What to do if you see someone being racially abused in public

Charities advise assessing whether it's safe to take action when standing up to racial harassment

Sabrina Barr@fabsab5
Wednesday 30 January 2019 12:40
Elderly victim of racist abuse on Ryanair flight in 'shock' and left facing 'sleepless nights'

As disheartening as it may be to acknowledge, incidents of racial discrimination are still prevalent in this day and age.

On 29 January, it was reported that Empire star Jussie Smollett had been admitted to hospital following a suspected racist and homophobic attack.

There’s a large discrepancy between the number of people who’ve witnessed acts of racism and those who decide to act upon it.

According to research conducted by business psychology firm Pearn Kandola with 1,500 individuals between November 2017 and January 2018, more than half of people in the UK have witnessed an act of racism in the workplace.

However, almost one third of those people did nothing about it.

Here’s what you can do if you see someone being racially abused in public:

Speak up if it’s safe to do so

As per the Public Order Act of 1986, it’s a criminal offence for someone to deliberately stir up racial hatred by directing insulting language at an individual or exhibiting threatening behaviour.

If you witness someone being racially abused, you could stand up to the perpetrator by asking them to leave the victim alone.

However, as the Australian Human Rights Commission outlines as part of its “Racism. It stops with me” campaign, you should only say something if you think that it’s safe to do so in that particular situation.

“Standing up to racism can be a powerful sign of support. It can also make the perpetrator think twice about their actions,” the organisation states.

“When responding, always assess the situation and never put yourself at risk. Your actions don’t need to involve confrontation.”

The use of racist language can have a very harmful impact on the mental health of victims, as charity Campaign Against Living Miserably explains.

“People who say stuff that’s racist may not consider themselves as being prejudiced, but may take the mick out of someone’s accent or birthplace,” the charity writes.

“Although it is easy to go along with a joke at someone else’s expense, it makes people feel down, depressed, worthless and isolated.”

Report the incident

If you witness an incident of racial abuse, then it would be wise to report the incident to the authorities.

Not only will this ensure that the perpetrator is appropriately dealt with, but it will also provide the victim with security.

Childline advises making a note of every detail of the incident as soon as possible, as your witness account could prove vital as evidence later on.

If you believe that the victim is being threatened by the perpetrator or is at risk of further attack, then you can report the incident to the police by calling 999 or 101.

Despite the prevalence of racism in the workplace, the study conducted by Pearn Kandola highlighted the need for more people to report it.

“I’m astounded that the rates of witnessed racism in the modern workplace are still so staggeringly high,” says Professor Binna Kandola OBE, senior partner at Pearn Kandola.

More than a third of those polled by the company who reported racial abuse were white, in comparison to a quarter of black people and a quarter of Asian people.

“It’s encouraging that white people, who are the least likely to experience racism, as the most likely to fight the issue,” Professor Kandola says.

“The fact that ethnic minority people are the least likely to take action against racism, out of fear of the consequences, suggests that organisations provide less psychological safety for minority groups.”

How to support victims of racial abuse at work

In the opinion of Sandra Kerr OBE, race equality director of non-profit organisation Business in the Community (BITC), employers should be doing far more to make employees feel as though they can safely report incidents of racial abuse at work.

“Many incidents of racial harassment occur in workplaces - whether that’s directed towards employees or between customers or clients - yet often employees feel unable to call this behaviour out,” she tells The Independent.

According to recent research carried out by BITC, only 22 per cent of employees said that they feel as though they’ve received adequate support from their employees when addressing harassment.

“Employers can take a number of approaches in supporting employees to call out racial bullying and harassment,” she explains.

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“These could include providing employees with training on how to respond to these incidents and when to escalate them to a supervisor, and an approved script on how to defuse the situation which is tailored to the organisation.”

Kerr also stresses that employees should be made to feel comfortable reporting racial harassment internally within an organisation.

“Formal and informal reporting mechanisms should be made available, so employees have multiple ways to report, and employers should clearly communicate their zero tolerance policies and that they take this issue seriously,” she says.

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