What can you do when you see racism playing out with your friends or online? Switching up the language, causing distractions or calling for back-up are strategies that helped Asanga tackle racism. Here are more of his tips.
The man was stumbling down the carriage groggily as the train doors closed on Flinders Street Station in Melbourne. My friend had splayed himself across some seats on one side of the carriage. On the other end sat a girl with an Asian-Australian background scrolling quietly through her phone. Moments later, a barrage of lewd and racist comments started filling the carriage.
Shocked but also paralysed with the fear of aggravating a man much larger than him, my friend thought of something novel. Acting as if the girl was a long lost friend, he sat opposite her, greeting her with an arbitrary name and friendly demeanour.
After a few confused looks and an explanation to play along, the pair engaged in a seemingly long overdue catchup.
The man had lost interest and energy in his tirade by this point and ambled down to the other end of the carriage. My friend continued the conversation until the train arrived at her stop.
When confronting racism, we can be afraid of the repercussions of taking bold steps, but we don’t always need to be the caped crusader. Here are five things you might not have thought of to call out racism when you see it happen.
1.Consider the humans behind the words
It’s easy to throw around words like ‘migrants’ and ‘refugees’ and forget that these words have stigma attached to them in Australia.
Create empathy by sharing personal stories that convey the experiences and emotions of individuals that make up this group. Check out stories from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Refugees on Air and the Refugee Council of Australia if you’re looking for the Australian context.
If someone is using blanket statements with sweeping generalisations, challenge them with a question along the lines of “Are you sure that’s something all Indians do or are you just talking about one or two people you know?” Bringing the argument back to an individual can help reframe a broader perspective to be more about the lives it actually impacts.
2.Change the subject and revisit later
If an incident is escalating quickly or you feel yourself getting worked up, it may be best to reduce tension by changing the subject of the conversation and revisiting the comments later in a calmer setting.
When either party is angry, we can turn to attacking the other person instead of trying to understand the rationale or emotion behind what they’ve said and having a constructive conversation. In a more relaxed setting, you can open up a conversation with the offender by saying: “What you said earlier has been on my mind and I wanted to talk to you about it.”
3.Distract the offender with a non-verbal action
Non-verbal actions can be just as powerful as words in demonstrating that what an offender is doing is not on. It can be as simple as turning or walking away from the offender.
For something more direct, you can interrupt the incident by drawing attention away from the offender, getting in between the harasser and the target, or pretending to know the person being harassed, just like my friend did. You can create an alternative disruption by purposely spilling your coffee or playing some music loudly on your phone.
4.Call in support
Your own safety and wellbeing is paramount when taking a stand against racism both in-person and online. Contact emergency services on 000 if anyone is in immediate danger.
If you don’t feel safe intervening directly, contact a nearby employee such as a store supervisor, bus driver or school teacher and ask them to intervene. If there is no one immediately available, you may want to work with a friend or someone near you who has also noticed what has happened to distract the offender while you search for additional support.
5.Forget the social media debates, report someone directly
We’ve all seen it before, Twitter tirades stretching for hours, an awkward comment or share by a distant relative brimming with racist undertones.
A knee-jerk response is to dive headfirst into a debate with competing views that can leave us feeling as if we have accomplished nothing but an increased heart rate.
In these situations where you can’t talk to someone face-to-face, it may be more effective to report offensive content directly to a social network or block the perpetrator.
Instead of engaging in a direct argument, you can also share a link that may challenge a person’s perspective. This might be an opinion piece that articulates your views or a video series like SBS’ Go Back To Where You Came From, where Australians take the journey of refugees coming to Australia.
Make sure to take extra caution when responding to comments online or on social media. Protect your own emotional wellbeing and safety. The eSafety Commissioner has loads of advice for dealing with tough stuff online.
Incidents of racism—physical, verbal or otherwise—can also be reported directly to the Australian Human Rights Commission or state-based bodies such as the Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission.