What do you do when faced with racism? 3 ways to defuse the situation or be an ally

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How do you deal with a racist attack?

Encountering racism is hard. A physical or verbal attack, even graffiti, can demoralize anyone. In many cases, ignoring it is the best solution especially if one’s safety is at stake. We just want to go about our day peacefully and without conflict. On the other hand, doing nothing can also be a problem. Silence can signal to the perpetrator that what they are doing is acceptable.

How do you effectively address a racist attack when you’re a victim or a witness to one?

  1. Don’t fight fire with fire

    People who say racist things want to provoke and get attention. But when you meet them on the same level of hate, violence will be the result. Instead, stay calm and focus on the issue, not the person. When you’re less reactive, you’ll be able to use your better judgment to handle the situation.

  2. Discourage the behaviour

  3. Call out the action immediately especially if you’re a bystander. Say: “Stop it. This is not OK.” The victim may not be able respond quickly due to shock. It is important to be brief and to the point. Do not engage the attacker or lecture them about their behaviour. This will just escalate the attack. If you’re not comfortable doing this, get support from others. Talk to those around you. Group disapproval can scare the attacker.

  4. Focus on the victim

  5. If you are in the same space as someone being attacked, do your best to ensure their safety. Approach them and ask them to move to a safer place. If you can’t (if you’re in a bus, for example), talk to the person casually, and say “Hello, would you like to sit with me?” or ask them if they are alright. Don’t forget to guard your safety as well. Move near people who are supportive for added protection. Inform the Winnipeg Transit driver about the attack. They can ask for police assistance to remove an unruly or violent passenger.

Should you call the police?

If violence is happening or is bound to happen (lives are in imminent danger), get immediate assistance by calling 9-1-1. Sometimes just saying that you are calling the police can help stop the attacker. If you are not comfortable calling the police, an option is to ask help from a friend or a supportive bystander to call for you. As mentioned, you can also ask the driver for help if you’re on the bus.

Should you take a video?

Video recordings are useful for police investigators. It is evidence that can boost your case should you push through with a formal complaint. But remember that your first action should be to disrupt the attack, call out the behavior and keep yourself or the victim safe. Document only when it is safe to do so. You may be too focused on the camera in front of your face that you miss other dangers around you (like oncoming traffic for example).

Stay safe out there!
Sources: Here are some actions you can take in the face of a racist attack, Rafferty Baker, CBC; How to deal with racist people, Jens Korff, Creative Spirits; The Manitoba Human Rights Code; StatCan survey shows new evidence of increase in anti-Asian sentiment, attacks, Ryan Flanagan, CTV News; and 8 keys to handling adult bullies, Preston Ni, Psychology Today. Accessed July 27, 2020.

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