It’s late in the evening on the subway, and folks want to get home safely. There’s an aggressive man standing by the door mumbling while staring at younger Black man sitting on the row. The mumbling turns to loud shouts and slurs. You wish you could stop it, it is making the whole car uncomfortable and you’re worried that it will escalate, but don’t want to get involved. So you do…. Nothing?
Rather than having that scenario pan out, using Bystander intervention can make a big difference to the situation, most importantly by reminding the person who is being harassed that the behaviour they are experiencing is wrong and that they are seen.
It’s often talked about in terms of sexual harassment (often on college campuses), but is an important way to diffuse situations that are racially charged. Since this year we are all about action, we thought we’d form a checklist to help you. There are very worthwhile Twitter threads on the same theme and some materials produced by groups like iHollaback and Green Dot.
I’m going to use the example situation above to illustrate my point, but there are lots of different and more complicated situations where you may need to be a bystander.
- Remember that you are not a hero. This should be about the person experiencing harassment, not your ‘Keanu in the movie Speed’ moment.
- Check on the person and how they are feeling as soon as possible. Can you make eye contact with them? Can you check if they are ok? Can you go over to them?
- Can you get in between the harasser and the victim? If you just stand up and go over to the seated person, you will make them concentrate on you and distract them from what they are experiencing from the mumbling man.
- If appropriate, ask the person what they would like you to do.
- If it is safe, can you make a comment to the harasser to stop it? This is the part that often feels the scariest, and remember that your attention should be most strongly focused on the person being harassed.
- Record as much information as you can about the situation, do you know the time? What train are you on? Is there photo/video of the harasser? Collecting this information is important because most of the time we don’t think about it until the event is over.
Your task for this week: concentrate on paying more attention in situations that may need bystander intervention. Can you role play/imagine what you might say? Can you journal about what it was that made you realise a situation might need intervention?