A White Person’s Guide to Doing the Right Thing When You Witness a Racist Shakedown
By: Lisa M. Hayes – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
In case you haven’t noticed, there has been a rash of white folks calling the cops on black folks for nothing more than doing their thing while being black. There’s a lot of video floating around out there documenting the terror of being a victim of a racist shakedown.
It’s a legitimate debate. Is this “Trump’s America” or has it always been this way for people of color and we’re just talking about it more. However, statistics show that hate crimes, hate speech, and hate, in general, are on the rise.
I recently talked to a lovely white woman who stood by quietly watching another white woman being very nasty with a black man who was walking his dog through their neighborhood. While she didn’t call the police she threatened to do just that.
This man was clearly shaken. He explained to her he lived in the neighborhood and he walked his dog there frequently. However, it escalated quickly when he wouldn’t provide her his address after she demanded it.
My friend stood there. She wanted to interject. She wanted to speak up, but she was terrified. So, she didn’t and the guilt was killing her. She actually crossed the street to get away from the drama and watch from a “safe distance”. She was seriously considering combing the neighborhood looking for this man so she could apologize – but she was afraid and ashamed to do that too.
So, what is a white person to do when they witness a racist shakedown?
Crossing the street and staying silent is NOT the thing to do.
Instead, make yourself a supportive presence for the person under attack. Remember it’s not about you. It’s about making yourself present for a person who may feel very alone.
1. Speak up.
When you see someone behaving inappropriately, as a white person, there is very little risk for you if you speak up and say something. However, there is a lot of risk for a person of color and understanding that is important.
You don’t have to make it a civics or civil rights lesson. You don’t have to meet the rage of a racist with rage. In fact, you shouldn’t. Neither going to be helpful for the person you’re trying to help. You simply might want to point out the obvious.
“Hey, this person is simply just, fill in the blank, (doing their job, standing there, sitting in their car, trying to get into their hotel room). No one is breaking the law. No one is getting hurt. There is no need to call the police. If you do, I will stay here and make a statement.”
“You are making yourself look bad and people are watching you. You need to leave this person alone so that this situation doesn’t escalate.”
2. Check in with and stay with the person who’s being threatened.
It would be terrifying to be verbally attacked with racist bullshit or having someone threatening to call the police on you for no good reason. It’s confronting, it’s humiliating, and there are legitimate reasons to be afraid for your safety when you’re a person of color on the receiving end of something like that.
If you witness that happening to someone, again, as a white person, you are at very little risk in that situation. However, the person of color is at great risk for a number of things.
So, first things first. Ask the person of color who’s being threatened if they are ok. Ask that person what they need. Let them know you’re not going to walk away. Make your physical presence of support obvious.
3. You should be the one to take the video.
When someone is under attack, they may not be thinking clearly. We’ve all seen the videos of people who recorded their own racist shakedown. However, you can’t expect anyone to do that under the gun. It may not be safe for them to do so. So, you can and should pull out your phone and record even if other people are doing the same.
Sometimes just the act of being filmed will stop an escalating ugly situation. Sometimes it will infuriate aggressor. Record it anyway.
And by the way, your job as a recording observer does not stop if and when the cops arrive. A person of color is at a much greater risk of police brutality than you are. So, stick around and keep rolling with that video.
4. If it escalates to the point you are afraid it might get violent in any way, YOU dial 911 to protect the person who’s being attacked.
People often wait too long to call 911. However, if you call, you stay on the scene until the police LEAVE. Do not call law enforcement and leave a person of color alone. Your job as witness turns into double duty anytime law enforcement is involved.
5. When the situation is over, make sure the vulnerable person is ok before you leave.
If you took video, make certain you get contact information to share it with them.
Ask if they want you to call someone for them. Make sure they get to a safe space like their car or walk them to a public place.
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Lisa M. Hayes, Senior Editor of Confluence Daily.
Confluence Daily is the one place where everything comes together. The one-stop for daily news for women.