By Iman Bukhari, CEO of Canadian Cultural Mosaic Foundation
I’m a daily user of Calgary Transit, and have been for over the past 10 years. I have taken routes to all parts of town and am very thankful for the system that we have. However, being a daily user, I see interactions of racist nature almost every week.
These are just some basic everyday examples that I see on a weekly, and sometimes daily basis. I can’t even begin to count the examples of people that I have seen verbally abused on transit, from bus drivers to passengers. I’m not sure if it’s like this everywhere in Canada, but Calgary definitely has these issues.
I have seen many instances that I can recall back... however that would be a never-ending blog post. So here’s one that just popped into my head. This happened about two years ago. I was on a bus heading North from Downtown. Our bus had been stopped for a while. There were passengers coming in and out. Eventually the bus driver declared that the bus was having some issues and he’s trying to fix it, but we can wait for another one outside if we want. Some passengers got off, others stayed on. During this period, the bus door was open and new passengers were getting on as well. One man with a Filipino background got on the bus and the bus driver quickly said, “The bus isn’t working.” Now he said this pretty fast. I was sitting very close to him and still didn’t make out at first what he said. The man replied, “sorry...? This is when the bus driver said (very loudly) “THIS-BUS-IS-NOT-IN-SERVICE.”
Now I used to work for an immigrant-serving agency. I remember the teachers would talk slowly sometimes so the students could understand. But their tone was different.
The passenger (looking concerned) then said “Sorry, my English is not good, I go to Panorama.” This is when the bus driver loses it and says “Jesus, don’t come to this country if you can’t speak. The bus isn’t working, so get off the bus.”
I was quite disgusted by this driver. I understand it’s a hard job and people do have bad days, but his behaviour was different towards others. I got off the bus and told the man what was wrong with the bus. I just said it nicely, and he had no problems understanding. Often times that’s all it takes. Maybe you might have to repeat yourself, but those few seconds won’t hurt.
Just last week, something similar happened again to an Indian woman. I told the woman, “I’m sorry you had to go through that... I guess the driver was just having a bad day.” She said, “Sometimes people just talk very rude to me, I don’t know why, maybe it is because I come from India.” She didn’t know the answer, and I’m not going to claim that often times people have been rude to her is because they are racist... but after seeing so many coloured passengers (especially with accents) ask questions to the bus driver and have them yell back at them.... I think it’s safe to say, we have a racism problem in this city.
Now this is not a transit problem. This is a people problem. It’s our attitude, ignorance and inability to understand that everybody is equal. Coming to a new country and learning the norms and understanding the system is not easy – give immigrants a break! They’re trying to do the best they can. No one race or person is better than another. The fact that such things can continue to happen in a public space means that people are ignorant of it. Even if they see it, they just watch and then one second later are checking their Facebook updates. It’s not hard relating to another human being – regardless of their background. We all know what it’s like to be hurt. The end of racism just starts with acknowledging that we’re all humans, and we all feel hurt the exact same way, and it doesn’t feel good.