Sep 23, 2013

Racialising the deeds of “a small minority”

In his weekend report on the high incidence of rape committed by taxi drive

Shakira Hussein

Writer and academic in multiculturalism

In his weekend report on the high incidence of rape committed by taxi drivers against female passengers, Fairfax crime reporter John Silvester tells us that we need to address “the elephant in the room. Most (but not all) of the reports we have received say that the offending drivers were overseas-born students.” Staring at this elephant in the face means that “the cravat-wearers will splutter on their croissants and declare this story racist.”

I have no idea what a cravat even is, but I’ll respond to Sylvester’s zoological metaphor with an ornithological one: if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then I call it a duck. And Silvester’s framing of these crimes is racist.

Since I don’t have a car, my teenage daughter and I both regularly rely on taxis for what we assume will be a safe trip home. And like most females, we have our share of “creepy taxi-driver stories”. The Age’s report is therefore very relevant to my life, and of course I’m disturbed to learn that other women have had experiences far more traumatic than my own.

But I am at a loss to understand why Silvester should feel the need to racialise his report.

As he acknowledges, overseas-born taxi drivers are a disproportionate percentage of the drivers who take the dangerous late-night shifts, with owner-drivers preferring to avoid the abusive passengers and the risk of assault. As he also acknowledges, they are “more likely to be victims than offenders.” And those who rape vulnerable women passengers are “a tiny minority”.

So why does he feel the need to highlight their status as international students, their “subcontinental” origins, when the common denominator is their job rather than their race? Why bother to quote a “multiculturalism teacher” (and by the way, I can no more define “multiculturalism teacher” than I can define a cravat – but I assume that since it includes the word “multiculturalism”, we are supposed to believe that she can’t be racist) as saying that some of her students drive taxis and have “horrendous” attitudes about women whom they consider to dress “immodestly”.

I am quite prepared to believe her. However, are we seriously supposed to believe that that a similar percentage (although still “a minority”) of white men (and white taxi drivers) don’t have similar attitudes? As it happens, most of the villains in my own repertoire of “creepy taxi-driver” anecdotes are white. And my “brown” female friends and I regularly exchange stories of the assumptions that sleazy white men (a minority – “a small minority”) make about brown women, with the details varying according to the particular shade of brown.

Cronulla (which now describes an event as well as a location) showed us where racialised reporting of sexual crime can take us. I thought “we” had learned since then.

Silvester – and Fairfax – should know better.



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One thought on “Racialising the deeds of “a small minority”

  1. Sancho

    I’m not sure why this is in any way controversial. It’s not offensive or surprising to note that sexual assaults are more commonly committed by men who come from cultures in which women are viewed in terms of property and systemically disadvantaged, and where rape is seen as a form of justice and rarely prosecuted.

    It would be remarkable if those cultures DIDN’T produce males more likely to sexually assault.

    In my own experience working at universities in the specific area of student misconduct, young Arab and subcontinental men were overwhelmingly the alleged offenders in stalking and sexual assault cases, and largely for cultural reasons: often they’re very surprised to learn that their behaviour isn’t acceptable here, and sometimes mortified.

    So, pick your battles. The struggle against racism is ongoing, but there’s zero chance of convincing the public that a white taxi driver is just likely to grope a woman as a Saudi or Pakistani is. And for the simple reason that it’s not true.

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