It has been a week since the Star Tribune published my colleague Deepinder Mayell’s op-ed about his experience with hate speech at a Vikings game. The article prompted many people to come forward in support of Deepinder, in support of refugees, and in support of human rights. They told their stories and discussed how unsettling the current political climate is.
The violent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have increased fear, and political campaigns have escalated the use of negative rhetoric. As a result, what happened to Deepinder is not unique. Many people are seeing similar situations of hate speech and confrontation play out in their everyday lives.
While many have expressed a commitment not to stand by when another person is targeted with hate speech, we are left to ask what that really means. Most of us learned about bullies when we were in school. (For more information, take a look at The Advocates for Human Rights newsletter on bullying and human rights.) However, we don’t expect to encounter bullies as adults.
In the book, The Green dot etc. Violence Prevention Strategy, Dr. Dorothy J. Edwards presents approaches bystanders can use when they find themselves in situations of conflict involving a power imbalance:
Distract. Create a distraction to de-escalate the situation. This response can be as simple as calling out the person’s name and asking a question or creating a more dramatic distraction like singing or dancing to get attention.
Direct. Engage the perpetrator directly by calling out his/her bad behavior, or remove the person being targeted from the situation.
Delegate. Call in another party, the police, security, or other authority.
This isn’t as easy as it may sound. It’s uncomfortable to put oneself on the firing line of hate, and it’s certainly tempting- at least for those of us with privilege to do so ― to keep walking, keep quiet, or look away. Being a human rights defender takes courage and commitment, even in the small doses called for in these situations.
There are other ways to be pro-active and engage in creating a healthier community:
1. Get to know your neighbors and diverse members of the broader community.
2. Learn about the diverse cultures and experiences of refugees and immigrants.
3. Speak up! Nervous laughter in the face of racist jokes is as emboldening as genuine laughter.
4. Be careful with your own speech. Humor doesn’t always translate well. It can be hurtful.
5. Check in with the person who is targeted. A friendly comment can make a big difference.
6. Communicate with your elected officials about important human rights issues.
There is no need to stand by and feel helpless. We can all be part of the solution. In big and small ways, we all need to advocate for human rights.
By: Robin Phillips, executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights