Dr Billy Wong, Associate Professor, Institute of Education
Calling out racist behaviour, especially to strangers in public, take courage because you never know how others would react. Understandably, you might be concerned about your own safety. You might even doubt and question your judgement. Was that really racism? Or just a misunderstanding? Or just banters between friends? If you interfere, the situation could go out of hand, or even violent. In the end, you decided it is probably best to carry on walking, minding your own business.
Later, you reflected, and thought you could have done something, but assured yourself in that moment, you were unprepared, with little options but to walk. You promised yourself to do better next time, and you know there will be.
With your family, friends and colleagues, you witnessed another episode of racist behaviour. This time, it was more implicit, nuanced and subtle. It was racial microaggression. You were unsure if it was intentional. It was a short comment in a conversation, which was flowing and before long, moved onto another topic. You did not think it was necessary to interrupt the conversation to revisit an earlier remark. So, you decided it is probably best to carry on listening.
Later, you reflected, and thought you could have done something, but assured yourself in that moment, you were unsure and no one else seemed troubled by it, so it was probably nothing. You promised yourself to do better next time, and you know there will be.
Being a bystander may be our default position on issues we feel unfamiliar, unprepared and unsure, but we must not get too comfortable in this role. If silence is complicity, then we must actively retrain our passive mindsets. We have activists who are challenging the inequalities of the status quo, but we need more, a lot more. Are you ready?
P.S. We can easily substitute racist behaviour and racism with other social inequalities, such as sexist behaviour and sexism, or more broadly, just unacceptable behaviours.
Inspired by our recent article: Wong, B., ElMorally, R., Copsey-Blake, M., Highwood, E., & Singarayer, J. (2020). Is race still relevant? Student perceptions and experiences of racism in higher education. Cambridge Journal of Education. https://doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2020.1831441