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If not you, then who?

How to be an ally in situations of discrimination

by Keisha Deoraj and Rida Warsi

It’s Keisha and Rida here to share some practical strategies that allies can use to intervene in instances of racial discrimination. You may remember us from the Let’s Talk Equity: Racial Discrimination video series. In case you missed it, here are the videos:

In Part II, Rida shares a story about a recent racist encounter that she had on the GO Train. Here are some of the things that you or anyone witnessing this sort of interaction can do to intervene and play their part in dismantling racism.

Stay safe.

Keep your distance, especially if this is a violent racial attack. You should not feel guilty about this. You are no good to yourself or anyone else if you get hurt in the situation.

Stay calm.

Engaging with the perpetrator might agitate them further, so it is important to reduce the risk of being seen as a threat.

Engage the “good”.

We can engage the “good” in the perpetrator by engaging their emotions and their sense of community. Ask questions such as “Has this individual harmed you personally?” or “How would you feel if someone abused you or your family in this way?”

Ask for help.

There is power in numbers.

Film the event ONLY with the individual’s consent.

This is a great alternative if you are not comfortable physically engaging. Recording the incident can also provide useful evidence if needed.

If the victim is comfortable, consider making a post about the experience on social media to raise awareness and create open conversation on the discrimination on a larger platform. Things to consider before making a public post about the experience:

  • People are not always kind on the internet (SURPRISE). Sharing an experience publicly opens up the experience to be analyzed by internet-trolls and negative individuals who may try to defend the perpetrator.
  • That being said, just because some people may have negative things to say, doesn’t mean the positive should be overlooked or that the victim should be denied the opportunity to have their story shared (or to share it themselves). If you believe that the positive impact would be stronger than the negative impact, and you want to post about it, do it. The important thing is to think about it before posting and to make sure to have the victim’s consent.

Not all racist encounters are as overt and public as Rida’s experience. Experiences such as mine (Keisha), occur in the form of microaggressions, brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioural, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative prejudicial slights and insults toward any group. Here are some actions that can be taken in this type of situation.

Call them in!

Take a moment to educate the person as to why what they said is harmful. Not all conversations have to be confrontational, especially if you have an existing relationship with the perpetrator. Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Health Complex at Mount Sinai Hospital has some great tips on how you can engage in civil discourse regarding microaggressions.

In either scenario, it is important to provide support to those being targeted. Here are a few tips on how you can effectively do so.

  • Show your support and attention to the situation by making eye contact with the individual(s) beings targeted, to ensure they do not feel alone.
  • Approach the individual(s) being targeted and ask if they would like to go somewhere else, away from the perpetrator.
  • Engage in active listening when hearing the individual(s)’ feelings about the situation. Validate what happened, acknowledging that it was wrong and that they did not deserve it.
  • If possible, check-in on the individual(s) afterwards to make sure they are okay. Sometimes events such as these are not immediately traumatizing. It could be a few days, weeks, months or even years before events such as these become traumatic. If needed, offer support in the form of finding a professional service that will most appropriately meet their needs.

It would be irresponsible of us to not talk about what SHOULD NOT be done in cases of racial discrimination. Here are some of our guidelines as what NOT to do.

Do not speak on behalf of the individual(s) targetted.

Too often people start speaking for the individual(s), which can prevent them from advocating for themselves. This can lead to the individual(s) feeling further disempowered, which is not the intention of intervening. Also, it can allow for the perpetuation of misconceptions. For instance, if a person is being abused for wearing a hijab, it is not your place to say “they do this because of their religion”. Instead, promote the fact that people have the freedom to choose how they dress.

Do not call the police without the individual’s consent, and do not force the individual to report the incident to an authority figure.

Let them choose how they want to deal with the situation, and support whatever conclusion they make, confrontation or not. Institutional, system barriers exist, making reporting incidents of violence to authority figures a traumatic ordeal in and of itself. Also, reporting incidents can be an emotionally draining process. It can include many meetings, tons of paperwork, and having to relive the incident many times. Not to mention that some individuals may face social, academic and/or professional consequences as a result of reporting a perpetrator that is a colleague, professor, supervisor, or boss.

Do not victim-blame, or tell them they somehow asked for whatever happened to them.

Do not invalidate the person’s experience. Do not try to convince them that they misinterpreted the situation, or are being overly sensitive. Facing a prejudicial situation is difficult enough. People do not also need a lack of support or to be blamed for being the subject of discrimination. If you cannot or are unwilling to provide support in this way, then do not. You will likely make it the situation more challenging and upsetting for the individual. Refer them to someone who is better equipped to assist.

Do not provide counsel.

There is nothing wrong with being a supportive friend or co-worker in times of crisis. However, coping with and healing from experiences like this can require professional help. Even if you are a trained, licenced or certified professional, it is not your job nor your responsibility to provide unwarranted counsel for the individual until they actively seek it.

Don’t be a bystander.

Being a bystander means to normalize the discrimination an individual faces, and to make them feel as if what is happening to them is okay and something they just have to live with because they’re a minority. Silence means to be complicit in racism.

Be an ally.

Use your privilege in a positive manner to speak up for those who are facing discrimination. If you are against racism, homophobia, misogyny xenophobia, ableism - essentially, all forms of discrimination - then you should do your part to speak out against it.

Remember that this doesn’t just apply to conversations with strangers. This also means speaking against prejudicial statements made by your family and friends. People cannot be completely blamed for the ignorance of their past, but they should be held accountable to remaining ignorant after being educated.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” - Desmond Tutu, South African Anti-Apartheid Activist

Sources

https://qz.com/719779/how-to-intervene-in-a-racist-attack/

https://theconversation.com/what-psychology-says-about-how-you-should-respond-to-racist-behaviour-45599

http://www.mountsinai.on.ca/about_us/human-rights/ally/ally-tools/what-can-an-ally-say

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/21/us/racist-remark-reactions.html

https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/17/us/racist-tirade-bystanders-what-to-do-trnd/index.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microaggression