Men need to step up and call out racism and abuse, like that recently perpetrated by a mob of Kalamunda high school students, writes Cynthia Fenton.
I WAS APPALLED, as many locals were, at the tirade of racist slurs and obscenities hurled at a young, female (Asian) ALDI supermarket manager by a mob of students from a Kalamunda high school recently.
Local Facebook groups were outraged, with a multitude of comments saying everything from: “its only kids from the foothills"; "It’s the teachers' fault" and "It’s the location of the bus station”. And, of course: "We need a police station." Well, that old chestnut didn’t help curb juvenile crime, hence it was removed.
And so, the following Friday I decided to call out any such reprehensible behaviour at ALDI. At first, I was on my own but was soon joined by others who overheard me telling certain students they were unable to enter ALDI that morning because their disgraceful behaviour did not represent my values or those of my community.
I received a bit of cheek. One student, pacing up and down the front steps, continued his intimidation of the Asian manager. But, I continued to stand my ground knowing other mums had dropped by the store or phoned to check on the victim’s welfare.
While verbal assault is not considered a crime in Western Australia, the manager is within her rights to take her case to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC).
When I approached an ALDI manager last week, I was told:
"The police, ALDI and the school have addressed the issue with the help of closed-circuit television (CCTV) and the police have supported ALDI’s move to ban students from this high school from their premises for the time being.''
One can only hope the parents of the offending students are involved.
Unfortunately, to date, the high school's administration has not issued a statement to the school community — a missed opportunity to call out racist abuse and harassment of a woman in her workplace.
Herein lies the challenge: unprovoked attacks by teenage boys exhibit such aggression because often it is learned or copied. Sure, one can blame the old cliché — these boys are victims of emotional, physical or sexual violence at home. But this is not always the case. Also, perpetrators of these crimes exist across social classes and suburbs in Western Australia.
Kalamunda’s community has witnessed teens who are unable to control their emotional stresses – and hate – which are fuelled by perceived powerlessness, social media, neglect and ignorance.
Kalamunda high school students are "all-round good eggs", capable of excellent Vocational Education and Training (VET) and Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) results and many already contribute to our community in a myriad of positive ways.
But, holding our teens to account – to choose their best selves and say no to cowardly hate language and crime – cannot be shouldered alone. It is not just up to educators to teach, guide and support our kids. Police don’t make it their priority to arrest minors because they know that when youth leave juvenile detention they are often only better networked with kids who have committed far worse crimes. And, mums can’t be the protesters because it makes our kids ripe for bullying — another headache for school administration.
And so, with last week’s display of such poor self-respect, the Kalamunda school community needs all our help. Our unique Australian mate-ship and idea of a fair go, taken to the streets at a grassroots level, brought about social changes that my generation now takes for granted.
I believe Australia's growing challenge in this decade is our youth. Mothers need the community, but particularly men, to step up and stand out the front of our shared spaces and say, "sorry kids you can’t stay here today because we don’t accept racism and abuse of women".
Yes, the manager can bring a complaint. And sure, security presence may deter such behaviour, but these boys need to see real male power. Good role models. Girls, too, need to see men call out racism and sexism, to show them: they don’t need boys like that; they deserve much, much better. Outrage on Facebook is all well and good, but comments come and go — they bring the heat in as fast as they sizzle out.
As Australians, are we a community that will put our ideals where our mouth is? Will you step forward when you overhear aggressive and filthy language in front of women and children?
Together, we can guide and advocate for stressed-out kids before it’s too late and they become a real reason for a new police station.
It is said it takes a village to raise a child. My shire is that village: a diverse community where people stand strong, stand proud and lead by example. Let us say no more. Not on my bus, not on my street, not at my pool, my playground or skate park — and never again in my supermarket.
Cynthia Fenton is a creative artist, teacher, writer and mother. She has written opinion pieces for several Australian publications.
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