Saturday, March 11, 2006

Deadly prejudice

An aboriginal woman in Brisbane is lucky to be alive today. Delmae Barton apparently suffered a stroke while waiting for a bus:
After collapsing on one of the bus stop seats, she was unable to move other than to turn over to stop herself choking on her own vomit.

No one picked up her handbag which lay where she had dropped it as she fell. Its contents lay scattered on the pavement.
Apparently she lay there for more than five hours, though a bus company spokesman denies she was there that long. Passers-by assumed she was just another aboriginal drunk. Eventually, a group of Japanese students summoned security and an ambulance was called.
photo of Ms. BartonMs Barton is a highly respected indigenous elder and opera singer, whose son William is an internationally-renowned didgeridoo player.

Her friend and director of the Gumurri Centre at the university, Boni Robertson … said it was a disgrace Ms Barton's plight was ignored by hundreds of commuters as buses came and went.

"She said to me that she thought it was because she was Aboriginal," Ms Robertson told ABC radio.

"And she said 'I was neatly dressed, I wasn't dirty'.

"She said 'I hadn't been drinking' and she said 'is this all I'm worth Boni, is this all I'm worth'." …

More than 450 Brisbane City Council buses pass through the Mt Gravatt campus bus stop each day, collecting and dropping off hundreds of students and commuters.
It's tempting to leap to the conclusion that the people of Brisbane are more heartless than other human beings, but of course that just isn't so.

Indigenous people have been marginalized wherever they have survived into the modern era. Here in Canada, some First Nation and Inuit groups fare relatively well, but the overall picture is still one of socio-economic struggle.

Many individuals with limited prospects in their own communities migrate to the cities, where things may go from bad to worse. It's easy for the non-Aboriginal population to develop a prejudice based on the Aboriginals who fall through the cracks and end up in jail or living on the street.

And then the stage is set for a Delmae Barton scenario to play itself out.

Years ago, a streetcar driver in the city of Toronto impressed me by not making any assumptions. He saw a man lying on the sidewalk, apparently unconscious. He got out of the streetcar, established that the man was drunk but otherwise OK, and then returned to driving his route.

All these years later, I still remember that expression of concern for a fellow human being. When I read about Delmae Barton, I immediately thought of that streetcar driver.

Prejudice can be deadly. Ms. Barton is alive today only by the grace of God — or blind luck.

copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz


At 4:57 PM, March 11, 2006, Blogger Juggling Mother said...

I can't really make an informed comment on indiginous peoples & marginalisation as it's not something we have here in the UK [we can't even agree who our indiginous peoples were, but there's certainly no "purebloods" left:-)]

However, I wonder if that does have any bearing on the reason she was left there? Mostly people don't help because they are scared - scared that they don't know what to do, scared that they will be attacked by the person on the ground, scared that their actions will be misconstrued by passers by.

I don't live in the nicest part of town, and the town itself has the highest proportion of drug addicts in Europe, so seeing the occasional body slumped in a phone booth/street corner is not that unusual - each time I have to sum up the courage to just go check of they are alive or dead - and I do so because I know that I have the training to deal with whatever I find. Their race, age, dress & cleanliness have no bearing on my decision to check on them - it's more scary going up to a well dressed dead businessman than it is finding a dirty, smelly drunk passed out in the street.

The best comments I ever reieive from my students is when they say I have made them feel able to help - it's not something most of us do feel most of the time!

At 3:05 AM, March 12, 2006, Blogger 49erDweet said...

It is scary to approach "a body" under that type of situation. Mrs. A. is spot on. I'd say this is an important lesson for all peoples. And also proves the Lord was able to put to good use the good manners taught in their earlier years to a group of Japanese youngsters.

Since I am also supposed to be the house expert on buses and bus drivers - from everywhere - I have to think that Brisbane may have a much bigger "drunk aboriginal" problem than this account considers. Is there a record proving X number of drivers failed to report the "nuisance" of a passed-out drunken woman at a designated bus stop? Or was a dispatch log inspected or considered for this story? May there have been a "corporate decision" to ignore the "nuisance"?

Could it also speak to level of law enforcement efficiency in Brisbane (after all, a bus stop is a public place and subject to police patrol). Furthermore, I just cannot believe the situation would have been tolerated very long at the Gloucester Road tube station, in NYC or Vancouver.

Lots of questions here, and no solid answers. But I completely agree the situation to be a total societal embarrassment for our Aussie cousins. Thanks for posting it.

