Be an active bystander in toxic times

The Hollaback London Collective stands in full solidarity with those experiencing racialised, xenophobic harassment on our streets, both since the EU Referendum result and since, well, forever.

While heightened anti-migrant sentiment is creating an especially toxic environment, we must remember that street harassment is a daily reality regardless of current political developments, and women and LGBTQ people (especially those who are BME/of colour) are often the first to experience this abuse.

So. You want to help. You’re not a superhero, but you can show support in lots of ways beyond wearing a safety pin, which can seem more about promoting one’s own sense of identity as ‘anti-racist’ than it is about stopping hateful behaviour in its tracks. Standing silently with your phone recording may help an incident go viral later, but does nothing to reduce the trauma and alienation that happen when a person is targeted for hate. Decide which is more important to you.

If you witness harassment, you CAN step in safely as a bystander.

Here are some useful tips:

  • Engage with the person being targeted first and foremost. Check in with them. Make eye contact!
  • See a person being bothered by a stranger but not sure what to do? Ask them for the time or even pretend to recognise them. (This really works!) You’ll help diffuse a the situation and create some space to acknowledge with them what you heard and saw and that it was NOT acceptable.
  • Ask if they need any practical support or help. Would they like you to walk with them or get off the bus with them? Avoid asking if they are ‘okay’. When you’ve been hurt, harmed or are in shock, you’re not okay. Asking this question begs the response ‘Yes I’m fine’ and contributes to the idea that marginalised people need to be hyper-resilient.
  • If you’re on a bus or train, and you hear verbal harassment but still feel you can’t speak up, you can always move seats to sit with them and show support by putting your body between the harasser and the target. 
  • If you feel confident and safe in doing so, when challenging harassment, focus on the statement or the behaviour of the abusive person. Avoid language like ‘you’re an idiot’ or swearing at them, which will only inflame the situation. These:

“Noone needs to hear that, you can stop right now”
“You do not speak for everyone else here”
“That is not acceptable”
“Noone wants to hear your opinion”

are some direct, clear non-escalating statements.

  • Important point: Even if you think they should, NEVER  pressure them into reporting to the police. There are lots of reasons a person may not want to engage with the police, and it should be their decision alone what they do.
  • There are other organisations you can report to as a third party, such as Stop Hate UKSARICommunity Safety Trust and TellMAMA, who independently record hate crimes.

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