By Joseph Harker
16 October 2015
We’re getting used to racist rants being filmed, shared and loaded on to YouTube. The latest example, however, is not only shocking but, for me, deeply depressing too. Footage taken on a bus in Brent, north London, this week shows an Islamophobic rant by one women against two other passengers. “Fucking Isis bitches,” she calls them. “Go back to your country where they’re bombing every day.” The original film of the tirade lasts, in total, five long minutes.
The bus driver tries to calm the woman down, but none of the passengers intervene, not even the Muslim ones, who remain passively seated.
The shock factor in this clip is not, though, the words - we’ve sadly heard those sentiments enough times before. It’s that this time the expletive-ridden tirade is coming from the lips of a black woman.
And it’s depressing because commentators like myself, who talk about race quite a lot, like to think that – though our society is heavily racist against all sorts of ethnic groups – we racial minorities are somehow immune to the pervasive messages sent out daily. This is proof that we’re not.
Yes, we can make excuses: this woman might be poorly educated, look at her rage, her X-rated language. But her words echo the messages sent out to anyone who reads our daily newspapers, or listens to our radio phone-ins. When, daily, Muslims are portrayed as terrorists, as sexual groomers, as women oppressors, from forced marriage to FGM, it’s not surprising this sinks in. That’s less surprising for white people, who as a racial group have never been on the receiving end of media hate campaigns. But I’d always liked to think that, given our history, and our knowledge of media bias – from the 1950s, when we were labelled pimps, to the 70s and 80s when we were only written about as muggers, rioters and looters – black people would have an implicit understanding that today, when the demonisation has largely moved from us to the Muslim population, we should be deeply sceptical of what we read.
A few years ago I did a content analysisof stories in the national press which found stories that centred on white people were three times more positive than negative. By contrast, stories featuring Asian people were three times more negative than positive (we didn’t break it down by religion, but the Asian negative stories were overwhelmingly focused on Muslim terror).
It’s clear that the media shouldn’t stop reporting on serious stories of crime or terror. But we found that less serious stories were blown up and given exaggerated coverage. And at the same time there was no counter-narrative: no stories about Asian doctors saving lives, or as have-a-go heroes, or as senior politicians, or police officers solving crimes - or even those soft lifestyle features where people’s humanity comes across.
And the odd high-profile exception – be it Mo Farah winning Olympic gold in 2012 or, this month, Nadiya Hussain’s triumph in Great British Bake Off – does little to stem the flood of stories in the opposite direction.
When a black woman can stand in a bus and tell someone, without irony, to “go back to their own country” it shows how deeply embedded the hatred of Muslims has become in our society. The media, and everyone else, have a duty to do everything they can to counter it.