OPINION: I should have stepped in. I should have called out the racist - told him his hate act was despicable and unacceptable.
But I missed my moment. Frankly, I was scared.
The Race Relations Conciliator Meng Foon agrees. “No, we should not stand there in silence. It’s very important that we do speak out against discrimination and prejudice.”
But what do you say to a racist? What do you say that’s going to be effective? Meng Foon, fresh in the race relations hot seat, is going to ponder that one. “Hold a bit of a forum, get some ideas.”
I was a bit more concerned with self-preservation than moral outrage at the time. If this racist was stupid enough to be so flagrant with his hatred then he might also be silly enough to strike back if his views were challenged. I didn’t want to die making a stand. So the racist is still out there spreading his poison with impunity.
Here’s how this story unfolded.
I watched as two New Zealanders of Indian descent walked down a suburban Tauranga street on Sunday afternoon. They crossed the road on an angle. No danger, no traffic. But there was a more insidious threat lurking. A racist.
Short, obese and with a swagger. Was it hatred, or ignorance, or both. He stood there with hands on hips, legs astride, fag in hand like he was ready for a shootout. He watched the two approaching men from the near side of the road before setting off on a path directly towards them. They spotted him and veered out of his way.
Our racist changes direction, back onto a collision course. The two Indian guys suddenly sense danger. In the middle of the empty road they split to give the aggressor a wide path. He passes between them, throws his arms in the air as if scattering pigeons, and marches on.
On the other side of the road, the aggressor paused briefly, looking very smug. His vile work was done, his issue with skin colour satisfied. For the moment.
“It’s not everyone,” reassures the conciliator. “It’s a few small-minded people that have those views, so it’s unfortunate. You have to ask them why? I don’t know why they say and do these sorts of things.”
Perhaps the Asian phobia. “People are still feeling that now with various ethnicities coming into our country.
But he might know how to change it. Education and understanding. “Change requires perpetrators wanting to change in the first place. If they don’t want to, it’s like teaching old dogs new tricks. It’s pretty hard.” So Meng Foon’s focus will be on youth, shaping attitudes rather than changing them.
“On the students at schools and promoting ‘give nothing to racism’, don't bully, don’t commit suicide – those sorts of messages, and hopefully they are the future.” Youth may be the way. “Like they are looking at climate change. Younger people stopped apartheid and other stuff.
“But interestingly enough, I'm sure those people with their bad attitudes would love a butter chicken, or take turmeric for their arthritis. They might head down the Chinese takeaway after abusing Chinese people. Now we go and have a takeaway. Sweet and sour.”