At 10:36 AM, March 12, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

• Mrs. Aginoth:
You raise a reasonable question. Whenever something bad happens to a visible minority, people suspect that race was a factor. Presumably, sometimes it is a factor and sometimes it isn't.

In Canada, there is a certain mindset that thinks of all Indians as drunks and welfare dependants. That's why I'm prepared to believe that Ms. Barton's race worked against her.

A white person who is clean and well dressed and passes out in the middle of the day, will likely get the benefit of the doubt. An Aboriginal person who passes out in similar circumstances may not.

• 49er:
You're right, there are a lot of unanswered questions here. It isn't clear to me that either of the media accounts I looked at were in full possession of the facts.

If Ms. Barton was really there for five hours, as she says she was, it's hard for the bus company to claim they bear no responsibility.

Like you, I wonder if the Japanese students helped out because of their race. Perhaps many natives of Brisbane have a prejudice about Aborigines, but these Japanese students don't share in the prejudice.

At 12:53 PM, March 13, 2006, Blogger LoryKC said...

I agree with Mrs. A on this one. From the safety of my home, I can hope that I would have stopped to help the poor woman.
However fear is a big factor. No matter the race, if someone appears drunk, you never know what their reaction will be.
Strangers can be scary enough but a stranger you think may be drunk can be terrifying.
Having said that though, no matter how many people may have been too frightened to approach her themselves, I do not understand why someone did not call for an ambulance or security much earlier. Using a cell phone or a pay phone from a distance isn't scary.

At 3:01 PM, March 13, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I agree with you, and it looks like Ms. Barton is a strongly-built woman.

But the question is, what made people think she was drunk? I think this was in the afternoon, and Ms. Barton was clean and nicely dressed — which doesn't describe yer average rummy.

In other words, the only thing to indicate that she was drunk, not sick, was her race. That's the problem.

At 5:39 PM, March 13, 2006, Blogger 49erDweet said...

Journeyman, you may have missed some other points in your premise the only "evidence" passersby had she was probably 'drunk' was her race. There are other factors Brisbane locals might have considered:

Location. (Prior similar events, type of neighborhood, proximity to and market glut of spirits outlets & pubs, etc).

Time of day. (Many alcoholics begin consuming fairly early on in the day, and depending on the amount available most can be pretty wasted by mid-day or early afternoon).

Physical size. (As per Mrs. A. and Lorykc, this can be very intimidating to an average-sized person).

The 'somebody else MUST have already reported it' assumption. (Because it occurred at a very public public bus stop and the almost reasonable expectation the transit company and/or local law enforcement has already - or soon will - respond).

But everything I listed above still does not discount the part race may have played. I believe it to be incumbent upon the two entities I've mentioned above to clarify the roles they played - or did not play - in this situation. Absent that, your point will probably stand.

At 12:34 PM, March 18, 2006, Blogger Lynne said...

I got myself CPR certified on Monday and this was one of the topics we chatted about during out lunch.

About 10 years ago I was waiting for the train to Boston. When the train arrived it was one of the shorter trains so everyone on the platform had to walk down to the doors. I was the last person to make it to the train. I paused just before entering because I saw a man laying unconscious. Not sure why I new he was not drunk or just sleeping when nobody else did, I just knew. (i think I recall seeing him smiling out of the corner of my eye when I first arrived on the platform)
A train operator caught my eye and asked if he were OK. I responded no or something similar. The train put med. emergency procedures into play and I borderd the train.
I never learned what happened to the man. If he died or if the emergency workers got to him in time.
I remember feeling emotional that all those people walked passed him. I remember feeling guilty for not staying. (but I got over that when I realized I did all I could do get help and staying would only be for my benefit not his).

This man was had white hair but not too old, 60's I would say. He was caucasian. I think people passed him by because in order to get through the day sometimes you have to not connect with everything you see. Or maybe it is just that there are more of us and the ... (darn it I just yawned and stretched and totally forgot what I was going to say.)

What happened to woman you posted about is horrible. The situations demands that questions be raised on an official and personal level but I don't think there are any sure answers. Just knowing about this instance and others like it will likey make us think 2x.

At 10:38 AM, March 21, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

I think people passed him by because in order to get through the day sometimes you have to not connect with everything you see.

Very true. It's a fact of life in the city. One of the things I enjoy in most cases — the sense of anonymity appeals to a private person like me.

Just knowing about this instance and others like it will likey make us think 2x.

I hope that's true. Good for you, responding to your gut instinct on the occasion tell us about.


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