In the first of a series of blogs in which partners and contributors give practical guidance on how you can Stand Together with individuals who face discrimination and persecution, Andy Fearn, Co-Executive Director at Protection Approaches, provides advice on standing together with victims of identity based violence.
Across the country, in school playgrounds, community groups, restaurants, and around family kitchen tables, people are worried about growing division in Britain. In the past 5 years the number of hate crimes reported in England and Wales has doubled. Public prejudice of people’s religion, race, political affiliation, social class, gender, physical ability and sexual orientation seems to be rising.
Over the past year, I’ve had numerous conversations with friends anxious about the state of the world and direction of the country. ‘But what can I do?’ They ask.
Their implication is that these forces lie far beyond their control; that there is nothing they can do to turn the tide. I disagree.
We frequently walk by opportunities to push back. All of us are different, have different strengths, different networks, different points of influence and different parts of our lives where we feel more confident to speak out or share our opinions. And there are different things each one of us can do.
1. Stand with victims
Witnessing identity-based hate can be intimidating, but no matter the situation, you can help. Avoid engaging an attacker or doing anything that could aggravate a situation; instead, if it is safe to do so, stand or sit with the victim and talk to them. Introduce yourself and promise that you will stay with them until they are safe. Keep talking until there is an opportunity to escort them to safety. If the victim is in danger call the police. Make a recording on your phone for evidence but never share on social media unless the victim has asked you to. Ask other people to help. Create a distraction, shout, cause a scene – it can distract an attacker and attract more attention from other bystanders. When you do something to help, others will join you.
Standing with victims doesn’t end when an attack has ended and a victim is safe. I love the story of Andrew Graystone who stood outside his local mosque the day after the Christchurch terror attack holding a sign that simply said ‘You are my friends. I will keep watch while you pray.’
2. Constructively challenge prejudice
We all know people who express prejudiced or hurtful views. Engage and challenge. This does not mean shutting down or punishing anybody who may hold these opinions, or who uses inappropriate and discriminatory language. Instead ask people questions and constructively challenge misconceptions. ‘Why did you say that?’ ‘Why do you think that?’. Often our prejudices are formed from ignorance rather than malice. Kindness and compassion are better ways to change minds than criticism and punishment.
A powerful way to break down prejudice is to create opportunities for people from different backgrounds to come together for meaningful interactions. What could you do in your community, workplace or school to get people who are different to talk, share, and get to know each other?
3. Listen, learn and create space for others.
The way we see the world is inevitably shaped by our own experiences, so it is difficult to understand what it is like to see the world through somebody else’s eyes. But we should always try.
I will never forget the first time I saw the video ‘10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman’ – using a hidden camera, Shoshana Roberts documented her experience walking round the streets of New York. Over 10 hours she is subjected to more than 100 instances of verbal harassment from men. I never see this happen because I am a man and if I am with a woman they don’t get harassed. What other structural biases do people have to endure that I never see?
Accepting the prejudice experienced by others, but that’s invisible to you, doesn’t diminish your achievements or struggles.
Help support others to tell their stories – particularly to those in power. Invite your neighbour to your residents’ association meeting and explain that you’ll sit with them and make sure they understand everything. Give up your place at a conference for someone who would otherwise not have that platform. Support everyone in your meetings at work to be heard.
There are so many things each of us can do, as individuals and through our professional and personal networks to stand together with those who face identity-based violence and discrimination. It might not always seem obvious or easy but remember that doing nothing in the face of growing social division is also a choice.
As Nobel Prize Winner, human rights champion, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said: ‘the opposite of love is not hate but indifference.’
Andy Fearn is Co-Executive Director at Protection Approaches, a UK charity committed to ending all identity-based violence.
The HMDT blog highlights topics relevant to our work in Holocaust and genocide education and commemoration. We hear from a variety of guest contributors who provide a range of personal perspectives on issues relevant to them, including those who have experienced state-sponsored persecution and genocide. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of HMDT.