A lot of people get grumpy when it’s stinking hot and they’re stuck on a crowded train. Unfortunately some people turn a trip on a crowded train into yet another reason to criticise and blame people of colour.
They make comments like:
I had to stand wedged in between a family of blacks in the vestibule area where the toilets are on the countrylink train
I had to stand the whole train trip due to the dozens of smelly non anglos…
One of the biggest causes of conflict throughout history has been competition over resources. When resources are scarce, competition becomes fierce and aggressive behaviour escalates.
Back in 1954, a researcher called Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues conducted a classic study that showed how hostile feelings and aggressive behaviour could be artificially ‘created’.
Sherif and his colleagues established two groups of 11 year old white boys, then put them in the position of having to compete for ‘resources’ such as medals, trophies and other desirable prizes. The result? Food fights in the mess hall, ransacked cabins and burned flags!
Since then research consistently shows that where one group perceives another to be depriving them of jobs or other important resources, the end result can be violence and hatred. Importantly, research shows that even the perception or belief that your group is under threat is much more likely to cause hostility between groups than actual threats.
That might be why on a stinking hot summer’s day when tempers are short anyway, some white people may feel particularly threatened by non-whites who are sitting down on the train.
Never mind that the seated people probably got on the train earlier and therefore had a ‘right’ to the seat! For some white people, the seat becomes a ‘public’ resource that is clearly under threat. This threat becomes even more of an insult if they also believe that their ‘whiteness’ gives them the right to be seated!