biology. Stephan’s article goes a long way in the opposite direction. He and many other commentators just make me more cautious and guarded when dealing with black Australians. Their continual insult to other Australians drives the magnitude of biological imperatives well beyond any learned reason. For me that is?

    Comment by Woody — March 26, 2006 @ 4:23 pm

  5. If i am not taught by the example by our present political leaders to show compassion and help the ” down and outers” – black or white, should i go out of my way ??
    However i bet if “WOODY” got crook travelling in Africa he would be hoping like hell that his attending black doctor hadn’t read his post .
    EVERYONE should learn First Aid and keep their qualifications up to date , “Auntie” should have received some sought of help immediately .There was no Gold medal for Australians that day .

    Comment by kartiya — March 27, 2006 @ 12:43 pm

  6. Kartiya,
    YOU SAID: “If i am not taught by the example by our present political leaders to show compassion and help the ‘down and outers’ – black or white, should i go out of my way ??”
    MY RESPONSE: I think this comment is miserable. It reminds me of the people who write to the papers lamenting that charities are helping poor people because the government should be doing it. It is this attitude that destroys civil society. The notion that the state is the solution to every problem and that the state could do it better if only the political will existed.
    If compassion must be compelled from above then it is not compassion. And if it doesn’t need to be compelled from above then why involve the government at all?
    P.S. I don’t think the issue being discussed is an example of rascism. It is just the generic variety of indifference. An indifference bred from the attitude that it’s always somebody elses responsibility (eg the governments).

    Comment by Terje Petersen — March 28, 2006 @ 5:35 pm

  7. No, I suggest the lady was a product of her culture where the vast majority seen lying in public places, are intoxicated and, as I and others have discovered, Samaritans risk abuse.
    Address the core issue, not whether it is neglect. Her neglect was a response to reality, painful pragmatism.
    No not racism at all.

    Comment by Remco — March 29, 2006 @ 5:22 pm

  8. Hats off to the Japanese who deserve some sort of commendation for their attention, but I have to ask if the ‘commuters’ who passed by the bus stop were all in cars and we all know how insulating that situation is on people. The racism tag may apply to any bus driver who failed to check out the situation.

    Comment by peter tuck — March 30, 2006 @ 10:19 am

  9. It’s all of the above: racism, indifference, fear of negative consequences, aversion to becoming involved , etc. Different people responded (or avoided responding)for different reasons.
    Racism and other selfish and intollerant behaviours (from black and white)are fundamental human tendencies but so are altruism and compassion.
    It certainly seems to me that it is the messages that society provides that influence people toward valuing selfishness and individualism or altruism and community. What does our society value?
    In the past, it was religion that encouraged people to value altruism and community.
    This is not the case any longer; the seven deadly sins are now used as marketing tools by large corporations and our government gives mixed messages.
    On one hand they espouse Christian and ‘family’ values but this message is negated by their emphasis on the idea that the economy and propserity is the prime value and that society as a whole will be better if individuals concentrate on looking after themselves.
    Surely this is the attitude that underpins and allows so many of us to conveniently ignore a sick old lady who, black or white, clearly gave us the message that she had not not looked after herself.

    Comment by Molly — March 31, 2006 @ 8:38 am

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