HOW many times does someone have to scream, ''I hate blacks'', at a foreigner on a crowded bus before you protest? What if the same bigot yelled, ''Speak English or die, motherf---er'' - would you tell him to stop?
There were many voices clamouring to be heard on a Melbourne bus on November 11. What's curious is how few of them spoke up in defence of the French woman in the back seat, who was abused simply for singing in her local tongue.
Bus riders are not lovers or fighters. They're loners, skilled in the art of ignoring strangers, masters of the sideways glance and muttered voice.
She was a black dog, a c---, fat and ugly, spewed the man from the middle of the bus. He threatened to ''cut this bitch's tits off'', and no one objected. ''Everyone on the bus wants to kill ya,'' he claimed and no one disagreed.
Racist rant ... This man was recorded unleashing a vile tirade aboard a Melbourne bus.
One young man offered the bigot a beer.
The majority of passengers were silent and impassive, probably wishing they were elsewhere. A racist, abusive bigot is like sitting next to the smelliest person on the bus - you hold your breath and count the stops until you can get off.
''It was one of those situations where if you got involved you would have made it a lot worse,'' Mike Nayna, who filmed the rant and posted it on YouTube, told Sunrise on Wednesday.
Captured on camera ... The man was among three commuters caught abusing the female commuter. Photo: YouTube
Might we have expected more from such passengers?
In the presence of such abuse, fired by the whiff of violence, I suspect I would be similarly silent - and probably feel ashamed for it later.
There are two problems here, as I see it - neither of them unique to Australia. First, bus riders are not lovers or fighters. They're loners, skilled in the art of ignoring strangers, masters of the sideways glance and muttered voice.
While working for a London newspaper I once had to fill a test tube with grime scraped from a bus seat and raised nary an eyebrow from my fellow passengers. Having to squeeze your legs into a small space and watch the world slip by seems to stir something small in all of us.
The second problem is that some people are nasty. They are riddled with lice and scratching to strike out at the slightest opportunity.
There are racists here as there are in France - where women have been attacked for wearing the burqa in breach of a state ban.
''These people are angry because they've got crappy lives,'' Mr Nayna said.
Perhaps. In truth, most of us would probably appreciate hearing a French ditty on a crowded bus.
Though it's unlikely we would say so to a stranger.