And no, I’m not talking about narcing. Instead, I’m talking about the rapidly growing list of hate crimes committed since election night, and what that says about us as a society. The United States elected a hateful demagogue into office and it emboldened those who have always been similarly hateful, but kept it slightly under wraps before — it wasn’t that it wasn’t okay to be racist, but that you were supposed to be discreet about it. That’s done with, and now the country needs to face up to what it’s enabled.
Sometimes, one of the most powerful acts we can commit is being out, being present, bearing witness — and intervening. If you are in a position of relative privilege, whatever that looks like to you — you’re a white man, or a heterosexual woman in a pretty diverse but mostly straight workplace, say — use that privilege. Weaponise it to do good. When you’re out and about, keep an eye on the people around you and what they’re doing, but not for the purpose of selling them out to law enforcement. Instead, think about patterns of behavior, and attitudes, and be ready with a script if something happens.
Something like racist harassment, or homophobic taunting. Something like seeing a trans woman get clocked and then threatened. Something like someone trying to rip a woman’s hijab off, or mocking a Sikh man for wearing a turban. Something like catcalling. Something like interfering with a disabled man’s wheelchair. Something like any number of abusive, hateful, cruel, awful acts that people perpetrate because they think they can get away with it. Right now, they think they can get away with it because they’ve received no input otherwise. To the contrary, they just saw a vile, hateful, putrid little man elected to the presidency and they think that means that anything goes.
Say something. It’s scary, I know! Especially if you live in a sort of bubble world where things are generally pretty safe for you. They’re not safe for the people being harassed. They never were. They really aren’t now. Push outside your comfort zone via any means possible. Don’t just swallow shit, or sit there quietly staring off politely into the distance. Do not enable abuse by refusing to react to it. Don’t feed the trolls doesn’t work. There’s going to be a troll in the White House in January. Practice for this. Look yourself in the mirror in the morning and ask yourself what you are going to do if you see a man grabbing a woman’s genitals on the train, because it will happen.
You can start low key. Sometimes simply walking up to a victim of harassment and being friendly, or pretending to know them, can defuse the situation. The harasser sees that the target is not alone, and not only not alone but backed by someone with privilege, and as gross as it is, that matters. The harasser decides it’s not worth it. Those silent cowards standing around watching can breathe a sigh of relief that they didn’t have to do anything about it. You can sit with that person on the bus/train or walk with them until they feel safe and then go your separate ways.
Maybe it’s not that easy. Maybe the harasser retreats but keeps muttering racial slurs under his breath or makes loud comments to his friends about how unfuckable you are. That’s when you need to say something. To him. About how this is not acceptable and needs to stop. Look those cowardly bystanders in the eye. Challenge them with a look. Ask them, with your eyes, why they are not doing anything about this situation even though they can clearly see that this is inappropriate and wrong. Put your body between the target of the harassment and the person doing it. He needs to know that he is dealing with you now, not the person he singled out as weak and helpless. If he keeps up, turn that unspoken appeal to the people around you into a real one. Why aren’t any of you doing anything? Don’t you see that this is inappropriate? I would have thought better of the residents of this city. Use your phone to record what he’s doing, slyly, if necessary. Do not back down.
If this is work, and one coworker harassing another, take it, and your evidence, to a supervisor. To HR. Do not back down. Say that this makes you uncomfortable and that it goes against your company’s policies and stated values. If it doesn’t violate company precepts, demand to know why your company does not have a comprehensive anti-harassment policy. Do not go away.
Look for the transit official/clerk/waitress or other employee or official around who can help back you up. Be firm. This should not be happening. Here is why. This person needs to stop or be asked to leave. Do not back down. This is not okay. Make sure the target gets to safety. Buy them a cup of tea. Offer to let them use your phone if they don’t have one, or ask if there’s someone you can call for them.
When you part ways, give them your card. I am here for you, you will say. If you ever need help, please call me. I am sorry that this happened to you, you will say. This is not your fault. If you need to file a report, please let me know, I will be happy to testify and provide any evidence that I collected. You are not alone, you will say.