- “Are you okay?” When we witness one-on-one incidents, we sometimes feel like it’s not our place to intervene. There’s the fear that a person of color will respond to our well-meaning intrusion with something like: “Get out of my business, you don’t need to rescue me!” In this type of situation, start by approaching the person being victimized. Introduce yourself. If the perpetrator seems volatile, sometimes simply standing between them and their target is enough to send the message to STOP. Don’t put your back to the perpetrator, because then you become more vulnerable. Addressing the victim with a question about their well-being opens up the possibility of providing support without assuming what that support needs to look like.
- “Excuse me, can you explain what you mean by that?” If you’re like me, not the fastest thinker on my feet, a first line of defense against verbal offenses is to simply ask the perpetrator to explain themselves. This can be particularly useful with micro-aggressions – insensitive statements where the person may not even be aware that they have said anything hurtful. In group settings, this pushes the person to name out loud what might be coded language, and to reflect on how it landed.
- Is it really just an isolated incident? Whether it’s micro-aggressions on the job or police brutality on the street, it’s not going to get addressed if we don’t document and report it. We’ve seen the power of photos and videos. Depending on the situation, send documentation to whoever has the power to change things, or take it to the media if necessary. This enables us to discern the depth of the problem and push for changes to practices and policies that have persistently racist impacts.
- How am I doing? One critical form of accountability is building relationships across difference, relationships that are trusting enough to get honest feedback. This doesn’t mean constantly relying on people of color to tell us what to do, or not do, which unfairly places the burden on them. It’s about building a solid network that invites diverse experiences and views, a Beloved Community. SURJ is one such network that supports white people in this work, with chapters across the U.S.
- Don’t let your blunders derail you. You will make mistakes. The real test of our commitment to challenging racism is not that we “get it right” every time. Rather, it’s that we continuously work to educate ourselves, pick ourselves up and keep at it. There is no end to the unlearning and relearning – about the racial history of our country and communities; about where our respective identities position us in terms of power, oppression and privilege; and about how to use these understandings to skillfully challenge unacceptable behavior, policies and practices.
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