NJ Division on Civil Rights

Adapted and reprinted with permission from Right to Be, https://righttobe.org/guides/bystander-intervention-training.

THINK FIRST QUESTIONS: The first step in bystander intervention in response to implicit or “everyday” bias is to take a breath and think – to size up the situation and determine the needs and desired outcome. We can do this by asking ourselves the following “think first questions”:

  1. Is it safe to respond? (Is there risk or danger in intervening directly? Is the person intoxicated or having a mental health issue? Are there allies present? Is there an easy way to exit the situation?)
  2. Am I the right person to respond? (Is there an opportunity to be an ally? Could an aspect of my identity put me at risk? Are my own biases affecting my judgment? Am I triggered or too emotional to handle the situation?)
  3. Is my goal to stop the behavior (“call out”) or to create a learning opportunity (“call in”)? (Should my tone and posture be direct or non-confrontational? What approach will allow my words to be heard?)
  4. What is my relationship with the person? (Are they a friend? A stranger? An authority figure? Are there power dynamics that I need to consider?)
  5. Would it be better to respond now or later, publicly or privately? (Do I need time to cool off? Does everyone need to hear my message? Is it important to avoid embarrassing the person in front of others?)

SIX STEPS TO SPEAKING UP AGAINST EVERYDAY BIGOTRY: The Southern Poverty Law Center offers these six strategies in its guide, “Speak Up: Responding to Everyday Bigotry” (https://bit.ly/SPLC_Six_Steps).

  1. Be Ready: You know another moment like this will happen, so prepare yourself for it. Think of yourself as the one who will speak up. Promise yourself not to remain silent. “Summon your courage, whatever it takes to get that courage, wherever that source of courage is for you,” said Dr. Marsha Houston, chair of the Communication Studies Department at the University of Alabama. To bolster that courage, have something to say in mind before an incident happens. Open-ended questions often are a good response. “Why do you say that?” “How did you develop that belief?” [See below for additional “ready responses.”]
  2. Identify the Behavior: Sometimes, pointing out the behavior candidly helps someone hear what they’re really saying: “Janice, what I hear you saying is that all Mexicans are lazy” (or whatever the slur happens to be). Or, “Janice, you’re classifying an entire ethnicity in a derogatory way. Is that what I hear you saying?” When identifying behavior, however, avoid labeling, name-calling or the use of loaded terms. Describe the behavior; don’t label the person. “If your goal is to communicate, loaded terms get you nowhere,” said Dr. K.E. Supriya, associate professor of communications at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, and an expert in the role of gender and cultural identity in communication. “If you simply call someone a racist, a wall goes up.”
  3. Appeal to Principles: If the speaker is someone you have a relationship with — a sister, friend or co- worker, for example — call on their higher principles: “Bob, I’ve always thought of you as a fair-minded person, so it shocks me when I hear you say something that sounds so bigoted.” “Appeal to their better instincts,” Houston said. “Remember that people are complex. What they say in one moment is not necessarily an indication of everything they think.”
  4. Set Limits: You cannot control another person, but you can say, “Don’t tell racist jokes in my presence anymore. If you do, I will leave.” Or, “My workspace is not a place I allow bigoted remarks to be made. I can’t control what you say outside of this space, but here I ask that you respect my wishes.” Then follow through. “The point is to draw a line, to say, ‘I don’t want you to use that
    language when I’m around,’” said Bob Carolla, spokesman for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. “Even if attitudes don’t change, by shutting off bad behavior, you are limiting its contagion. Fewer people hear it or experience it.”
  5. Find an Ally/Be an Ally: When frustrated in your own campaign against everyday bigotry, seek out like-minded people and ask them to support you in whatever ways they can. And don’t forget to return the favor: If you aren’t the first voice to speak up against everyday bigotry, be the next voice. “Always speak up, and never be silenced out of fear,” said Shane Windmeyer, founder and coordinator of Campus PrideNet and the Lambda 10 Project. “To be an ally, we must lead by example and inspire others to do the same.”
  6. Be Vigilant: Remember: Change happens slowly. People make small steps, typically, not large ones. Stay prepared, and keep speaking up. Don’t risk silence. “There’s a sense of personal disappointment in having not said something when you felt you should have,” said Ron Schlittler, acting executive director of the national office of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Carolla put it this way: “If you don’t speak up, you’re surrendering part of yourself. You’re letting bigotry win.

READY RESPONSES: Since evaluating the situation and deciding how to respond usually take place in a split second, it can be helpful to have a repertoire of “ready responses” – simple phrases or questions that will work in a variety of situations. Ready responses can be used to shut down an uncomfortable situation or to open up dialogue. Here are some examples of “ready responses”:

  1. I am uncomfortable with/offended by that statement because…
  2. I don’t find that funny.
  3. That is discriminatory and I won’t be a part of it.
  4. That’s not how we talk here. That’s not our culture.
  5. I’m curious, what was your intention when you said that?
  6. It sounded like you said ____. Is that really what you meant?
  7. Can you explain why you find that humorous?
  8. Have you considered the impact of your words on others?

The organization, Seed the Way, offers a useful handout with sample ready responses – “Interrupting Bias: Calling Out vs. Calling In,” https://bit.ly/Seed_the_Way_Interrupting_Bias.