Je suis Souleymane

A recent incident on the Paris Métro has troubled me ever since I heard the story. Let me summarise what I’ve read from the media.

Three men were in a fairly crowded carriage on the Paris’ Metro. Along came a commuter who tried to board the carriage, he was visibly blocked from entering the carriage and then shoved out entirely. The commuter made another attempt to board the train and was again shoved out.

It further turns out that the commuter , whose name is Souleymane , is black and the people who shoved him from the train were white – apparently British football fans in town for a Chelsea vs Paris St. – Germaine game. They also sang a racist chant after they forcibly prevented him from boarding.

The entire incident was captured both on the stations CCTV and by a bystander with a phone – in colour and with sound.

Restricted Solidarity

This incident follows only a few weeks after alleged religious extremists killed 7 people in various seemingly coordinated attacks on Paris , including at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo –  prompting a monumental outpouring of solidarity under the banner of  ‘Je suis Charlie’

I am curious to understand why – at a time of heightened awareness of what Parisian society will tolerate – no one spoke out on the train. Why no one challenged these racists. Why no one stood with Souleymane in defiance of this oppression.

Why wasn’t there solidarity for Souleymane?

Parisians are apparently “shocked” by this incident – the racism, not the lack of intervention. But post-event shock is no longer enough – When will shock turn to action?

Bystander Apathy

There is a social phenomenon called ‘Bystander Apathy’ where, in a group of people witnessing some event that requires action – no one seems prepared to act. This has been observed in some pretty vicious crime – physical and sexual assaults and worse, murder. They’ve happened in broad daylight and often in crowded places like trains and stations.

It is phenomenon that also happens in business and professional settings too. There is often work or actions to be taken and even when they are obviously laid out, no one steps up to take responsibility. It is a curious phenomenon indeed.

Was this at play during the Metro incident – how can it be avoided?

What kind of society do you want?

There is a curious saying that goes –

You get what you are willing to accept

I have often pondered what it means and it seems this incidence really touches at the heart of the matter.

If I am willing for bullies under any guise – race, religion, gender, economics – to trample on my fellow human being then they will and once they start unchallenged, they won’t stop and then- perhaps one day –  they will try and trample on me.

I think what would I have done on that Metro and without a shadow of a doubt I would have spoken up for Souleymane. If it came to blows, I would have fought for Souleymane. Just as much for Souleymane as for the society I want to see and for my children to grow up in.

I’ve stopped trying to save the world, but if I can make my street , neighbourhood, city better – even by a tiny bit – I would have the moved the world along.

If we are break out from this apathy, we must be prepared to stand together against things that we believe are unjust. Everyday.

What would you have done?


Photo by JBrazito

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