You are shocked, appalled, by the death of George Floyd. The scene of this black American man begging the policeman who had his knee on his neck “I can’t breathe”, haunts you.
You do not tolerate discrimination. You want justice for all. You are a pacifist. You know, silence is not the solution.
Silence in the face of discrimination is more contagious than COVID-19. Silence digs deep roots. Without even a whisper, raising a single finger or standing by her, silence crawls, spreads, passes on and propagates discrimination, from one generation to the next and then someone can’t breathe.
To empower you, so you may be ready to speak out with courage and calm of your convictions, the next time that you witness racism, I spoke with Professor Emeritus Timothy J. Stanley, PhD. He specializes in anti-racism education at the University of Ottawa.
According to Professor Stanley, the solution to antiracism is to create inclusions instead of exclusions. “Racism is the exclusion of certain people. In the long term it is up to our families, our work teams and our communities to create inclusiveness. As we have done with the #MeToo movement, we must also take the victims of discrimination seriously”. He adds that police officers, teachers and anyone else in authority must know how, must be taught how, to intervene, to denounce and stop a peer. That is crucial.
WHEN A CLOSE CONNECTION MAKES A RACIST “JOKE”
The important thing is not to let it pass without a word. Interrupt or choose a convenient time.
Affirm your discomfort “I am not comfortable with what I have heard you say. I am uneasy.”
If the other trivializes “It’s just a joke”. Continue with “I know you are a good person. But if someone from this group was present, I don’t think you would have told that joke.”
Educate. “These words exclude certain people. The result is uneven treatment. These effects are racist. They are inappropriate in our family.”
Depending on your relationship with the person, a simple “Now come on! Do you really believe that?”, may be enough to make the other one aware of the seriousness of the statement and to make an adjustment.
WHEN A COLLEAGUE HAS A RACIST OPINION
Assess the consequences. Could there be reprimands? Ask yourself if this is the right time. Will you be rushed by the clock? Do you risk escalating the incident? Consider partners who could help you speak out against racism, such as human resources, your manager, the ombudsman, or the employee help line.
If you’re on good terms with this colleague, you might say “I’m surprised to hear you say that”. This allegation will make the other person think. It gives him a chance to correct himself and even to apologize.
If you may not be seen as friend and possibly as foe, confide the matter to your partners mentioned above.
In a group conversation, Professor Stanley advises “I don’t feel comfortable with these remarks”. Observe the others and their reactions. Wait. If no one speaks up too and supports your statement, explain the reason for your discomfort.
WHEN YOU ARE A WITNESS TO DISCRIMINATION
If the perpetrator is someone who is not in authority, Professor Stanley recommends focusing your efforts not on the perpetrator but rather on the victim. To minimize the risk of escalating the incident, do not look at or intervene with the abuser. The strategy is to side with the victim. Look at her. Smile. Engage in friendly conversation to show your support: the weather, a compliment, or a note about the book that you are reading. Even such casual conversation announces your solidarity. The victim is no longer alone and excluded. You now include yourself with her. You are now two. Accompany her to neutral ground or until she tells you that she is okay.
If you are witnessing a scene with someone in authority, to prevent it from getting out of hand, the recommendation is to record the scene and to report the facts.
To avoid being a surprised stunned spectator, practice some of the above scenarios within your safe circle.
If you are a teacher, prepare role plays for your students to practice.
If you are a manager, include this topic in one of your virtual meetings. This video https://youtu.be/wKeITMzMn7w can serve as an icebreaker to encourage conversation in preview of the presentation of your policy and the organizational procedures to denouncing discrimination.
Since I am privileged, a white woman, I turned to my friend, a beautiful colleague with black skin, to prepare you to report. Ms. Sabine Daniel, host and producer, asks you to have an empathetic perspective. Imagine that you are seen as a threat just because of the color of your skin, especially if you are a man. Imagine that your father, your brother, your husband, your cousin, your friend is not seen for all that he is and why you love him.
Do it. Denounce. You now know how.